Jack Bauer: Holier than the plot of 24

24 season 8The TV series ’24’ depicts a ‘real-time’ nightmare of a day in the life of Jack Bauer and the Counter Terrorist Unit who labour to save America from enemies who hate their freedom. The show features spies, double agents, last-second saves, and choke-holds and knock-out punches that incapacitate friends and enemies for exactly the right amount of time without ever causing brain damage. It’s all great fun. There have been 8 such days now, and the DVD box of Season 8 has ‘The Final Season’ written on it (which is more or less a guarantee that there is a Season 9).

The reason why Jack Bauer appears on LongWind is that it struck me how much Jack Bauer is the archetypal religious man of his age. The first characteristics of such a person are the obvious ones:

1. He’s not religious.
Being religious is not much in fashion at the moment, and so the posterboy for modern religiosity should not indulge in the formal stuff.

2. But he is good.
Jack is the ultimate righteous sufferer, sacrificing every personal comfort to the greater good.

3. More or less.
OK, so he is also a complex character whose sacrifices have taken their toll. So he killed one or two baddies when it wasn’t necessary… Disobeyed some orders… No one’s perfect.

4. Which makes him open to spirituality-lite.
Getting all religious is either for wusses or fanatics. The modern religious person likes to dip his toes into spiritual things, but not to get too wet. Jack’s response to his guilt and anguish at his violent misdeeds in the second-last season is resolved when he and a Muslim cleric forgive themselves together.

I suppose that means that the biggest problem created by our evil behaviour is that it makes us feel bad. For a long time, people have misunderstood Christianity as a means to help people cope with feeling bad about themselves and the world. Modern religion seems to have simply ‘cut out the middle man’. You can get some DIY forgiveness — settle the score with yourself. If the only relationship under threat is with yourself, it probably means that you should be able to decide what damages that relationship with yourself. Which is why…

5. Jack is the measure of all things.
The final season (maybe some minor plot spoiling to follow) sees him chastise a special-forces soldier for disobeying a president’s order simply to save civilian lives. Jack, who made a career of defying presidents for exactly the same reasons given by the baddies in this season, claims that it wasn’t the soldier’s call to make (because this is a good president). Later in the same season, Jack defies the president’s order too — not even to save civilian lives, but mostly because he felt she was covering up an unacceptable injustice — because her actions had become unpresidential and were therefore to be disregarded. In other words, obedience to the president is right, so long as the president is being presidential enough for Jack. Jack’s standard of right behaviour in the situation is the one that matters.

So Jack is the ultimate standard-bearer for modern religion. It’s nice and secular, but with a vulnerable spirituality about it. Yet it’s all self-directed, to that point that one sets one’s own rules and issues one’s own forgiveness. That’ll work out well for Jack as long as he really is top of the spiritual food-chain.

While I can see why people misunderstand Christianity and why it is not fashionable right now to take it seriously, I’m not sure why the Jackbauerism that many follow is a more credible alternative. Am I to be happy that you’ve dealt with your misdeeds by forgiving yourself? Am I to be happy that you’re a good person by your own definition? It’s kind of funny to me that many people today will wager that if there is a God, He’ll be welcoming of them because they’re ‘a good person’. Unsurprisingly, the Christian God isn’t much interested in how well you stack up to your own unit of measure. He’s more concerned that you thought it was up to you.

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One thought on “Jack Bauer: Holier than the plot of 24

  1. Screamer42 says:

    Absolutely love that last line!!! Valid criticism though that seems to be the case with most story-telling, thinking now of Harry Potter and James Bond. There’s something about the Heroes inability to fall beyond grace that’s supposed to grab you. Doing the right thing is almost never cool since authority is so often completely evil/corrupt/sold out. So you got to do your own thing. If you get it right, well of course, you knew better than the authorities. If you get it wrong, well, who’s without blame or any fault – don’t judge me lest ye be judged (a favourite quote from the Bible by those without any grasp of it)! The hero cannot really go wrong. And even when he does, there’s some kind of redemption act (usually involving a self-sacrifice to save others) to show you that underneath it all, he’s actually not a bad guy – just made a few mistakes is all.

    It is amazing how bad a view of reality TV/movies portray. I’m more aware now than ever that I’m going to have to take a very active role in what my son watches as he grows up. Even the animated stuff.

    Great post. Loved it.

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