Friday, November 21, 2008

24 Killed by PC

The Wall Street Journal reports on the debut of Fox's "24" this Sunday with a two hour movie showing Jack Bauer in a fictional African country trying to save enslaved children. According to the Journal, the rest of the season picks up in Washington DC where Jack Bauer is on "trial" for "torture." The writers and show-runner Howard Gordon (series creator Joel Surnow left) wanted to "re-tool" the series for the "age of Obama," and essentially stage a 24 episode apology for the character of Jack Bauer and all prior seasons. Exit "24" as a money-making series. This season is almost guaranteed to be it's last, and the money thrown at series star Kiefer Sutherland to keep him on the show seems a waste of money and effort.

Thus is Hollywood's great weakness exposed: Political Correctness. Like Detroit's inability to master the art of making economical, high-quality cars, Hollywood's insistence of PC above all, including making money, offers the opportunity to canny competitors to take their customers away.

What made "24" popular after all, was the theme of revenge on terrorists. The character of "Jack Bauer" exists only to wreak revenge on terrorists, who have operated with impunity in the Western World since the late 1960's. This is popular theme in modern Western society, from at least the "Count of Monte Christo," and popularized by characters such as Zorro, Batman, Marvel Comics "the Punisher" and the Charles Bronson "Death Wish" films. This type of theme, revenge (mostly within moral limits) has been a winner for the last two hundred years at least. It certainly was not realistic settings, naturalistic plots, or believable characters that made "24" a ratings hit and favorite among male viewers.

But revenge themes have always been very unpopular with women. Even female-oriented revenge flicks such as Jodie Foster's "the Brave One" have not succeeded with women. This is likely due to profound gender differences. Men are both more comfortable with violence and familiar with what it can and cannot achieve. Every young boy is in at least several fights, while most young women experience social exclusion rather than physical intimidation as right of passage from puberty into adulthood. For men, moreover, physical violence can work to produce a higher status in society or reverse their usurpation from a position by a rival. Physical violence and revenge, however, does not "work" for women in the mating game. It does not make women either prettier or younger. Women generally take the tack that violent revenge does not work because it does not, indeed, work for them. For men, and within reason, violent revenge does work and is sometimes mandated to prevent further loss of power, status, and even life. [Clearly, some female audiences like the revenge genre, "Lethal Weapon" has been popular among women as has the Die Hard series, however in the main, women have not embraced this genre, for the most part.]

Hollywood, before it became Gay and Female dominated, understood this. It would have been inconceivable for say, the "Gunsmoke" writers of the 1960's to put Marshall Dillon "on trial" for well, doing what the character is in fact popular doing. Which is killing bad guys. As late as the 1980's, Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas were expressing the frustration that the average person felt with the drug war by (very stylishly mind you, clad in Versace and driving a Ferrari) shooting drug lords, dead. The 1980's TV series "the Equalizer" presented a whole host of urban bad guys dispatched by the masterful Edward Woodward. At no time did the scripts ever suggest that the heroes were "wrong" for doing what they did. Neither Crockett, nor Tubbs, nor Robert McCall were ever put on trial by their show-runners for doing what made them popular in the first place.

But TV's creative teams are run by the Female (and Gay) mores and sensibility. The group-think of catering to PC has become so strong that what seems to most casual observers to be just another form of "Revolutionary Suicide" ala Jonestown becomes a mandatory drinking of the Kool-Aide. The creative team does not really like or believe in the character of "Jack Bauer," much less the whole notion that a man with few limits in the age of terrorism and nuclear proliferation is required to avert disaster. While the Wall Street Journal notes that the series became "controversial" with critics for it's use of "torture" by the hero, said use of torture and general ruthlessness towards terrorists was the whole reason the show was popular in the first place.

Which brings to mind a comment by poster Usually Lurking about how PC was created, how it is maintained, and how it is enforced and evolves. PC is strongest among Single Women and Gay Men. It is enforced through the social power of these groups, usually by various gatekeepers who label as "un-PC" various thoughts, words, behaviors, and attitudes. It was created as Single Women and Gays started to dominate culture, particularly popular culture,and the media, and White Men generally retreated from those areas of life, pushed out by the forces of PC. It is self-reinforcing through the growth of female consumer spending and the desire of advertisers to reach and appease that critical demographic group. Nowhere is the dynamic of PC stronger than the "PC-castration" of "Jack Bauer" on "24."

The show-runner, Howard Gordon, even has a female FBI agent constantly questioning and challenging the necessity of Jack Bauer's actions. Something the show has in the past shown to be absolutely required, hammered home by the ticking clock shown periodically to remind the viewers of the urgent time pressure. This is a pure expression of female power, and an indication of how the culture itself has shifted in a time of great prosperity and security. A security moreover, that might be well illusory.

