Monday, February 12, 2007

improvisations in sadism

Hoo-boy. If you still watch "24," (special two-hour block tonight starting at eight, kids) and you want to continue may not want to read this New Yorker piece on co-creator Joel Surnow. A few excerpts follow. You should read the whole thing, though, if you can.

It's lengthy, and is likely to give you a sinking feeling that swiftly turns queasy. Surnow regurgitates (again) the same old what-if scenario pro-torture people use to justify it we've discussed before. Even though (emphasis in below quote mine):

Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, “Most terrorism experts will tell you that the ‘ticking time bomb’ situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week.” According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book “Torture and Democracy,” the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Lartéguy’s 1960 novel “Les Centurions,” written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book’s hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of “Les Centurions” provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Lartéguy’s scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies—that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.

“24,” which last year won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, packs an improbable amount of intrigue into twenty-four hours, and its outlandishness marks it clearly as a fantasy, an heir to the baroque potboilers of Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn. Nevertheless, the show obviously plays off the anxieties that have beset the country since September 11th, and it sends a political message. The series, Surnow told me, is “ripped out of the Zeitgeist of what people’s fears are—their paranoia that we’re going to be attacked,” and it “makes people look at what we’re dealing with” in terms of threats to national security. “There are not a lot of measures short of extreme measures that will get it done,” he said, adding, “America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He’s a patriot.”

This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind “24.” Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming...In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show’s central political premise—that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country’s security—was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. “I’d like them to stop,” Finnegan said of the show’s producers. “They should do a show where torture backfires.”

[One] expert at the meeting was Tony Lagouranis, a former Army interrogator in the war in Iraq. He told the show’s staff that DVDs of shows such as “24” circulate widely among soldiers stationed in Iraq. Lagouranis said to me, “People watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they’ve just seen.” He recalled that some men he had worked with in Iraq watched a television program in which a suspect was forced to hear tortured screams from a neighboring cell; the men later tried to persuade their Iraqi translator to act the part of a torture “victim,” in a similar intimidation ploy. Lagouranis intervened: such scenarios constitute psychological torture.

Please note: These are not "politically correct" "Hollywood" types saying torture doesn't work. This is the US military, the intelligence community, and former Army interrogators. But the bottom line is Surnow says he doesn't care how many experts tell him torture doesn't work, he simply doesn't believe it.

Discounting the informed opinions of experts so he can behave any way he wants to behave is frightening even in the creator of a TV series. Or rather, in Surnow's case, have Jack Bauer, patriot, behave any way he wants him to behave.

Rremind you of any presidential administrations you know?

He also says:
“There’s a gay network, a black network—there should be a conservative network,”
The man's on Fox and he thinks we need a conservative network.

After you've finished the piece, you may want to read this Hullabaloo post where Digby discusses it:

I'm not all that big a believer in the idea that sending bad "messages" to the troops should dictate what people in a free society are allowed to say or what the policy of the government should be. I think that "24" has its audience and that's probably just the price we have to pay for living in a liberal democracy.

But I'm not sure I think that the highest reaches of government (who have made a fetish out of criticizing Americans for "sending the wrong message" to the troops,) should go this far, particularly when they are constantly telling the rest of us that we should STFU:

Last March, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia, joined Surnow and Howard Gordon for a private dinner at Rush Limbaugh’s Florida home. The gathering inspired Virginia Thomas—who works at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank—to organize a panel discussion on “24.” The symposium, sponsored by the foundation and held in June, was entitled “ ‘24’ and America’s Image in Fighting Terrorism: Fact, Fiction, or Does It Matter?” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who participated in the discussion, praised the show’s depiction of the war on terrorism as “trying to make the best choice with a series of bad options.” He went on, “Frankly, it reflects real life.” Chertoff, who is a devoted viewer of “24,” subsequently began an e-mail correspondence with Gordon, and the two have since socialized in Los Angeles. “It’s been very heady,” Gordon said of Washington’s enthusiasm for the show. Roger Director, Surnow’s friend, joked that the conservative writers at “24” have become “like a Hollywood television annex to the White House. It’s like an auxiliary wing.”

Michael Chertoff thinks "24" reflects real life. For the record, Michael Chertoff also thought "the Bush administration did a magnificent job in New Orleans."

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