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.