Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Silent Clock

Flipping randomly through my Netflix Streaming Queue, I came upon 24.  The early-to-mid-2000's series about Jack Bauer and the fictional Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU) figured heavily on my weekly must-see shows of that time period.  In fact, I already own several seasons on DVD.

I remember when 24 first premiered, it was only a few weeks after 9/11.  The premiere episode included an airplane bombing - naturally, that the producers considered cutting the sequence or postponing the episode.  Eventually it aired, uncut, and the series went on for another 7 seasons.

24 associated, fairly or not, with the Bush era of heightened awareness of our state of security, and the steps we as a country would take to secure our own safety, both home and abroad.  The producers of the show swung to both ends of the spectrum throughout its run, and the character of Bauer went with it.  Torture, terrorism, two (!) separate nuclear explosions and numerous other attacks from both foreign and domestic ne'er-do-wells served as an intentional/unintentional commentary on our country's own feelings toward its own increased security.

While it can mostly be chalked up to coincidence that the show wrapped up its production only a year or so into President Obama's term (8 seasons is enough for almost any show, especially one that thrives on running constantly in high gear) I wonder what it would have been like during the rest of Obama's term.  With the killing of Osama Bin Laden and the general relaxation of the constant fear of a repeat massive terrorist attack on American soil (not to mention the effects of the Arab Spring), the tenor of the country has changed a bit in that regard.*

Getting back to the original point - in the 30 minutes or so I was on Netflix, I flipped around from episode to episode, season to season, watching bits and pieces and memorable scenes.  I re-watched the assassination of President Palmer, retired spies Tony and Michelle, tragic tech Edward, and others. But, at least at this point, I have no plans to go back and re-watch entire seasons.  This is coming from a guy who went back and re-watched the entire 7 season run of The West Wing (with my son), all 5 seasons of The Dick Van Dyke Show and looks forward to a few years down the road of re-watching all 5 seasons of LOST in their entirety.  I also plan at some point to go back and re-live The X-Files, Picket Fences, Crime Story and probably several others.  Why such an aversion to 24?

I practically lived and breathed the show when it was on - almost as much as LOST.  I can rank my favorite seasons in order off the top of my head (5, 1, 2, 7, 8, 4, 3, 6). I know what "Is Teri died?" means, and was there when the phrase first took off.

I think it relates, in a way, to my ongoing aversion to our annual national Rip Off The Scab Day (also knows as September 11th).  Ever year on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we voluntarily re-immerse ourselves in the glamorous mourning of the events of that day.  Jason Bailey of Slate writes:
These programs and others are a part of our continuing attempt to grapple with 9/11, and they raise a simple but difficult question: Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? We watch that horrible morning play itself out again, year after year, one inevitable event after another, helplessly gasping, crying, or screaming at our televisions, knowing that nothing we think or do or say will change a thing. The second plane will crash into the second tower, which will collapse 56 minutes later, and then the first tower will collapse 29 minutes after that. Watching those buildings crumble and take the lives of thousands of Americans is something akin to watching a snuff film. Reliving it all—our last moments of cheery obliviousness, the confusion of those first reports, the utter despair of watching those buildings crumble—is borderline masochistic. Isn’t it?
I feel the same way.  While I'm all for memorials and the occasional tribute, the constant popular re-airing of the footage of that day serves as a voluntary immersion again in all the emotions of 9/11/01.  Most were negative, some were positive, all were strong.  And I think that's what keeps me from going back to 24 - I've lived that life, I've followed those characters, they've drawn me into their world.  Other than the occasional foray to watch a favorite scene again, I have no desire to rip off those scabs once again.  Let it heal.  And move on.

At the end of various episodes in which a major character died, the producers silenced the traditional ticking clock in honor of the deceased.  I think that's a good idea.

* - It would be an interesting comparison to examine the similarities between The West Wing and how it reflected the Clinton White House, moving into the Bush White House, and 24, moving from Bush to Obama.  And how those two TV series reflected and were each shaped by the person occupying the (real) White House at the time.  For 6.9 seasons of its 7 seasons, The West Wing had one duly elected and re-elected president (Jed Bartlett), and another just elected at the very end (Matt Santos).  24 had a succession of Presidents and Vice Presidents over its 8 year run - from the extremely virtuous, yet unre-electable David Palmer to the villainous Charles Logan, at least 3 others in between of different flavors.  A better political sociologist can tackle that one :)

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