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Critic: 24 is anti-family

by Meredith O'Brien, posted May 21st 2007 1:01PM

Phillip BauerWhen I watch 24, I don't expect to see depictions of families trying to figure out whether it's time to bring the minivan in for service. I'm not expecting to see characters drinking copious amounts of java while revealing their angst to one another. That's what Grey's Anatomy is for.

I watch 24 for its depiction of counter-terrorism and of what U.S. agents might face when trying to protect the country, as well as for its dramatization of the political implications of fighting stateless bands of terrorists. Plus it's fun to watch Jack Bauer kick some bad guy behind. So why in the world would a New York Times critic assail 24 for being anti-family and for the fact that the program doesn't demonstrate "ordinary social intercourse?"

While arguing that 24 is viciously anti-family, a Times critic said, in the world of 24, family is "an impossible and even dangerous illusion" and that "parenthood . . . is on 24 a grotesquely compromised institution."

Then, near the end of the essay, writer Ginia Bellafante skewered the program for the fact that there's no regular social interaction. "The idea that two people might sit down for a cup of coffee is as contrary to the show's internal logic as the idea that polar bears might someday learn to sing," she wrote.

But who tunes in to 24 to watch people share a casual moment over coffee? Who watches it to gauge where American culture is regarding the status of modern parenthood? It's a program that showcases a twisted world based on what transpires during 24 hours of a day when the fate and lives of people are jeopardized terrorists. Who has time for niceties? Or Starbucks?

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Grow up and get a life of your own. I have my own family. I don't watch 24 for family values, I watch it for entertainment.

May 22 2007 at 3:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Alright, Rob, so now I have to ask: Did you read the article before mounting your woefully-undernourished high horse? While Meredith's reading might have lead you to believe otherwise, the article did not use the lack of normal social interaction to condemn the show, rather it demonstrated that the familial/societal relationships that normally serve to ground television characters in the everyday are used to opposite effect in "24." At the start of the third paragraph Bellafante states: "Since it first appeared in 2001, “24” has successfully woven the terrors of intimate life through its narrative of an America facing potential annihilation. Parents kill children. Husbands abuse wives. Sisters try to kill sisters." In other words, the domestic is unsafe in "24" and the corresponding bonds fail in this "twisted world" (thanks, Meredith) and rather than binding people together, cause them to turn on each other. The show, as Bellafante notes, demonstrate that those bonds instead bind Jack Bauer and his compatriots to duty, honor, and country.

But let's indulge your ramblings for a moment. As a New Yorker present on 9/11, I did not spend the afternoon lunching in SoHo. But that doesn't mean that all human interactions stopped in NYC for the duration of those events and their aftermath. In fact, life rather impressively and rather mundanely continued, from brunching in SoHo to taking out the trash.

'Fine,' you say, 'but Jack Bauer is different.' Really? Is he a real human being? Admittedly no, he is a fictional character, but is he realized in such a way that his actions/thoughts bear some resemblance to those of an actual human being? If not, why are you watching? Why not just watch robots (oh wait, that IS Fox's Fall 2007 plan)? If you can't picture yourself or a real person in those circumstances, hasn't the show failed on some fundamental level? The show hews to closely to reality and current events for that argument to hold much water (I'm not even sure I'd let you get away with it in regards to BATTLESTAR GALACTICA). Furthermore, why would the show's creators and producers continue to include Jack's family if not to show how personal ties are complicated by the grand scheme of things (and vice-versa)?

As to your supposition that "[r]eal life is too boring to put on television," do you realize that you immediately refer to a 'real life' situation on a tv show? Weren't the (only) real moments on SitC those that passed between the four friends just talking? Or what about "Seinfeld?" While the show was famously 'about nothing,' I think Wikipedia summarizes it nicely: "...plots concerned themselves not with huge events or comical situations, but instead focused on the minutiae of real life, such as waiting in line at the movies, going to eat, buying a suit and so on."

That which you find too boring can be quite entertaining. In fact, the minutae of daily life can (and should) put the big picture into stark perspective.

May 22 2007 at 12:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Excuse me, Ginia Bellafante. You write for the Times, so I'm going to assume you're a New Yorker, or know one, so that my following point can be as crystal clear as possible. You're criticism that 24 lacks social interaction is total crap, and here's why: did you sit down for a chit-chat with your buddies for a nice SoHo lunch on 9/11? Because that's the kind of day Jack Bauer and co. are having IN EVERY EPISODE. Not to mention that regular social interaction doesn't exist on television. Real life is too boring to put on television, despite what you and your friends might think while sitting around arguing who is Samantha and who is Carrie. Simply put, you're an awful critic. Now please take your second-rate state school liberal arts degree down off the wall and go get a job at Starbucks, cause you're not gonna make it in this game. Also, if you could, go ahead and stop breathing. You're wasting my precious air.

May 21 2007 at 10:59 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

While, I'm not so sure that 24 is anti-family..what I do know is that 24 is socially irresponsible for it's depiction of counter-terror.

I didn't pen the below list but I'll post it here for your enjoyment:

25 things I learned from 24.

