Lessons from 24

I don’t watch broadcast television. No inclination, no time and really no interest.

Which may be why I missed the series 24 when it was first broadcast. I have spent the past two years watching it, the first eight seasons anyway, courtesy of Netflix. I know it is supposed to be a thriller/adventure series, but I must admit I watched it more as a comedy, despite the violence, mayhem, murders and occasional nuclear explosion. I think that is because I have a little bit of experience in security matters – I just couldn’t take the show seriously because it is so unbelievable, so totally detached from reality.

The show follows the actions of American counter-terrorist agent Jack Bauer as he races to save the world, or at least the United States. The gimmick is that the show’s events take place in real time; an entire season takes place in 24 consecutive hour-long episodes.

If you have missed it, or if you haven’t, here is what I learned from watching 24 – in no particular order.

1. Torture is a routine tool both for the forces of good and of evil. However, if you are one of the good guys you will recover from extreme torture within the hour, with no ill effects.
2. The good guys never run out of ammunition.
3. No-one in the American intelligence community is what they seem. They are plotting against the President or each other. There is no loyalty.
4. It is 50-50 that the President of the USA is planning to do something illegal, unconstitutional or both.
5. Your cell phone is your most important tool – especially if you are plotting against the government. (In real life intelligence workers are not allowed to bring personal cell phones into secure intelligence establishments – they are required to check them at the door.)
6. The forces of evil have unlimited funds and resources. They can pull off complex plots requiring the expenditure of millions of dollars at the drop of a hat.
7. The bad guys never think logically. They are easily sidetracked from their goals. They will make avenging a personal slight a higher priority than their political aims, even if doing that imperils their plot.
8. Everything can happen within 24 hours. (In the real world intelligence-gathering can take months or years, and analyzing the data just as long, but not on television)
9. The government knows everything about you. (Actually this is more true than you may realize, and just as scary.)
10. No matter how many bad guys you kill there will always be new ones to take their place. (This also is true in real life, it has to do with the nature of evil – but I won’t delve into theology here.).
11. There are a lot of terrorists out there and they all want to target the US, so anyone living there should live in fear. (Terrorist attacks are rare. If I understand it correctly, no American lives have been lost due to terrorist attacks on U.S soil since September 11, 2001. On 24 innocent people die by the dozens, hundreds and thousands because of those nasty terrorists.)
12. Canada does not exist. The biggest ally, neighbour and partner to the US is never mentioned in the show. (Despite the star being Canadian.)
13. Counter-terrorist organizations also have unlimited resources so they can match the bad guys’ spending patterns.
14. All intelligence agencies work against each other. That is because protecting the nation is always secondary to building personal empires.
15. All law enforcement officials are willing to break the law whenever it is expedient. The end always justifies the means.
16. No law enforcement agency has adequate screening of potential employees and therefore will only hire those with criminal pasts or who are members of terrorist organizations. On 24 there is always at least one traitor on the inside, working to subvert the counter-terrorism operations.
17. All countries are plotting against the USA.
18. There are independent arms dealers available with whatever weapon you need at all times, in all cities, no questions asked.
19. No major cities ever have traffic jams, allowing both the good and bad guys to move freely, no matter the time of day. In major urban centres no location is more than 10 minutes away from any other location.
20. In order to be politically correct your bad guys should be Russian of Chinese. They definitely can’t be Arab or Muslim.
21. Terrorists always have incredibly sophisticated, complicated schemes that no-one can figure out – except the show’s hero.
22. Family relationships must always be secondary to work. (I suppose when someone is about to detonate a nuclear bomb in your back yard unless you stopped them, you might be forgiven for neglecting your family. But really, how often is that likely to happen?)
23. No crisis is too big to have the people running your intelligence agencies replaced during it. And to have those replacements replaced – leadership doesn’t matter if you have Jack Bauer in your organization.
24. Fast pacing keeps the viewer from questioning whether the plot is feasible. (Okay, I knew that one already, it’s a time-honoured tradition.)

So there you have it, the product of a couple of years of viewing. Would I recommend the show? Well, if you watch one season you have essentially watched them all, but I suppose one season is worth watching if you like thrillers and don’t mind lots of violence. A classic 1960s comedy would be better – even My Mother The Car, generally considered to be the worst TV show of all time.

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