I don’t like posting long articles, but the following is germane to what has been discussed in this thread so I thought this once wouldn’t be that big of a deal. Read the entire article
The show was devised a year before 9/11, but the uncanny prescience of its plotlines foretold the Bush administration's war on terror. "Whatever it takes" is Bauer's gravelly motto - and what it takes on 24 can be highly violent, illegal and frequently involve torture. Why so many fans are in love with a man who tortures people is perhaps a disturbing puzzle - but not as troubling as the question that has dogged Sutherland and 24's creators for the last 18 months. Is admiration for Bauer confined to the escapism of make-believe - or has it had an impact on public opinion and military strategy in the real world?
"What Jack Bauer does is all in the context of a television show," Sutherland begins, very slowly and deliberately, in the grainy register of a heavy smoker. He looks unexpectedly slight, and a little tired, but his engagement is direct and considered. "I always have to remind people of this. We're making a television programme. We're utilising certain devices for drama. And it's good drama. And I love this drama! As an actor I have had an absolute blast doing it. You sit in a room and put a gun to a guy's knee and say, 'Tell me!' Oh, you feel so amazing after that!
"But I know it's not real. The other actor certainly knows it's not real. And up until a year ago, everybody else knew it wasn't real."
In 2007 it was reported that a delegation from West Point had visited the set of 24 to tell producers that their portrayal of torture was seriously affecting military training. Cadets love 24, a general explained, "and they say, 'If torture is wrong, what about 24?'" A former US army interrogator told them he'd seen soldiers in Iraq "watch the shows, and then walk into the interrogation booths and do the same things they've just seen". Their claims were corroborated by a book last year by Philippe Sands about interrogation techniques at Guantánamo Bay, in which military officials cited 24 as an inspiration for early "brainstorming meetings". Bauer, one officer admitted, "gave people a lot of ideas".
Sutherland is a Democrat and says he longs for the day when Bauer's interrogation techniques "go back to being a figment of someone's imagination, as opposed to mirroring things that are in fact happening across the world". Authenticity, however, has always been central to 24's appeal. Just a week before President Obama announced that he was going to close Guantánamo Bay, the latest series opened with the counter-terrorism unit disbanded, and Bauer facing indictment for torture. "The world is changing," Sutherland smiles, "and season seven deals with that. It deals with Jack Bauer in a world that's changing where he is obsolete."
But the charge is that life has been imitating art, mirroring what it saw on 24. When I put it to Sutherland, the smile quickly thins, and he begins to look annoyed.
"First off, I'm just going to tell you outright, the problem is not 24. To try and correlate from what's happening on a television show to what the military is doing in the real world, I think that's ridiculous." Does he mean he doesn't believe the reports of 24's influence? "Well I haven't read all those reports. But if that's actually happening, then the problem that you have in the US military is massive. If your ethics in the military, in your training, is going to be counterminded by a one-hour weekly television show we've got a really big problem." His growl grows heavy with contempt. "If you can't tell the difference between reality and what's happening on a made-up TV show, and you're correlating that back to how to do your job in the real world, that's a big, big problem."
Although an executive producer, Sutherland didn't attend the meeting with the West Point delegation, but the generals reported talking to him briefly afterwards, and said he'd admitted the show's "unintended consequences" worried him. "Absolute ********," Sutherland insists. "Absolutely. I declined to meet them because I found it to be so deeply manipulative. When the entire country was looking at the US military's behaviour in places like Abu Ghraib, I found that whole thing was a real effort to slide the blame on to something else, and I wasn't going to be a part of it."
If the US army is using Bauer as an excuse for abuse, Sutherland's indignation is understandable. But if, I ask, 24's influence were demonstrably proven, would he then feel any obligation for the show to modify its depiction of torture?
"No," he says flatly. "24 and 20th Century Fox and Sky TV are not responsible for training the US military. It is not our job to do. To me this is almost as absurd as saying The Sopranos supports the mafia and by virtue of that HBO supports the mafia. Or that, you know, Sex and the City is just saying 'everybody should sleep together now'." He looks increasingly exasperated. "I have never seen anyone - and I really do not believe this - I have not seen an average citizen in the US or anywhere else who has watched an hour of 24 and after watching was struck by this uncontrollable urge to go out and torture someone. It's ludicrous.
"So when I put it like that, do you understand?"
Actually, when he puts it like that, I think he's being a little disingenuous. Sutherland is too intelligent not to know that television's influence can be more subtle than that. 24's creator, Joel Surnow, who has described himself as a "rightwing nut job", has certainly given the impression of being not unhappy if 24 impacts on public opinion, saying: "America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He's a patriot." The Fox executive who bought the show has said candidly, "There's definitely a political attitude on the show, which is that extreme measures are sometimes necessary for the greater good. Joel's politics suffuse the whole show." The essential message of 24 is not just that torture can be morally justifiable, but, more importantly, that it works. And in the absence of other more accurate sources of information in American popular culture, it's hardly surprising if the viewing public believes it.
Sutherland repeatedly invokes the phrase "in the context of a television programme", and stresses, "this is a drama", but there are moments when exactly who is confusing TV and reality is unclear. "Jack Bauer," he asserts, "is to me an apolitical character." Really? "Well, can you tell me if Jack Bauer is a Democrat or a Republican?" I would say he's clearly a Republican. "Absolutely not!" Sutherland flashes back triumphantly. "Not a chance." Why not? "Because I'm not a Republican, and I created the character." If Bauer is supposed to be pure make-believe, then surely Sutherland's personal politics are beside the point? I get the impression that the only really consistent thread in the logic of his defence of 24 might be an intellectual motto of "Whatever it takes".
But when he talks with tender affection for his character, even quoting Chekhov at one point, I wonder if I'd half forgotten myself that Sutherland isn't a Pentagon official, or a politician, but an actor. He has nothing to do with writing 24, and for a Hollywood star his patience in the face of charges he considers absurd is remarkable. He has an unusual quality of respectful humility, and perhaps his loyalty is understandable. For it is fair to say that Sutherland owes almost everything he has today to Jack Bauer.
If Sutherland's life is quieter these days, Bauer's is also changing. Although Sutherland resents the controversy surrounding his character, he seems pleased - possibly even relieved - to see the latest series address it.
"Jack Bauer is in a place right now of terrible questioning of all of the stuff that he's done, and that is obviously informed by a lot of things surrounding the show that had nothing to do with us. And the debate which occurs through all 24 episodes, until Jack Bauer finds some resolution for himself, is: 'I'm the guy who will do whatever it takes to save those 45 people on the bus from terrorists. And in the back of my mind I also know that upholding the laws of this land has to be more important than the 45 people on the bus. But I just can't do it. So maybe I'm not the guy to be doing this.' "He's in a terrible moral dilemma about the things that he's done. And I found it heartbreaking."
Does he ever, I ask, think the things Bauer has done are all right? Sutherland stares at me, a cartoon of astonishment.
"Absolutely not!" he exclaims. "Are you kidding me? No! Absolutely not, God no. Be really clear about that." He laughs. "Oh. My. God. NO."