1. Cellphones work everywhere.

2. Constitutional rights, if observed, would effectively destroy the world.

3. No two points in the greater Los Angeles area are more than five minutes apart by car.

4. Sleep is not essential to maintaining proper cognitive function and physical stamina.

5. Arabs bad!

6. No source of information is more reliable than a man being tortured.

7. Not only that, but he’ll cave almost immediately.

8. Dawn and dusk are each eight seconds long on a good day.

9. Severe trauma does not cause excessive bleeding in the human body.

10. Government agencies are outfitted with the latest cutting-edge technology.

11. Chinese bad!

12. The President of the United States does not consult with the military on matters of national security.

13. Umm... or with anyone else, for that matter.

14. No one uses the bathroom. Ever.

15. The most complex paramilitary operations are designed and rehearsed in 45 seconds.

16. High-level White House staffers are selected based on their utter lack of knowledge and experience. (Hmm... actually...)

17. Russians bad!

18. America is just dying to elect a black President.

19. Weapons-grade plutonium is roughly as plentiful and affordable as plywood.

20. It is perfectly normal for a medical condition to show now outward symptoms hours before proving fatal.

21. Evidence??? Dammit, we don’t have the time!!!

22. Terrorists are trained for years in complex political theory, human physiology, nuclear physics and operational logistics.

23. And for three minutes in marksmanship.

and of course,

24. Major networks do not seek to profit from any latent militarism, apocalypticism, or fearmongering which run rampant in parts of contemporary society.

May 21 2007 at 10:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

wow, merideth, you completely misunderstood the article. the reviewer was -praising- the show for bringing the 'chilling' family element back to the show in the last two episodes.

who is writing tvsquad these days? i swear, you guys are a bunch of 12 year old kids on your lunchbreaks.

May 21 2007 at 7:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
BC McKinney

It's an interesting take, because for a drama centered around the workplace which only examines one day each year in detail, a surprisingly large number of family relationships have been presented, almost none of them positive--the Bauers, the Palmers, the Warners, the Mathesons, the Salazars, the Araz's, the Logans, etc.--it's a litany of infidelity, betrayal, physical abuse, and murder.

Despite the creators' intent, viewers are going to watch through their own prism; I remember one organization's capsule review of "Titanic"--"glorifies premarital sex and disobedience to parental authority." The first I'll grant, but the second? It's hardly admirable parenting to marry your teenaged daughter off to an older rich man she doesn't love so you can continue a life of luxury you can no longer afford with your own means, and the fact that it was conventional at the time doesn't mean we should admire it now.

People say "it's only a movie" or "it's only a TV show", but the types of fiction which are popular, and the milieu or worldview they present, are an important sociological artifact. Just look at the change in tone of movies as time progressed from the Depression to World War II to the Cold War--light comedies and musicals juxtaposed with gangster pics, to heroic tales of wars past and present, to film noir and monster flicks.

May 21 2007 at 4:18 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


I'm trying to understand how the post you wrote bears any relation to the article you cite and the only conclusion I can draw is that you didn't bother to do anything more than read the title and skim for 'choice' quotes. Your interpretation is completely slanted and all I can say is you must have overlooked this (choice) quote:
"And the effect [of Jack's father's reappearance] was intense and chilling, a reminder that “24” has always sustained its tension by operating in two genres, not one, deploying the conventions of domestic horror in the language of an apocalyptic thriller." You blantantly ignore this sentiment (including the entire subsequent paragraph of the article) and jump right into the "dangerous illusion" ripping it entirely out of context.

The context you ignore is reinforced half way through the article: "The most enduring relationships on “24” are not between parents and children, boyfriends and girlfriends, spouses or siblings, but between individuals and their governments and causes." Contrary to your reading, the author lauds the show's exaggeration of this tension between the domestic and the political, noting that "[o]n '24' the choice to forfeit all that and respond to your country’s call is never the wrong choice, no matter how regrettable the personal consequences."

May 21 2007 at 4:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think whomever didn't ditch the show after this season is an idiot.


May 21 2007 at 3:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Did you read the piece you're trashing, or did you just see someone else's comments somewhere and try to make them your own? The Times article is a fanboy take on the series! The commentary related to social interaction is a compliment (of sorts) to the show. The point of the article was that it is NOT JUST the action that is exciting, it is because the action takes place and disrupts the typical family or friend dynamic. It is because your wife may stab you, or your uncle may kidnap you, that makes the show so exciting to watch.

Not once does the critic say the show is anti-family, the author notes that the action doesn't permit any real relationships, and that characters are only really relating to the job. I thought the piece was well written and thought provoking.

I think you're an idiot.


May 21 2007 at 3:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Ridiculous story.

That's like saying Sitcoms don't have character development. Or that James Bond movies lack a female lead character.

Talk about a worthless assay that's just catering to a certain demographic.

I think it's because the "brutality" issue has been ridden to death and the season is coming to an end this week.

Funny enough I had more than one coffee-moment of sorts watching this season since the "fast paced action" made me sleepy...

May 21 2007 at 2:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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