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Fact and Fiction in "24" By: Micah Halpern
MicahHalpern.com | Thursday, January 18, 2007


What I wouldn't give to have Jack Bauer's cell phone.

You know, Jack Bauer, the ultimate uber-hero of Fox's "24." Jack Bauer, the man who season in and season out is tortured, almost terminated and emerges yet again, though not quite triumphantly, to save his country from terrorists and unscrupulous politicians determined to rob the worthy citizens of the United States of their freedom.

Is "24" great theatre? Frankly, I enjoy it. But "real" it is not. Take, for example, that cell phone. 24 hours a day of almost non-stop talk with no need to recharge. Downloads, aerials, satellite connections - forget the new Apple, Steve Jobs should have taken out the franchise on this model.

It's fun, it's nail biting television - it's fiction. But in order for fiction to be accepted, to be even the least bit believable, it must be encased in fact.

Is it within the realm of possibility that a terrorist organization, whether al-Qaeda or Hezbollah or the terrorist team on "24" put into play a set of attacks that would involve multiple, simultaneous, small explosions in cities across the United States? It sure is. Busses, metro trains and subways as well as theaters, shopping malls and sports arenas are high priority targets for terrorists. The writers for this series have learned their lessons well. Attacks of this sort have ripped through parts of Europe and plagued Israeli cities for many years. Add to that the fact that there truly is a significant threat of suitcase bombs infiltrating the United States. Score a point for "24."

Do terrorists - from leaders like "24" 's Osama, to operatives like Ahmed on "24," ever really turn on one another, even sabotage one another? Thankfully, they do. And when terrorists do betray one another they usually do it through official channels and in exchange for large sums of money. What would make a successful terrorist do a 180? There are three reasons: money, safety (personal or family) and, on rare occasions, ideology. Score another point for "24."

Would terrorists really demand the release of 110 fellow terrorists held prisoner? Probably not. They would probably demand more prisoners. As a matter of fact, Israel is dealing with that very issue right now. Score, again, for "24."

Is modern gizmo technology truly the best way to track terrorists? Despite the great accomplishments and sophistication of computers and listening devices and motion sensors, despite the high tech gadgetry of the CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit) on "24" and of their military and of SWAT teams, the best way to find anything out is through a real source, a contact, a mole, a snitch. Any real counterterrorism unit would be lucky indeed to have an operative like Jack Bauer sitting in the inner sanctum of terrordom - even if he himself is being tortured - and learn the true secrets of the terrorist operation. If only the fictional president would have believed him! This time, they get only 1/2 a point - they had the operative but they didn't trust him. But they get another point for their high tech operation.

Speaking of torture - that's where fact falls away and fiction, pure fiction fits in. As much special effect make-up as was applied to the back and the hands of Jack Bauer, it just wasn't enough. Perhaps the producers were being kind to their audience, perhaps they were being kind to their star. But those opening shots of a man who had been held captive and presumably, horrifically tortured for a 20 month period, just did not cut it.

Too few cuts, to be specific. Too little scar tissue. Too few broken, gnarled bones and almost no swollen joints. No hair loss. No unstable walk. No diminished hearing, or compromised vision. And what about when Jack was tortured, on camera, by Fayed the head terrorist himself? The cries of pain were close enough to real - but the recovery was just too quick to be believable, even in "24" TV time. And that face. Who would want to mar that face? Real terrorist captors, that's who.

Are there lessons to be learned from "24"? Sure there are. People want to be entertained and terror - even horrific terror, is entertaining as long as it crosses the bounds of reality and enters the obvious world of fiction.

One more thing - casting directors, when the time comes to make movies of the 2008 election don't overlook the actor who plays Walid, the love interest of the president's sister Sandra, as Barack Obama. He's a dead ringer.

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Micah Halpern maintains The Micah Report.


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