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February 14 2007

David Fury in the best DC gossip column, evar. Wonkette follows up on the story about the military asking the 24 writers to chill out on the torture scenes and suggesting a kinder, gentler, more Geneva-conventiony Jack Bauer.

Direct link to the TV Week article from which the quotes are taken.
Links to the interview aren't so obvious in the article, so the transcript and podcast are here and here

edit: oops, beaten to it. Sorry, should have checked.

[ edited by Dym on 2007-02-14 20:53 ]
Thank you so much for not ducking it and going right after the question.

One of the things I like so much about Fury.
I like him, too. When you think about it, each season of 24 is basically one day which has more developments and twists in six months in, as Martin Mull would say, "real reality". How 24 handles the issue of torture fits the belief of some Americans that any world-wide crisis can be solved in one hour on TV or two hours at the movies. I would only suggest that you should rent "Network" and see Peter Finch's classic monologue about how people see TV...in 1976.
Sick state of affair. I think that torture as a plot device should be shunned as a lazy trick like raping the female lead is. (Now wondering how acceptability of 24 had gone if instead of 'straight' torture, Jack and baddies would have used rape or threat of it as their preferred way of squeezing information. Don't know if I should add smilies. Creepy line from Smile Time/puppet hole comes to mind.)
I have a bigger worry; I think that the torture scenes make torture more acceptable by showing it in very specific instances where Jack has to get information to head off apocalypse, which then leads to some people feeling that that is why our government can do so as well. It inures people to the idea, makes it more palatable. For that reason, I cannot watch this show; i tried but gave up when I found it was just too far to the right for my liking. And I am not trying to start yet another post war, just stating my feelings.
Didn't Angel sometimes torture people for information? I think you need to hold viewers responsible for any dumb beliefs they have as a result of watching tv shows, and not hold the creators of those tv shows responsible. The makers of "24" aren't writing an essay asserting that torture ought to be used; they are telling a story about a person, heroic but flawed, in very unusual circumstances, who resorts to torture, and the price he pays for this with respect to his psyche.
I think that the torture scenes make torture more acceptable by showing it in very specific instances where Jack has to get information to head off apocalypse, which then leads to some people feeling that that is why our government can do so as well.

I read The New Yorker article Fury is responding to, and it's very interesting. I like 24, or well, I did in its first season back when I used to watch, but to me, it's a very silly show with a really outlandish premise that's pretty entertaining adrenaline thrill ride. I don't watch anymore because, well, one season of that is all I'm interested in (that and Elisha Cuthbert's character). But the article makes the point that people are influenced by it in real-life ways.

Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors—cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by “24,” which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, “The kids see it, and say, ‘If torture is wrong, what about “24”?’ ” He continued, “The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do.”

Yes, both Angel and Buffy tortured people to get info, but the difference is a.) Joss shows are somewhat fantastical, and people take them less seriously for whatever reason, while 24 strives for real world relevance b.) those were isolated incidents that barely made an impression on the viewer -- I barely recall some of Angel's actions, and can only remember Buffy doing it once, and to a vampire, while 24 glorified torture scenes, and those are the most memorable moments of the show, and c.) people are influenced by TV. When I served on jury duty last year, I was treated to a lecture about the CSI effect, where real-life juries refuse to convict someone because they have been brainwashed by CSI and its spin-off to believe that crime labs are infallible. "Real crime-scene investigators say that because of the programs, people often have unrealistic ideas of what criminal science can deliver." [from the USA Today article]

CSI and 24 are Hollywood fantasies, but grounded in realistic details (no flying demons or spaceships, etc.) and their popularity influences people. I don't hold art or entertainment to moral standards, but I also see no reason for the people behind 24 to change something that works for them so spectacularly well. People tune in to see the torture scenes, and their ratings are great. Why should they change even though it's irresponsible and deleterious to society?
Dana said:
"i tried but gave up when I found it was just too far to the right for my liking."

It's funny though, 'cause certain seasons and elements of seasons have leaned one way or the other to such an obvious degree sometimes that I couldn't help seeing the writer's hands, the strings on the puppets. Reading an interview with the creators in the first issue of the 24 Magazine, I realized that they purposefully do this to promote discussion and to make their viewers feel either enraged, uncomfortable, and/or justified by the show's various viewpoints based on their own leanings.

