On 24

Jack (Bauer) and the Beanstalk

By Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, Kyle Dabruzzi

I think one of the reasons 24 is popular is it’s fun to make fun of. I mean, how many times can we be shocked to learn that the Counter Terrorism Unit is pretty much a hotbed of terrorist agents?

–Dave Barry

Before 9/11, the only person at high levels of government who suspected that al-Qaeda might use airplanes as guided missiles was counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. Did his suspicions come from a detailed knowledge of intelligence reports or a nuanced reading of other classified information? No. His line of thinking was inspired by a Tom Clancy novel.

The leaps of imagination that fiction allows can sometimes provide insight into terrorist thought that standard intelligence analysis does not. Although certain terrorist tactics and targets consistently recur, terrorism is at heart a creative enterprise: the best and most lethal terrorists are those who can transform fertile and vicious imaginations into reality. Yet often the chattering class has trouble understanding the role imagination plays in terrorist plots–and the corresponding role of imagination in defeating terrorism. Witness the voluminous commentary dismissing 24 plots as mere fairy tales. One blogger described the show as “fantasy and hi-tech silliness and soap-opera-ish nonsense, and just over-all ridiculous on so many levels” (The Damage in My Face 3-14-07). While such criticisms aren’t completely baseless, they fail to credit the potential utility of the creative processes that go into the show.

To be sure, a season of 24 has more twists and turns than Sunset Boulevard. Some aspects of the  …

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