Women consumers are courted the most by marketers. Women are assumed to make the household purchasing decisions, and young female consumers, even before they are married, are the preferred target by marketers because it is assumed that brand loyalty is set in early adulthood. Single young women are assumed to spend more than young men, though this may be a false picture, demographically speaking. Certainly most of Television is aimed at young women, with even non-performing shows like "Gossip Girl" kept on life support because it's young female demographic is the most desired by advertisers.

Politics follows this trend, with much attention paid to the concerns of women, and the celebration rather than criticism of single motherhood. The culture wars are over, and Murphy Brown not Dan Quayle was the victor. The victor because of demographic strength and political power, as more and more women become single mothers. An example of this cultural shift is the announcement of Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) that she is pregnant. Sanchez is unmarried. A picture of Sanchez and her boyfriend may be found here.

There is no serious attempt to curtail single motherhood, indeed any such attempt is treated as an attack on womanhood itself, and Sanchez certainly won't suffer from censure by her constituents, who are mostly Hispanic themselves. Forty five percent of Hispanic births, according to Heather McDonald of City Journal are illegitimate. PC makes criticizing the rise of illegitimacy and single motherhood a disaster, politically and socially. As the website Why Boys Fail points out, women now outnumber men in college degrees, borne out by the Census Bureau's figures. That is an expression of earning and political and social power, all related to higher earnings and social prestige associated with College degrees.

This has been enabled by the long run of prosperity, as shown by the figure below from the St. Louis Federal Reserve website:



[click on Graph to enlarge]

This prosperity, and long peace-time security, has enabled the growth of PC by magnifying the advantage that women (and gays) have in the entertainment, media, and publishing industries, along with academia, all places where PC dominates. You won't find much PC, in the areas of Rap Music, or professional sports, or blue collar occupations dominated by men. Women and gays enforce PC through social approval and exclusion for those who toe the PC line or cross it. In areas where this social power is irrelevant, PC does not hold much sway. PC does hold sway in Hollywood, particularly network television, and the fate of Jack Bauer is proof of it.

Jack Bauer, no matter how popular he is with men who provide ratings, is simply anathema to the female (and gay) cultural assumptions that are embedded in most creative endeavors in Hollywood. This includes the taboo against revenge or violence, in the assumption that it solves nothing (reality: revenge and violence transfers power from really cool designers and "fabulous" trend-setters to Orwell's "rough men who stand ready to do violence" so the people may sleep safe in their beds). Even Steven Spielberg changed from the violence-endorsing creator of Indiana Jones to the man who finds fighting evil futile in "Munich."

This is the real reason Jack Bauer is on trial. The character himself violates too many PC taboos of action and masculine independence to be allowed to exist without overt disapproval from the female-gay approved PC star chamber.

However, the long run of prosperity and peace may well be at an end. If Hilaire Belloc, wrote "whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim Gun, and they have not," well, now "they" have the "Maxim Gun." Or more precisely, Pakistan, slow-motion falling into Taliban and Al Qaeda control, with it's 100 plus nuclear weapons (and plans to make more), along with Iran (already possessing enough material to make at least one nuke) promise to end the West's duopoly (with Russia and China) on nuclear weapons. Even more troubling, the prospect of classic deterrence breaks down when these states might not even control the use by terrorist proxies, given the extreme factionalism and the belief among terrorist leaders that no serious consequences will be incurred for killing lots of Westerners.

After all, the plotters of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, planned to topple one tower onto another and kill 50,000 people. Had they succeeded we would be discussing Bill Clinton's wars in the Middle East. It is likely that the next terrorist attack will kill even more than 9/11, as Al Qaeda has since it's founding a branch dedicated to acquiring either nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons. Tapes and other documents show Al Qaeda experimented extensively with chemical weapons (on dogs and goats) in Afghanistan, and the experience of Japanese Cult Group Aum Shinrikyo demonstrates that even a poorly organized cult can kill lots of people with Sarin gas. Nuclear weapons are even more efficient in killing lots of Americans in urban areas. Coupled with a sense of frustration caused by economic decline, this creates a dangerous incentive for groups to target the US. It's not as if New York City can be hidden from shipping containers.

Meanwhile, the long economic growth experienced in the Post-War period may be coming to an end. Fueled in part by relatively cheap oil prices, as explained in my post The Bailout, the stability and long term ability to access cheap oil may be in serious question, even with the price of oil falling below $50 a barrel today. India, Brazil, and China have been unable to create a large middle class consumer class to match that of the United States or Europe, and consumer spending world-wide is in free fall as all the globally linked economies implode together. Partly due to the credit crisis, but mostly due to the spike in energy prices that sent the energy sensitive economies into the ground. It will be a long slow climb uphill just to regain the level of consumer wealth and spending that drove the global economy before the melt-down.