But right-leaning? I think there've been times when 24 has gone out of its way to be exceedingly liberal. I mean heck, in Season 5 you've got the takedown of the President of the United States, that's a huge fantasy for a minority of extreme lefties and conspiracy theorists. In addition we had the oil-mongering business guys who were pulling the strings (not to mention any other corrupt government or military character who was in on the plot) looking very evil and in the wrong. Whereas the year before that, Season 4, felt very right-winger, to me and I was actually a little surprised/disturbed at the feel sometimes. I think it really just has to do with the situations the writers come up with, the challenges the main characters face, that add up to decide the political feel of each season. For the most part I've felt most of the seasons have been neutral in their feel though. At the end of the day, the good guys are just trying to save significant portions of the population and/or their friends, family, and co-workers, they're not concerned with looking politcally correct or coming out the moral victors of the day. On 24, saving non-terrorist human lives trumps all.

And what could've been more left-ish in most people's eyes (though personally I think he was simply sane, well-educated, balanced, and a genuinely good human being) than President David Palmer ? The first three seasons, when he was in power, I thought this series was only run by left-minded folks (man it's hard to have a discussion like this without falling back on those ugly, lazy terms. There's way more shades of gray, the Western political spectrum and people in general aren't strictly divided up into left and right-mindedness).

Fury said:
"...we’re always looking for things for [Chloe] to do, but this might not be a season that showcases her as strongly as before."

That whole bit where Fury talks about Chloe was really nice to see from a TV writer. Often when a character is that popular, some shows will overexpose them to the point of annoyance (to those who can see them doing it and hate when any supporting player hogs more screentime for any sustained length of time at the expense of other secondaries). I like Chloe in the series, sometimes a lot (hee, taser), but she's had great exposure in Season 4 and 5 (can't remember how much time she got in her introductory year, Season 3) and I don't mind them giving her a bit of a break this year. Besides, there're more than enough office techies this year who are main characters (Milo, Morris, Chloe, and that new girl who's name I've forgotten), whereas without Curtis there're no more field ops standouts other than Jack.

My god people are morons though. New recruits and military personnel actually think torture (or any procedure) is like how it's depicted on a TV series? Scary.
Wrote a response, but dottikin wrote it better. Just one note: I think that many of us are here because we've felt that this guy Whedon's shows have affected us in positive ways (Buffy-as-a-role-model etc.). Corollary it should be possible to be affected in negative ways.
I think dottikin has captured my feeling as well. People are not morons, but they are easily led, and TV exerts a huge influence on society in ways both good and bad. I have little doubt that a parade of torture scenes eases the way for people to come to accept it more easily. At the same time, I watch CSI religiously, and I am often shocked by what they show, what they talk about (yesterday, on a repeat, it was about cocaine placed on a penis), and so on, and wonder how much this makes people become more comfortable with rotting bodies, abnormal sex and horrible murder. And I like that show. I never watched 24 at all until this season, when I was at my boss's house and he and his wife love it so we watched the first 2 hours of the new season- and I was simply horrified by what I saw. EVERYONE was evil or plotting or bad, no one could be trusted, torture was so readily used. I realize it is a comicbook, a heightened show, but I just found it completely unpalatable. Yes, I am to the left, but I am honestly to the left; I don't just vilify the right blindly. But this seemed so jingoistic, and in today's clime, that was not a good thing.
From one of the articles:
"The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."

I dunno if it's depicted as patriotic, so much as his only last resort option to save lives (sometimes millions are at stake). How else do you deal with villains who're willing to give up information and often would rather die first than give it up? It's the corner the 24 writers paint Jack into though. I'm not sure how much the writers could change that element of the series, unless it stopped being about CTU. Counter Terrorist Unit...how else in TV-land can you deal with captured terrorists who need to be made to give up information that will save thousands or millions of lives ?

