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Torture and the Ticking Time Bomb in the Era of Global Terror (February 2018): Torture in the Media: Jack Bauer’s World

By Julie Beicken

Torture in the Media: Jack Bauer’s World

The representation of torture in popular culture also changed after 9/11. Whereas before 9/11, torturers were largely portrayed as sadistic villains, as in the classic film Marathon Man, after 9/11 torturing heroes emerged, most notably Jack Bauer on the Fox television series 24. A body of literature has sprung up in response to this trend. Notable is Torin Monahan’s Surveillance in the Time of Insecurity. In this excellent book, Monahan argues that the era of terrorism has brought about new feelings of insecurity, which in turn have warranted new responses. One of these responses is what Monahan calls the “insecurity subject”: someone who can anticipate risks and avoid or avert them through practices of consumption and exclusion. Jack Bauer is an excellent example of this trope. This era of insecurity is different from what Ulrich Beck wrote about in 1992 in Risk Society: Toward a New Modernity. Beck was primarily concerned with the risk posed by nuclear and other technologies and the inability of institutions to manage them; by its very unpredictable and irrational nature, terrorism is almost impossible to control.

Several edited volumes address 24’s reliance on the TTB and its torture-heavy hero Jack Bauer. 24 and Philosophy, edited by Jennifer Weed, Richard Davis, and Ronald Weed, includes essays that consider the moral dilemmas the show presents. Jack Bauer for President, edited by Richard Miniter and Lisa Wilson, addresses the widespread, bipartisan popularity of the show. Reading 24: TV against the Clock, edited by Steven Peacock, focuses on the centrality of torture to stylistic elements of the show. Finally, Screening Torture: Media Representations of State Terror and Political Domination, edited by Michael Flynn and Fabiola Salek, discusses 24 as well as other popular television shows and films that depict large quantities of torture.