Which would seem to be a golden opportunity for a can-do, time-pressured "revenge hero" like Jack Bauer. Just when the PC forces are putting him on trial. But as they do so, technology is allowing competitors from other places to usurp Hollywood.

Hulu.com had six million hits in September of this year. That's not much, Slashdot by contrast averages around 15 million per month, and Youtube had 83 million hits in September. Still, six million is a lot of hits. Particularly since the cost of reaching those hits is fairly low, and scales well. Youtube after all has spent next to nothing in advertising, and has more hits per month than the CW and Fox Networks have viewers, combined.

The ability to stream, either movies or series, on a website, with paid advertising, allows even otherwise unknown players to compete with Hollywood. It's the equivalent of Toyota using Deming's Total Quality Management and an emphasis on robotics to overtake Detroit. In the same way, hungry and eager companies based in places like Wellington, New Zealand, or Sydney, Australia, or Dublin, Ireland, have the ability to create non-PC entertainment for the American market, and particularly the under served male market. Including characters that out-do the "revenge fantasy" of Jack Bauer.

Despite the PC police and the "trial" of "24's" Jack Bauer, the demand for revenge heroes will not go away. The next Jack Bauer might simply be played by an Irish, Australian, or New Zealand actor, with the money all going to companies based abroad instead of America. Everything has it's price, including PC.

16 comments:

rt said...

That WSJ article notes that 24's ratings went down by a third last season - in the end, 24's formula lost its popularity with the public long before this PC stuff came about.

A lot of the movies you mention feature vigilantes, who are not as popular or unambiguously admirable as traditional heroes. Vigilantes are often tragic figures and their movies often end on a somber, dark note. They have always been controversial figures - one need not be PC to be conflicted about what a society full of vigilantism would look like; more like a Middle Eastern country than the US certainly.

It is no accident that a staple of cinema & TV is the scene where the hero wants to kill the bad guy but is talked down by someone else, with the argument that he must act honorably and cannot lower himself to the villain's level; if the hero's a cop, he's told that he must respect the law & his oath to uphold a certain standard of conduct - prioritizing abstract ideas like the rule of law over one's personal feelings (in this case rage and desire for vengeance) is actually a masculine trait.

Jack is not a traditional hero - he's a guy who gets his hands dirty, which is not as popular in times where people don't feel endangered - and right now,years after 9/11, terrorism is not central issue neither men nor women

There is also the factor that Americans do see their country as particularly moral, fair, & just and like to see it represented that way on the screen. They don't necessarily want to see a gritty underbelly, especially now after years of depressing news reports. During the national debate on the use of torture, there was no shortage of politicians who expressed sentiments like, "This is America and we don't do that" regarding torture - we're "better" than that. The average Russian, for example, has no such sentimentality about their role in the world and is considerably less concerned about the behavior of their government towards suspects. People do like to see movies and TV where America and its agents are uncomplicatedly heroic & have "clean" hands.

Wiredgrenadier said...

* If Hilaire Belloc, wrote "whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim Gun, and they have not," well, now "they" have the "Maxim Gun." *

Well, not only do they have it, unlike much of the West, they also have the will to use it!

And as for the topic of "24", the show died for me after President Wayne "Chapelle" Palmer just sat their after the nuclear attack and kept blathering about reaching out and tolerance - and it was clear that the producers intended to portray this as the "right" approach instead of that of his advisors.

Wiredgrenadier said...

To elaborate a bit on what I just said, President Wayne Palmer up until the point where I stopped watching the show was pretty much the idealized "Gay Hollywood" figure, lacking most of the generally expected qualities necessary for heroic appeal for the male audience.

He was only "special" with regards to his immense lack of decisive leadership, his inability to make tough decisions (or, decisions in general) and his insitence on deliberation and talk in situations of clear and present danger.

As a viewer, especially a politically and historically aware viewer, I find the portrayal of such a character as an example of what the producers clearly wanted to present as moral righteousness shockingly appalling.

This also collides with the character of Jack Bauer, of whom you correctly said the male audience liked because of the revenge/necessity theme. Jack Bauer works as a character throughout the series because it is established early on that while many of his actions may be appalling to personal moral standards, it is these very actions that serve to uphold the greater good.

The theme of personal sacrifice in service of a greater cause always has had a great appeal to the male readership of heroic novels and audience of movies and TV shows. More so - at least so it seems to me - male audience have been far more able to distinguish between personal morals shown and immoral, but necessary actions that thereby, in the long run, become moral again.