What Jack goes through causes him more than angst, too. He's cried once in every season (except Season 4, I think) and had a breakdown finally in Season 6. In fact, Season 6 has shown how much this all has worn him down and looks to continue to do so.

dottikin said:
"24 glorified torture scenes, and those are the most memorable moments of the show"

Oh come on, no they're not. Maybe for any sadists watching. Everyone's mileage is gonna vary, but for me the most memorable scenes are the emotional ones, which you often have to be patient for to arrive each year with this series, but maybe that makes 'em all the more affecting when they come about. Often those end up being sad ones, excruciatingly so at times, but you really feel 'em. A number of moments from Season 1 are prime examples. Season 2 had Kiefer in grief over his wife, that scene between George Mason and his son that got me a little teary, not to mention what Kim had to go through thinking her dad was about to die/was dead, Tony's dealing with being boss and his developing feelings for Michelle (though I wasn't really down with that relationship until Season 3), and the relief at father and daughter finally being reunited at the end of the year. Season 3 had tons of sadness (biggest body count of the series at that point with the virus), also one of the worst things Jack Bauer was ever forced to do (Chappelle) and how that weighed, but again relief when Tony & Michelle were reunited, only to end with Jack finally having a much-needed end-of-day cry in the truck in the last scene. I won't go on into Season 4 and 5. Obviously those few-and-far-between emotional bits wouldn't be enough to keep me glued to the series, so there's the sometimes compelling office drama element of it, moral dilemmas for most of the characters, and the action scenes to move things along and get you excited. The torture scenes are not enjoyable at all and I'd sooner forget them after they've happened. They add to the heightened tension sometimes, other times I just accept them as unfortunately necessary elements of Jack Bauer's job (or when the terrorists are doing the torturing, the show has gone into horror mode).

All this talk about torture, not to mention the articles, make it sound like that action dominates the series though, and it doesn't. There's way more gunplay, detective work, political posturing, and tech-talk making up most of the show.

"People tune in to see the torture scenes, and their ratings are great. Why should they change even though it's irresponsible and deleterious to society?"

I seriously doubt that majority of viewers out there are tuning in specifically for the torture scenes. What's irresponsible is you throwing that out there. As far as influencing society, I dunno what the answer is re: entertainment value vs. how much responsibility the writers & producers have, if any, to worry about what their fiction will do to the public. On a purely selfish note, I don't think intelligent, discriminating viewers like ourselves should have to suffer through crappier, censored, or significantly more tame TV just because there're so many idiots out there who're gonna hurt themselves from watching dramas and being influence them to such a degree that they become bigger idiots.

I mean, how much more hand-holding of the supposedly meek TV viewing public do you want beyond the warnings/ratings and the inability to swear* on TV even at 9 or 10pm when the kids should theoretically be in bed ?

*I know it's not on cable (24 on FX...hmmm), but a pet peeve of mine that won't go away in my head is Jack's inability to say anything more extreme than "DAMN IT!" when something horrible happens. A nuclear bomb is gonna go off. "DAMN IT!" Ridiculous and sounds lame.
I enjoyed 24 as an adrenaline rush for a while, but stopped watching because of the torture porn.
The New Yorker huh? Don't let them watch Spooks! 24 has nothing on that show *memories of that deep fat fryer torture scene coming flooding back*.

And speaking of said magazine apparently Joss has an interview in it sometime soon. And also in Vogue (no I'm not making that up).
Dana said:

"EVERYONE was evil or plotting or bad, no one could be trusted, torture was so readily used."

Okay c'mon...don't use hyperbole to make a point, every character was evil or plotting? No. None of the good guys at CTU were shown or implied or even barely hinted at to be evil, nor Jack, nor his sister-in-law & nephew, etc. The one agent (big black guy by the name of Curtis) who did have his own agenda against the former terrorist leader, had a pretty good reason since that man was probably responsible for Curtis' soldier brother getting killed in the Mid-East. He acted against protocol and seriously jeaporadized getting help & info from the suspect, but Jack had to kill him and it was shocking and awful, especially since longtime viewers have had Curtis around since Season 4.

I can see how you'd get the impression that the show has copious amounts of torture if all you've seen is Season 6. Season 6 has been the only season to start the day off with chaos already happening in the States and suspects already being apprehended (or Jack getting captured and tortured). This year also isn't a very friendly jumping on point for new viewers, but IMO, as with almost every TV show out there, it's way more enjoyable to start from the beginning of the series and get to know and care about the characters and see how plot threads (and sometimes even villains, though they rarely survive on 24) develop and then carry over into subsequent years.

