Are Americans yearning for the return of a gritty, ruthless, and effectual hero? If watching one in primetime television will suffice, they’re in luck. This month Fox confirmed that the series 24 will return in the summer of 2014. That means the return of agent Jack Bauer, a protagonist who routinely saved America from terrorists by any means necessary.
This show was wildly popular, won numerous awards, and even prompted debate among political and military leaders about counterterrorism tactics. But ratings fell during the final season in 2010. Most great shows don’t last eight seasons, and it seemed 24 had finally run its course. Why would things be any different now, three years later? As I see it, the current political environment and the national psyche play an important role in this show’s success, and now could be an opportune time for its return.
This program has always been tied to current events and real-life threats, including foreign and domestic terrorists, explosives and biological weapons. Those fears dwindled in the public consciousness a few years ago, but the increase of terror and fear in the past year could change the way this show is received. The Obama administration's shortcomings and partisan gridlock in Washington could play a key role as well.
The premiere of 24 came only two months after the September 11 attacks. It had been filmed earlier, but fear of terrorism helped to fuel interest in the show. Bauer could track down terrorists and derail their plans in just 24 hours. He used violence and torture, and his department tapped phones, but he always saved the day. Critics of 24 said that the success of these tactics on the show gave credence to the Bush administration's counterterrorism tactics and the use of torture.
But as the Obama era began, the national psyche had changed drastically. Terrorism had shifted from people’s minds. It had been many years since a major attack, and the most imperative problem was our staggering economy. People’s foremost fears were layoffs, the stock market, and foreclosures. Bauer had saved America in countless ways, but he wasn’t really qualified to rescue failing car manufacturers or fix the housing crisis. Would he interrogate investment bankers who had gambled with people’s money?
Furthermore, President Barack Obama rode into office on a wave of hope that international policy would be handled differently. Gone were the days of impulsive military strikes, acting unilaterally, and torture. Obama planned to close Guantanamo Bay prison facility and end the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was time for diligent planning, cooperation, and negotiation. Bauer’s strategies and the premise of 24 didn’t fit that narrative. In 24, the U.S. was constantly in great danger, and political leaders were unable to prevent attacks.
But three years later, the world is perhaps scarier, and the U.S. remains an aggressive military force. Even as the Obama administration has ended the two wars, it has continued to target terrorists through drone strikes throughout the Middle East. U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed when a terrorist group attacked diplomatic compounds in Benghazi, Libya. North Korea has periodically threatened to attack the U.S. with nuclear weapons. And Guantanamo Bay is still open.
On a national level, violence has certainly intensified. We’ve seen American citizens gun down a Congresswoman and her aides attacked in Arizona, movie theater goers targeted in Colorado, young children killed at an elementary school in Connecticut; and participants shot in a Mothers’ Day parade in New Orleans. We’ve seen religious extremists bomb the Boston Marathon. Those are just the events that come to mind first.
Obama inspired the nation with eloquent words of hope and promised change. But partisan gridlock and powerful special interests have blocked most of his proposals. Even when 90% of polled Americans supported background checks on gun purchases, his administration couldn’t get the law through Congress. Consequentially, people have lost faith in the government’s ability to keep them safe.
Bauer was not as charismatic or well-spoken as Obama, but he could get something done. He was willing to sacrifice himself, so he could navigate outside the structure of the legal system when necessary. He did some terrible things that later haunted him, and he became a fugitive. But he always took action, and no one could hold him back. Do Fox executives think that in this political climate, Jack Bauer is the hero that people will embrace once more? If so, they may be right.