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Reverend Billy Headshot

The End: The Show Called 24

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The chaos and violence now? It's as thick on the ground as an aimless world war, except its perpetrators (I should say its producers) hope that it is accepted as normal, as "democracy," or "freedom." The producers are saying they want to rework the ending of all this. The story-line has problems. They want more time. But the climate crisis is like the dark stranger who walks in and stands alongside all the other violence but becomes the terrorist leader of a world of unrepresented victims.

Last night we watched five episodes of the television hit 24 in succession. Jack Bauer, played by Keifer Sutherland, is starring in a plot device that is Karl Rove's imagination with commercials. The viewer is high on fast cuts, blood and fire flying across the screen, sex and computers, internet beheadings and ticking clocks. Ticking? Time? Yes, the most oft-repeated phrase in the series is Bauer shouting, "Hurry up! We're running out of time!" He makes running out of time our erotic desire. He wins the sexy diplomat while running out of time. He saves Los Angeles while running out of time. But what is Jack Bauer really doing? He's killing what little time is left.

Now the right-wing blockbuster End of the World is confronted by the earth's own version. That's where the star who shouts "We're running out of time!" comes face to face with the nightmare he was daring. Jack Bauer can't say "I was kidding! Actually, ask my girlfriend.... I'm for Peace! In fact, I'm Green!" The far larger voice, with a much bigger drumbeat, says, "You can't keep ending time forever. This has got to stop." The earth's end of time is the end of civilization as we know it, but the earth itself will survive the floods and fires and droughts and two-mile-wide tornados -- yes the earth will be back next season. Homo sapiens just watched so much TV -- we always thought there were more endings, good endings, bad endings, cliff-hangers, saved heroines...

The invention of 24 is that every three or four minutes, there is a completely devastating The End. Bauer dies repeatedly -- almost. Then he falls through the roof of a hummer, killing 20 stand-ins for Osama, and lands behind the wheel whispering his love into Donald Rumsfeld's daughter's ear going 80 up an on-ramp. It's like the death and resurrection of Christ, up and down and up and down and up like a jack-in-the-box of damnation and redemption. This is narrative version of American Idol, the humiliation of waiting tables again or the cover of People, Hell and Heaven like the vibration of positive and negative in an electric engine.

If you want to survive all this -- years ago they used quaint words for you, words like "peace worker" or "environmentalist" -- but let's just say you're a couch potato who wants to LIVE. You have to wonder -- how could we do anything that would move large numbers of Americans, if this voyeurized murder, this Iraq War as Vegas act - is really a hit show? How can peace be as interesting as the expression on the face of a fast, bad death? Your pastor's advice goes like this: The less hope, the more change. When a new system of life and death comes into the room, do you think Jack Bauer will still pitch his sado-porn history lesson, the war in Iraq as a yuppie romance? No -- the earth is not just another producer. We don't even know it's name, but we know that it's way, way above the title -- something like "All The Life On Earth In A Very Bad Mood."

Is there time left to propose another kind of living? Is there a break in this planet-wide death show? We don't know. The scenarios are fanciful, like the way young people have dreams before a revolution. Like: what if we rise from our television and see through the window that our white-skinned neighbor on one side or our dark-skinned neighbor on the other have televisions, too, and we realize we're all running out of time together. We have to become radicals in the same moment in a completely new belief. That is hard enough. But not only that -- all the gods and corporations and nations are pleading with us stop this foolishness and come home and keep killing. If the earth speaks through us, if we are the earth's actors, we might say "...we don't have time for this."