God, I feel like such a 24-apologist right now. I can't stand by and watch the show get trashed though. Some of the things a few of you are saying is opinion, fair enough. But some of the mud you're slinging at the show is just plain wrong and vitriolic.
Thanks for posting this. I've been following this issue for some time on political blogs.

The majority of military experts believe torture is counter-productive. You don't even have to involve the morality of the issue to condemn torture: it's not a reliable way to extract information.

It is not the responsibility of TV writers/producers to protect or promote any morality. If real soldiers and political/military leaders watch a TV show and believe they're vindicated in acting a certain way, the blood of the torture victims is on their hands, not the people who are putting out an entertainment product.

I show my personal disgust with shows like 24 by not watching them (though I still love you, Fury, I'm not gonna watch crap like 24).
I haven't enjoyed 24 much the few times I've watched it. I agree that artists aren't responsible for the real people doing similar jobs to the fictional ones being influenced. But showing torture as being usually effective is just wrong to life, so I would say bad art.

Unfortunately, I think it is true that the effectiveness of torture is intuitively, though wrongly, true to a lot of the people doing these jobs. And training is only effective if it's reinforced by actual practice and leadership. And the media is powerful. I would feel bad as a writer if I had written one of these torture-as-heroism scenes. And as someone involved in trying to train people not to do these things, I just feel very frustrated and discouraged by the shift in our culture over the past several years.
I haven't read the interview, because I'm watching on UK time, so I haven't seen the very latest episode, which I presume it is talking about (we get that on Sunday), but I've been watching 24 since the start. One of the things which struck me particularly in Day 5 about the torture was how often it failed to get any useful information. Maybe once I've seen the episode I'll read the interview and see what it says, but I think anyone using 24 as a handbook and CTU as a role model organisation would be pretty crazy: that place is so full of dysfunctional/evil people - or else people with dysfunctional/evil families (even Jack!) - you've really got to question their screening and recruitment processes. "Heightened reality" is definitely it. I think it's quite hard for people who dip in & out of this show to get the measure of how very funny it is, because of the absurdities they have to use to up the ante and not repeat themselves, and have everything happen to a stop-clock. I make no apologies for loving it.
I make no apologies for loving it.

I don't either -- well, I don't love it, but I used to enjoy watching it, and even though I drifted away, it wasn't because of the right-leaning politics or problems with "heightened reality" -- I just thought the show was stretching plausibility far too much. I don't even have a problem with the writers and producers continuing to write what they want. I completely believe in the integrity of the artistic process and its freedom from censorship. I just think it's silly and irresponsible of them (the writers, etc.) to deny that they are making an impact when they totally are.

Oh come on, no they're not. Maybe for any sadists watching. Everyone's mileage is gonna vary, but for me the most memorable scenes are the emotional ones

Then why are they so adament (in the face of real-life consequences) that they have the right to continue? There may be a large segment -- even half -- of the audience watching for the emotional scenes, but a large percentage tune in for the adrenaline rush. And even though I've fallen away from actually watching the show, I've heard about the intense torture scenes from random entertainment sources, message boards. If the show weren't built on adrenaline kicks but more mature plots, why are they so resistent to change? If they went to a kinder, gentler place, some people would stop watching, complaining the show is getting soft, or worse, boring. That's what's unthinkable.

And speaking of said magazine apparently Joss has an interview in it sometime soon.

Are you kidding me? Joss in the New Yorker is an amazing thing; it's my favorite magazine, with some of the best non-fiction writing in America today, and they've never, ever once mentioned BtVS or Joss. (How do I know? I totally checked the library full-text databases.) And they do great interviews. If true, I'm going to explode in joy!

[ edited by dottikin on 2007-02-15 12:07 ]
Simon, I haven't seen much of Spooks but I did see the episode with the deep fat fryer scene. Incredible television but you just don't burn off a face like that. Criminal waste of pretty. :)

I'm a massive 24 fan and I love it just the way it is. I'm not going to defend the show or the methods and violence we see in it because it's one of those topics where nobody is going to change their mind. You either accept the violence or you don't.

All I will say is that it only ever seems an issue when the show in question is based more closely in reality. I don't know if anyone here would have cared if Angel had stuck that paper-spike through Linwood's eye to get information about Connor but if Jack Bauer had done the same to get information about a bomb then it might not have been so easy to accept. A vampire gets to be a lot more casual with the torture than a human being. Something to do with it being fantasy over "reality".