I think the Baron described it quite accurately, even though his point was on national leaders.

"Actions which are moral for an individual or a small group may be immoral if taken by the leader of a nation. This is what makes statecraft so difficult: a leader who truly represents his people may have to do appalling things on their behalf."

and

"What would be an abomination for an individual may be an obligation for a national leader.

There is no escaping this dilemma. Any great leader will face it, and if he places the welfare of his own people ahead of his own, he may commit acts that will haunt his conscience for the rest of his days."

What may be immoral for Jack Bauer, the man and father, might and often was absolutely necessary for Jack Bauer, CTU agent. The show thrived on this dichotomy and it's rather clear-cut message that the world was not a happy place, and that it needed a man ready to sacrifice himself, ready to do what was necessary, ready to be a hero.

Over its various seasons, there were always PC-inroads that undermined this sense of absulote necessity and responsibility, but usually the suspense and intense play of Sutherland himself were able to dilute them. But when a nuclear device was detonated in an American city, following a months long terrorist campaign in the USA, and the show advocated the "lean back" approach of Wayne Palmer, that broke the camel's back, and most likely not just for me.

In such a situation, you don't want Pelosi. You want Putin (who, strangely enough, carries much of that heroic appeal: tough, fighter personality; lone wolf, familiar with weapons; decisive leadership among peers etc.).

Anonymous said...

The modern automatic assuption that coercive questioning or summary execution is morally wrong is not one that would have been shared by previous generations of Americans. Un-uniformed combatants were often executed by both sides in the Civil War, under the "Lieber Code". Something very much like waterboarding was used by both sides in the Philippine Insurrection of 1898-1902, with American troops justifying its use on the grounds that the enemy violated the laws of civilized warfare by not wearing uniforms and torturing and killing American prisoners.The "Third Degree" was often used in extreme situations by the police in many big cities up until the 1960's, and I don't think that most Americans had a problem with it, so long as its use was limited to "ticking bomb" situations, where life was in immediate danger. Many of the punishments used in prisons like Alcatraz and Sing Sing in the 1920's and 30's were far tougher than anything that went on at Guantanamo, or even Abu Ghraib. We can argue about whether these actions were right or not, and they were not uncontroversial at the time, but it's important to note that attitudes have changed. Of course, such things were seldom seen in the movies, but this had more to do with the Hayes Code than public sentiment. There are some scenes of striking violence in pre-Hayes code movies. Also, it should be noted that a vigilante is one who takes the law into his own hands, unauthorized by any higher authority. Jack Bauer was not a vigilante.

Tschafer

Whiskey said...

RT -- the popularity of "dirty hands" blue collar type job reality shows such as "Dirty Jobs" or "Deadliest Catch" or "Big Fixes" or "Ice Road Truckers" or "Axe Men" seems to indicate a cultural fascination with blue collar guys who do what is needed. As does the continued popularity of the Punisher and the Death Wish movies with the late Charles Bronson.

Wiredgrenadier is quite correct, the uber-PC of the second President Palmer proposing "peace talks" after the US had been nuked was shown to be the "correct" action and undermined the whole purpose of the show.

Eerily enough, Obama echoes the second President Palmer, and we may yet see in real life a US city being nuked, with a response for "calm" and "peace" and "reaching out" ... only the real life reaction would be rage and impeachment and a new President retaliating.

The danger of nuclear proliferation, one-off attacks, and deniable terrorist proxies, or even just corruption and ideology at a low level (it's unlikely Pakistan at an official level would declare war and attack the US) means even MORE ruthlessness is required in real life.

As Wiredgrenadier says, Putin faced a real life situation: Beslan, and stopped further attacks through unrelenting brutality, the applause and approval of the Russian people.

Anonymous said...

A very similar PC correction took place on the old Mission Impossible series.

They switched from screwing up bad international regimes to fighting evil domestic organizations.

I forget the details - as if they mattered anyway - but the show was gone soon after.

All shows die, it may not have been the change in plots that did it.

Mu'Min M. Bey said...

Whiskey,
Man, I gotta give you mad props. I've been reading along your blog ever since I ran accross you at Roissy's blog, and I dig your work! And, The Punisher is a fave of mine, along with Daredevil and yup, Ironman. Read em all as a kid growing up (Marvel Comics all the way).

Chris has started up a new blog btw, called Dogs of Justice. I had suggested that you join oour team of bloggers there. Would love to see you there!

