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The Post 9/11 Action Hero

In the Bourne Supremacy, a wily CIA director talks about the CIA rendition program, the NSA wiretapping program and a super secret assassination squad as beneficial programs. What bothered me about this scene wasn't the programs themselves (though they do), it was the justification for them, “These are the measures we have to use now; Washington can’t be too slow to act and let the bad guys get away.” This quote is not exact, but the general justification used in the film. Portrayals like this, of a government agency forced to break the rules to keep us safe, became ubiquitous in pop culture post-9/11.

Of the most recent generation of spy, the most disturbing is Jack Bauer on Fox’s 24. 24 is the closest many Americans will come to studying terrorism or national security issues. Jack Bauer, “an adrenaline fueled counter-terrorism agent who doesn’t play by the rules,” will torture any suspected terrorist, including eventually, interrogating the President of the United States. Jack Bauer, the prototype for the type of special agents some Americans have come to believe our country needs, believes the imminent threat we face requires him to take action now without any moral or ethical constraints.

It is easy to see the origin in the new spy, the one who doesn’t play by the rules. In the wake of the fear 9/11, many believe that terrorism cannot be stopped unless the officials in charge have the ability to act quickly, decisively and without oversight. Donald Rumsfeld purposely advocated sacrificing individuals for the greater good. Following 9/11, America faced the tough decision between security or freedom. Judging the newest generation of spy, they choose security.

The one critique of my theory is James Bond’s license to kill. The difference is Bond always had a sense of humor and fought egomaniacal super villains that didn't exist in the real world. Jason Bourne, Jack Bauer and even the new James Bond of Casino Royale, lack the humor and fun of the old Bond flicks.

Hollywood created a new hero for the post-9/11 era. one I don’t like. I don’t agree with letting the government break the rules: it scares the hell out of me and in the long run it will not make us safer. It is too bad Hollywood flicks make it seem so appealing.

two comments

I hate 24 for the reasons you mention. It glorifies and justifies the idea of “whatever it takes,” — literally. I also find the show’s popularity ironic because the same people who love Jack Bauer are the same ones who are so shocked an outraged by the reports of torture in the news today. I find this very hypocritical. They might argue that there is a difference between tv and reality but tv shapes people’s perception of reality.

Also, I think it is interesting to note that it was Jason Bourne’s sense of morality that ultimately leads to the story we see in the movies. He loses his memory after being shot after refusing to kill the dictator on his yacht with all of his children present. As his memory recovers he remembers the horrors of what he was trained and assigned to do and decides he won’t do it anymore, brining on the international manhunt that ensues.


24 irks. i’d love to write more articles but don’t really want to spend 24 hours watching a season.