Whether it was Angel or Bauer though, the essence of the violence exists so I'm not sure how one becomes okay when the other is not. I think if you can accept that violence is a part of life enough to not mind seeing a vampire getting nasty on a human being's eyeball then surely a real life setting is no more upsetting?

For me, the reason I can let the torture and violence go is because of the immediate nature of the show. It's a race against time where information needs to be gathered as quickly and efficiently as is possible and sometimes that involves inflicting pain. It's obvious to me that Jack doesn't do what he does because he wants to or because that is how he gets his happy time. He does what he has to do for the greater good of the country he loves, as I'm certain many real life soldiers and agents do in many countries around the world.

This really isn't a defence of 24 or it's content. It's just the way I personally look at it. Violence is real and, especially in the type of world that Jack Bauer exists in, is pretty much essential. There are many aspects of 24 that stretch credibility, the real-time aspect sometimes being a big one, but I tend to think that the violence we see is probably the most realistic part of the show.

[ edited by Roxtar on 2007-02-15 12:50 ]
Kris: I am not sure where you get the idea any comment I have made is vitriolic. I have been very clear that I have seen a sum total of 2 hours of the show, I did not like it at all, I felt that it heightened the torture scenes and that it seemed that no one could be trusted. I have no clue who any of the characters are, don't know back story, and based my comments on exactly what I watched. Nothing more. But I find it odd, some of the responses here. In one comment above, someone accused someone else of being irresponsible, simply for making a comment that she or he felt that people tuned in for the torture scenes. That is a bit much, don't you think? It's a viable opinion, every bit as much as the counter-opinion. So what is it about this specific show that causes such sharp comments?

At the end of the day, I simply exercise my right to not watch.
Love Fury. Don't watch "24" (shh. Please don't tell him). First time caller, long-time listener... ;-)
I stopped watching 24 after the third season because of the use of torture and they way it is depicted. I had a really strong reaction to it, watching the show made me feel dirty.

Don't really know why it affected me so strongly, I guess there is too much of that stuff going on for real, particularly at the moment. I can also totally see how this might influence people in the wrong way (particularly in the way torture is shown to work like a charm). I am glad the military is taking a stand and showing a lot more responsibility than any of the people involved with this show.
Haven't seen the show but I did read the article. The show's creator is a right-winger whose mission is to convince Americans that in order to survive we need to give up some of our civil liberties. That's not a wacky leftist interpretation. He's straight-forward and unapologetic about it, which makes sense since that's what he believes is right. Joss Whedon isn't apologetic about having made a show that tries to influence people's attitudes about girls and women, even though there are certainly people out there who think that empowered and independent women are the devil's work.

The "24" creator is currently working on a right-wing comedy news show to try to counter "the Daily Show", and his goal after that is to do something that will demonstrate to Americans that Joseph McCarthy was a hero, who has been unfairly maligned by the media.

Does make me wonder if David Fury isn't being controlled by the evil television puppets, after all.

Whether or not any of us believe that television influences people's attitudes and beliefs about the real world, the guy who makes "24" clearly does and is using it for that purpose. Of course, if television is *just* entertainment, then BtVS was just a fantastical show about a hot chick with superpowers, nothing more.

[ edited by barboo on 2007-02-15 17:44 ]
Actually, barboo, if you had seen the current season you would know that the message it is giving is the exact opposite of giving up civil liberties to survive. Those that preach that way of thinking within the show are very much painted as the "bad guys", in some ways as much as the terrorists are.
I'm also going to chime in with a few things. I shy away from saying that tv shows/games/music influence people, even though I know full well they do because an alarming number og=f people see that as license to cede personal responsibility for their actions to whatever "influenced" them.

Let's just remember to watch our phrasing as threads like this can spiral out of control if we don't keep a civil head and repeat the rule "Think twice (or more), post once."
zeitgeist, I believe the great Bob Vila wrote that *about* posts, did he not? ;-)

It IS very interesting that something cloaked in the costume of 'entertainment' is held to a different standard than that which is a straightforward 'news' or 'talk' show. And with shows like "The Daily Show" and the trend towards 'edutainment' that line gets blurrier and blurrier, I believe.

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