Finally - and I say this as a Muslim - I LOVED 24! And for exactly the reasons you've outlined in your essay, and as soon as I heard that about the new plot I decided right then and there that I was done with the series. I'm happy for Sutherland that was able to get his career back on track and that he made a lot of money, but I can't stand PC at all. I'll stick to the DVDs.

Holla back

Salaam
Mu

SellCivilizationShort said...

I've never watched 24, because I think manly men should settle things without government involvement, whenever possible.

Also, I tend to like real things, like (e.g.) car engines and trees rather than imaginary things like Jack Bauer. So Jacques Cousteau is worth watching, a show about how to fix a car is worth watching, 24 is basically propaganda.

If I want to see violence, I can see real, live IED attacks on Liveleak anyway.

Peter said...

I've scarcely ever watched 24, but it's a very reasonable guess that the trial storyline is going to end with Bauer completely vindicated. PC will not triumph.

wiredgrenadier said...

PC already did summarily triumph last season. Somehow, despite fighting Muslim terrorists, Serbian whackos or Latin narco-terrorists, the show always seems to find a way back to make some pasty white guys the guilty faction - why?

A muslim nuclear terror threat backed up by a backstory of a several months enduring bombing campaign against the continental US in which more than 700 people died is a more than solid premise. Why bring in Jack's family as the bad guys?

The whole anti-profiling stance within the CTU and the depicted government branches - why?

The whole civil rights agenda pushing against all common sense, undermining emergency preparations, including a direct relative of the President acting against law enforcement - why?

The whole depiction of those within the administration and the security services who stood for tough measures and an offensive approach towards the threats as closet fascists - why?

The depiction of Wayne Palmer as some sort of positive civil rights champion when he boasts about how they should put their trust in the muslim communities as their greatest assets (the same communities who have done nothing to produce a useful lead to those behind the months of bombing attacks and who have done nothing of consequence to stop or outroot those after the nuclear attack), instead of having him thrown out of the job the very moment he made the statement - why?

"24" has always put forward some heavy handed PC concepts that I found deeply insulting to my intelligence and to my suspension of disbelief, concepts that undermined a lot of the thrill the show had otherwise worked hard on maintaining.

I know the show, like every TV show, is intended for a very broad (male) audience, but I cannot let that part of my mind sleep in such situations that tells me "if they really did this, US global influence and power would be gone, instantly". Seriously: a nuke is detonated in one of your cities, killing 12,000+ people - and you talk about outreach and tolerance?

The Chinese and the Russians will walk right over you in the internatinal arena! Your alliances will crumble like sandcastles in the sun! You don't even have to know that much about IR to realize what'd happen! And letting things like this stand without correction simply throws the laborously crafted realism of the show right out of the window.

Half Sigma said...

"That WSJ article notes that 24's ratings went down by a third last season - in the end, 24's formula lost its popularity with the public long before this PC stuff came about."

Season 6 sucked. 24 lost popularity in Season 6 because that season strayed from the first five seasons.

Season 6 introduced people worried about the propriety of torture and the rights of terrorists. Compound that with an ABSURD storyline involving Jack Bauer's father and brother. Did they fire all the writers from the first five seasons?

Whiskey said...

Wired and HalfSigma, yes, that is why I found the sixth season a disastrous train wreck.

The inability to deliver on manly adventure ala Die Hard (an obvious source/guide for the show was telling).

During the Sixth Season, Joel Surnow who created the show was essentially "defenestrated" or kicked out of any influence of his own show by a combination of his writer's PC complaints and Fox (both the production wing and TV broadcast wing) getting nervous about putting something un-PC on the air. Thus the need for "balance" in all the interviews about the show during that season to show that Jack Bauer, the hero, was "wrong" because all the conflict could have been worked out if people would just "hope and change" with Wayne Palmer, aka Barack Obama v. 0.8 (pre-release).

THAT in itself is fascinating, suggesting strongly that PC is so entrenched that it gets the writer-creator kicked off his own show in favor of PC-ness, and when the results are in, and bad, you get more PC in response to declining ratings.

wiredgrenadier said...

On a different note, but in the gist of the same idea of getting PC stuffed down our throats: apparantely the writers have decided to add a homosexual romance to Galactica's last half-season.

How does such a thing drive the already complicated plot forward?

What does it add to the established characters in depth (my guess: nothing)?

There are only like, what? 10 episodes left to resolve the whole Cylon/Human/13th Tribe storylines, so why add even more to it?

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Taru said...

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Innerpartysystem said...

As an elite trend setter, I glad I got out after the first season.

Most shows are only good the first season, since it has to be drastically compelling or un-pc for the studio to invest in it. No one wants to watch the same thing over and over again, unless its family or situational drama, but thats also considering only preoles.