Jack Bauer and the Power of Suggestion

The New Yorker has an interesting story on 24, real-world torture, and the politics of series creator Joel Surnow (hint: he has a big ol’ American flag under glass in his office). I still watch the show religiously, although I liked it better when Jack Bauer’s antics were so far over the top (“I’m gonna need a hacksaw!”) that it was obviously set in a world that bore only superficial resemblance to Planet Earth. The more earnestly the show trots out water-cooler debates about abridged civil liberties vs. the threat of overstated catastrophe, or wallows in alleged psychological gravitas (can Jack’s heart get any harder and still keep the blood pumping to his fists?), the more it seems to move away from the great, very dark joke(s) at the heart of its sociopolitical fantasia. Anyway, while I guess I can understand the concern in some quarters that 24 is sending the wrong message to the world about how America settles its ideological conflicts, I find it absurd and/or unspeakably disturbing that we would ever have to worry that real soldiers in a real war — and their military bosses — would take their cues vis a vis the physical treatment of the alleged enemy from a fictional television character. Is that really what it’s come to?