Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Unhappiness of Jack Bauer

Not long ago “Hustle,” a BBC television series, was taken to task by a reviewer in the New York Times. She faulted it for presenting a fantastic image of contemporary London. It was too affluent to be believable, she thought, in light of British “decline.” Obviously she hasn't been to London lately. But quite apart from the question of empirical accuracy, the British have always trafficked in fantasies of affluence, just as much as Americans – perhaps even more than Americans, certainly differently than Americans. Crime and espionage movies and television are cases in point. Compare James Bond or John Steed and Emma Peel (of “The Avengers”) with Jack Bauer (of “24”). Bond wanted to save the free world, but only on the condition that he have a very good time while doing it. Steed's and Peel's Champagne hours made it clear that the idea was not merely to safeguard the West, but to do so with downright witty aplomb. To “defend” Britain while losing the ability to do what made life worth living would be the ultimate defeat, and for the British the good life is inseparable from class, style, and plain fun. Bauer, in contrast, is an utter mess. Has he even once made a witty (or even flirtatious) comment? Has he smiled, other than sadistically? The only women he telephones are his daughter and various computer operators at CTU. For him, the pursuit of justice and rightness and goodness is so consuming as to leave not one of the 24 hours in the day available for pleasure. Bauer is an icon of what the American Empire has come to: it’s just no damn fun anymore. It's all work, dangerous work, all the time, 24/7.

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