Bauer: The Antihero

I received this article in my latest pluggedinonline.com newsletter and it is such a good article about my favorite hero, Jack Bauer, of 24, I thought I'd share. I hope I'm not infringing on any copyright laws...I'm giving all credit to the author, Paul Asay.

Jack Bauer's Seven Really Bad Days

Bad day? Jack Bauer knows all about bad days.

Bauer, Kiefer Sutherland's iconic protagonist in Fox's cult TV hit 24, never calls in sick. If he whines about a stiff neck, it's probably broken. If he says he's tired, he's probably dead. He's in the midst of his seventh no good, awful, miserable day now, and in the previous six, he's lost his wife, estranged his daughter and has watched dozens of friends, co-workers and bosses die. He's even shot a few of them himself.

Oh, sure, he's tried to switch jobs, but can you really imagine Bauer as an accountant or a janitor or (watch your back, Paul Blart) a mall cop? Of course not. He's got a country to save, evildoers to kill and product placements to drop. Bauer's been at this game so long that he's not just a terrorist's worst nightmare: He's become a role model for many Americans.
Which, frankly, makes me pause a bit. People are looking to Jack Bauer for inspiration and guidance?

Yep. Pastors use him as sermon illustrations. Office dwellers rave about him over cubicle walls. And according to Newsweek's July 2008 account of books written on the subject by Jane Mayer and Philippe Sands, Jack has "his fingerprints all over U.S. interrogation policy. ... The lawyers designing interrogation techniques cited Bauer more frequently than the Constitution."

"You're gonna tell me what I want to know," Jack says in Day Five. "It's just a question of how much you want it to hurt."

This, in essence, sums up the nuts-and-bolts appeal of 24. Viewers tune in to see how far Jack will go, this time, to save the world. In a television landscape saturated with dark, complex antiheroes, Bauer is in some ways the most heroic and most ... well, anti.

24 was born in the wake of 9/11, and Bauer's character was bred in a period of grave national insecurity. The terrorist threats confronting our country seemed faceless and ruthless—a different sort of enemy that we'd had little experience fighting. It's not too surprising that Americans, feeling queasy with chaos and longing for a return to normalcy, started asking some hard questions: Should we sacrifice some freedom to buy more security? Must we engage in short-term evil for our long-term good? How can we play by the rules when our enemies clearly aren't?

Enter Bauer, a gun-toting, pliers-wielding one-man wrecking crew, willing to do whatever it took to protect the good ol' U.S. of A. Don't talk to him about nuance. Bauer's got the end game in sight, and he pursues it with single-minded clarity. He knows more about our enemies than we do because he's closer to them—both physically and emotionally—than we are. Which, in 24's ethos, makes him the perfect guy to fight them.

"Jack!" one by-the-book FBI agent says this season. "The rules are what make us better."
"Not today," Jack responds.

There's much to admire in Bauer's character: his courage, his dedication, his willingness to pay the price for his actions. He's a rebel with a cause.

"Do you understand the difference between dying for something and dying for nothing?" Bauer asks his longtime boss during Day Six after returning from a Chinese torture camp. "The only reason I fought so hard to stay alive in China was because I didn't want to die for nothing. ... Today I can die for something."

Indeed, 24 revels in Bauer's moral equivalency. It takes pains to point out that Jack, in his quest to save the world, has lost almost everything along the way—including, perhaps, his own humanity. This season, Bauer's been partnered with FBI agent Renee Walker, who can't quite decide whether Jack is a hero, a necessary evil or ... a monster.

Some Christians add a fourth dimension to Walker's three possibilities, seeing in Bauer an almost Christ-like avatar because of his willingness to sacrifice all for the greater good. Others argue that Bauer's so godlike it's ridiculous:
"The ... problem with antiheroes is not that they are flawed, but that they are flawless," writes Newsweek's Joshua Alston. "At least, they are infallible. Jack makes unconscionable decisions at every turn, but he's never, ever wrong."

"Experienced interrogators know that information extracted through torture is rarely reliable," chimes in a senior writer for Slate. "But Jack Bauer's torture not only elicits the truth, it does so before commercial. He is a human polygraph who has a way with flesh-eating chemicals."

What that means is that Bauer only works as a hero because the plot contrives to make him so. His judgment is spot on, all the time. So rules are irrelevant to him. And why shouldn't they be? In 24, rules equate to red tape. When a nuclear bomb's about to go off in downtown Los Angeles, there's no time for niceties, the show tells us. It's like Bauer says during a congressional inquiry at the beginning of the current season, "The people I deal with, they don't care about your rules. All they care about is results."

Here are the results, then: During 24's run, Jack has shot an innocent woman in the leg (above the kneecap, Bauer would note), executed his own boss, kidnapped a presidential candidate, tortured his own brother, robbed a convenience store and severed a terrorist's jugular with his teeth. And, really, that's just the beginning. According to 24.wikia.com, a source for all things 24, Bauer has killed 201 people in seven days (and a two-hour special)—so far.

By way of comparison, Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees murdered just 146 people in the franchise's 29 years.

Sutherland has tried to minimize the social impact of his show, telling tv.ign.com, "It's only after six years that people treated it like some morality play. It wasn't about that. It was about 'There's a crisis happening. This is urgent, and I have to get from point A to point B as fast as I can, cut through all the red tape, to accomplish whatever that task is.'"
But it's never that simple when it comes to entertainment. We slowly become what we watch. And the stuffy, by-the-book FBI guy is right: The rules Jack discards so eagerly are what make us better. They teach us to be human. And they're all the more important in times of trial. To look the other way—to compromise our ideals—means to slowly slip away from civilization.

"You can look the other way once, and it's no big deal, except it makes it easier for you to compromise the next time," Bauer blusters during 24's first season, according to 24.wikia.com. "And pretty soon that's all you're doing; compromising, because that's the way you think things are done. You know those guys I busted? You think they were the bad guys? Because they weren't; they weren't bad guys, they were just like you and me. Except they compromised ... once."

Jack, we couldn't have said it better ourselves.


1 comment:

i'm black betty said...

just wanted to tell you i was thinking about you. hope you have a great hump day!!! xoxo