Terrorism, Torture and Television: 24 in Its Context


  • John Downing


The discussion begins with a comparative overview of violence against civilians in war, in terroristic actions, and in torture. The comparisons are between the USA since the 9/11 attacks, Britain during the civil war in Northern Ireland 1969-2000, and France during and since the Algerian armed liberation struggle of 1954-62. The discussion covers the general issues involved, and then summarizes existing research on British and French media representations of political violence. The article then proceeds to a critical-discourse analysis of the US Fox Television channel's highly successful 24 dramatic series. The series has been far and away the most extended televisual reflection to date on the implications of 9/11. Political violence, counter-terrorism and torture are central themes. An argument is made that the series constructs a strangely binary imaginary of extremist and moderate "Middle Easterners" while simultaneously projecting a weirdly post-racist USA. 1n particular, the series articulates very forcefully an ongoing scenario of instantaneous decision-making, under dire impending menace to public safety, which serves to insulate US counter-terrorist philosophy and practice from an urgently-needed rigorous public critique.