May 28, 2004


24's Subversive Message (Matthew Hisrich, May 28, 2004,

What, other than ratings, is the show's underlying premise for why disaster is always imminent? Like any good soap opera, there are a lot of twists and turns along the way, but as the seasons pile up, the evidence points to one man: President David Palmer.

As first Senator, then President, David Palmer stands for integrity in the face of adversity. Though this season has seen him get his hands a bit dirty, the show places the moral structure of each dilemma in him. While it could be argued that both he and Bauer are what you might call moral
utilitarians, Palmer clearly suffers from the weight of his decisions, whereas Bauer seems to shrug most things off as all in a day's work.

It is interesting, then, to reflect on the rationale for each season's crisis. Seasons 1 and 3 are both linked to a covert operation in Bosnia authorized by Palmer. Season 2, which appears unrelated (though there are plenty of theories), is instead a crisis resulting from tensions with the
Islamic world.

In each case, though, the focus is on the repercussions of an interventionist U.S. foreign policy. Sometimes called "blowback," or what might otherwise be identified by Misesians as the unanticipated consequences of government action, the lesson is the same whether dealing with foreign or domestic policy. Government policy presumes a static and unchanging world
and cannot predict or account for the human response to its policies. Even its "dynamic" models are static because they cannot account for every variation.

In foreign policy, the problem is arguably worse than in domestic policy, because the government deals with political systems its supposed experts cannot understand, cultures that are unfamiliar, and unleashes forces and responses that it never expected. The result is always some "crisis," which means nothing more than a dangerous development that had not been part of
the plan.

"24's" preoccupation with this theme seems indicative of an underlying message for viewers. Season after season, we are confronted with the reality that meddling in the affairs of other countries brings deadly consequences home to American soil.

Isn't the truly subversive message the notion that our intelligence services are even mildly competent? Never mind that they could solve a problem in one day...

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 28, 2004 12:36 PM

You could do a show called "8 Years" where Prez Cl.. Palmer ignores increasingly deadly terrorist attacks until the terrorists succeed in destroying two skyscrapers in New York City.

on second thought, nobody would believe it.

inaction has its own set of unintended consequences.

Posted by: Chris B at May 28, 2004 1:34 PM

On the other hand, maybe the Hollywood scriptwriters are more concerned with their plot twists and so come up premise that's the first thing that pops into their simplistic Leftwing minds? Not having seen the show, but from what I've heard, it would seem that the premise of any season could be anything and the scripts would be virtually unchanged. They are what Hitchcock called McGuffins.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at May 28, 2004 2:08 PM

Actually 24 has a way of amplifying our nightmares
and apprehensions, to a point where drastic action
is inevitable. In season one, an seemingly anti-septic commando operation against a Serbian warlord yields a nearly fatal blowback, which includes the coverup of the warlord's detention
in a secret prison,(ala the Blumenthal gulag,) and a potential destabilization of a US election;
and the seeds of season 3 bio-epidemic.

Season 2; takes the ultimate step in the war of terror, a nuclear attack on the mainland, and
throws in American collaborators to the plot,
that stem from a Islamofascist dupe to renegade
special forces to a shadowy oil speculator, who
is in turn tied to a Central European covert operator. It introduced the need for aggressive
interrogations (against a recalcitrant disloyal
member of the administration, and a islamic cell

Posted by: narciso at May 29, 2004 12:30 AM