The War on Terror will end this spring when Fox pulls the plug on its long-running action drama 24. The pop-culture phenomenon concludes in May when the show's anti-terror tough guy, Jack Bauer, tortures his last suspect.
The hit show first aired less than two months after 9/11. The timing caused conspiracy theorist and former Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura to wonder if Rupert Murdoch had a hand in the terror attacks.
I'd like to see Glenn Beck connect the dots on his chalkboard.
24 was a hard-hitting drama that pitted a renegade federal agent against the world. Bauer -- like the Neocons who ruled Bush's White House -- did what was necessary to combat terror. Few TV shows or characters fit the panic-fueled and F-U tenure of Bush like 24.
I think Bush and his fellow paranoid saw themselves as extensions of Bauer. They were super patriots, who followed no laws but the ones Moses brought down from Sinai. They talked about mushroom clouds over Manhattan and the need for preemptive attacks. Nations were either with us or against us. Any military action -- no matter how wrong, short sighted or cruel -- faded compared to Bush's need to out-Bauer the world.
There is a clear connection between politics and pop culture. TV shows fit their moment in time. Ozzie and Harriet gave us the wonder of a wholesome American fantasy family when most folks liked Ike. Dynasty dominated during the elegant and opulent Hollywood imagery of Reagan. 24 was right at home when Americans wanted to bomb first and dodge questions later.
Joel Surnow, the man who created 24, often boasted that Bush Administration types adored the program.
"People in the Administration love the series," the right-leaning producer once told the New Yorker. "It's a patriotic show. They should love it."
I am sure Bush never missed an episode. How hard is it to imagine the former president and his inner circle (Dick Cheney, Condi Rice, and shock and awe sensei Don "Rummy" Rumsfled) clustered before a 52-inch plasma screen in the West Wing. The crew would munch chicken wings and pretzels as Bauer bashed heads, cut throats and did what was necessary in the name of justice.
In my vision, Bush wears a pressed warm-up suit emblazoned with the Presidential seal. He cheers as Bauer saves Los Angeles from nuclear destruction.
"Look at Jackeroo go," Bush shouts as he spat out a greasy bit of chicken bone. "Mission accomplished."
Cheney rests his girth in a massive leather recliner; his feet elevate above his crooked head to ease the VP's hampered heart. Rummy, eager to please, is at attention near Cheney's feet. Occasionally he notes Bauer's torture techniques.
"Jiminy Cricket, that Bauer's got style!" Rummy adds. "Gotta send a copy of this episode to the boys at Gitmo."
Condi, the woman every true Neocon desires, hates the all-boy nature of the weekly, chest-bumping charade. She loathes the overly macho machinations of the show and how Bauer's manliness boosts the egos of her Neocon brothers. She sits at the back of the room with a frozen, waxy smile. All the while, wishing to be at the keys of a Steinway playing Mozart.
24 fit well with the Bush Administrations worldview. But nearly 10 years after 9/11, the fear-based patriotism that fueled the show's success has faded. Just watch old news clips of Bush spreading Bauer-like panic before the Iraq war. It looks like a bad skit from Saturday Night Live.
That plotline does not play today, because Barack Obama is the anti-Bauer. He'd never down a suspected thug in a toilet to gain vital intelligence. Instead, he'd debate the punk, buy him a beer, and then dominate him at hoops.
If you want a TV snapshot of Obama's first year, look to the new, hip Old Spice ads; the ones with a muscled African-American hunk riding bareback and backward on a white horse.
The deodorant ads might not be as thrilling as watching Jack Bauer hang a terrorist on a meat hook. But they won't give you ulcers or fatten Rupert Murdoch's wallet.