Monday, January 5, 2009

"24" shifts with the times, sort of

So, with a new and retooled season of "24" about to begin (following a TV movie that chronicles Kiefer Sutherland attempting to save Africa from warlords and the UN), my friend Jason requested me to make a blog post about all of this, so I will.

I've got little to say about the issue of torture that Andrew Sullivan hasn't already said, but on the issue of 24:Redemption and its implications for US-African relations, I have to say I'm amused. I remember seeing previews for this movie and generally thought it appeared to be a not-too-well-thought-out, Tears of the Sun-esque tale of the White Man's Burden and the good American trying to stop cruel African leaders from killing innocent (and presumably convertable) African children. I thought this type of story went out of fashion with the death of Rudyard Kipling, but I guess I should never underestimate the capacity of a nation to be convinced that its people, and only its people, can save the world.

Basically, movies like this--and the psyche they reflect in America--took all the wrong lessons from Rwanda:
- First, that the United Nations is feckless. (The proper lesson would have been that strong backing of UN peacekeeping missions by the US and other great powers is necessary for them to succeed.)
- Second, that African leades are depraved and will kill their citizens en masse given the first opportunity. (A better lesson would be that when colonists capitalize on tribal or ethnic divisions, they lay the groundwork for genocide down the road, a lesson we ought to be applying to Afghanistan but aren't.)
- Lastly, that only white men can save African children. (Proper lesson: if they come bearing bed nets, maybe. If they come bearing guns, probably not.)

Jason, who is a moderate Democrat and professes to like the show (I myself have never seen it), and who holds a Clintonian respect for a humanitarian intervention done well, wryly observes:

The original impetus behind the making of the episode is telling -- the creators felt kinda guilty that they were rationalizing torture and wanted to atone for it... by making a TV movie that calls for a humanitarian intervention.

So perhaps we can say that 24's politics have shifted from those of The Weekly Standard to those of The New Republic. Not an earthshaking shift, but a shift nonetheless. Sign of the times, I guess. We learn something, we learn nothing.

p.s. For a movie that does a more realistic take on unstable African countries and their consequences, I recommend The Interpreter.

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