On Sunday, the fifth season of the phenomenally successful television drama 24 will start in the US. Each season is composed of 24 one-hour episodes and the whole season covers the events of a single day. The story of the series is the desperate attempt of a counter terrorist unit to prevent an act of catastrophic magnitude and the action focuses on the unit’s agents, the White House and the terrorist suspects. The “real-time” nature of the series confers on it a strong sense of urgency, emphasised by the ticking of an on-screen clock. This dynamic is accentuated by technical tricks, from the use of hand-held cameras to split screens showing the concurrent actions of characters. This also justifies that the characters are not compliant with the law and widely practice torture on suspects.
This series validates the analysis of the Law Professor of Harvard, Alan Dershowitz and his justification of torture in case of countdown. However, to perform these practices, the characters who are involved in torture risk their lives in order to save the greatest number of people and face moral problems in view of the acts they commit. This is one of the ideological lies of the series. Based on Hannah Arendt’s analysis, governments which demand from their agents to do a dirty job, keep an emotional distance.
Today, Dick Cheney claims the use of torture and a series like 24 makes it visible. If this practice is so widely shown, it does not mean that there is a break-up with hypocrisy, which means that something has changed in our ethical criteria of interpretation.
“The depraved heroes of 24 are the Himmlers of Hollywood”, by Slavoj Zizek, The Guardian, January 10, 2006.