Archie Bland: When Jack Bauer ruled DC

'24' was the TV show the neo-cons had waited for

Share
Related Topics

Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller made some pretty rich claims about Britain's knowledge of US torture, but there was one part of the former MI5 chief's lecture this week that will have met with knowing nods. "One of the sad things," she said, in a mournful disquisition on the sort of people she had to deal with in Washington, "is that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Bush all watched 24."

This makes sense to anyone who remembers that wide-eyed British staffers in the Blair years were addicted to The West Wing. Cheney has long been a confessed fan of Jack Bauer's adventures in tortureland, along with a vast audience of adrenaline-junkie serial thriller fans in the US and here. You can easily believe that back in the waning days of the last administration he might have roped his neo-con colleagues in for an evening of explosive entertainment. George would provide the pretzels and some non-alcoholic beer, and the trio would settle in on one of those enormous Oval Office sofas, probably under a duvet bearing the presidential seal, ready to thrill at Jack's masterful way with a pair of pliers and some stripped electrical wire.

The next imaginative jump is a bigger one. Manningham-Buller, we are told, hinted that their enthusiasm for the TV series had more than a little to do with the gung-ho attitude of American agents in comparison to their British counterparts; that, we may infer, the United States' homeland security policy was broadly inspired by the derring-do exploits of a psychologically wonky mass killer who cannot possibly be getting enough sleep.

It's likely that this is the wrong way round. The whole point about the neocons, after all, is that they've been itching to get their hands on a bucket of water and a fishy-looking foreigner since about 1987. 24 has simply caught up.

The problem, in the end, is not what the people in charge watch: it's what everyone else does. Think of The Wire, a brilliant and blazingly intelligent political argument about long-term answers for America's urban wasteland that hardly anyone has ever actually seen. Jack Bauer's adventures, on the other hand, are inescapable. This is not a matter of ideology, but of popular narrative: a ticking time-bomb is obviously riveting, and so is extracting information by means of pulling off someone's fingernails. Multilateral engagement with the Middle East just isn't.

However depressing that might be, Manningham-Buller should bear it in mind because it means that taking on the Bush clan by means of a proxy war on their television choices will never get you anywhere. Imagine, after all, if a double-barrelled British Baroness in pearls walked into the Counter Terrorist Unit at three minutes to midnight and started squawking at Bauer about better information-sharing. Out the back, some grim-faced Islamist is one sharp shock away from revealing the location of the dirty bomb; meanwhile, here's Lady Eliza, chuntering on about due process, and the significance of human rights, and why haven't you consulted your closest allies?

In real life, she's right. Of course she is, and I'm firmly on her side. Transpose the situation to the telly, though, and I'm under the duvet with Cheney et al, throwing pretzels at the screen, and imploring our hero Jack to get his electrodes out before it's too late.

a.bland@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL, AJAX, JQuery, MVC, HTML, XML

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: PHP / MySQL Developer (PHP, MySQL...

C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ASP.NET, SQL, MVC-4, TDD, BDD)

£30000 - £45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Back-End Developer (C#, .NET, ...

Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, JavaScript, JQuery, XML) London

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Web Developer (C#, HTML5, CSS3, J...

C# Software Developer (C#, front-end, Java, JavaScript, VB)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: C# Software Developer (C#, front-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Assistant Editor: Domestic violence is no petty matter

Siobhan Norton
 

There’s nothing wrong with GM

Steve Connor
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried