I am up to episode 10 of the first season of 24 and I think I’m beginning to hate it. I can overlook the dumb story line. But now that the whole ‘real time’ thing has become more familiar than novelty (I was a bit interested in the way a meta story arc would develop over a season if we’re talking one hour at a time – a season one day long… though soap operas have been into that shit for years), I’ve had time to notice other things.
1. The black presidential candidate David Palmer. I’m sorry, but I’m just not accepting the idea that the US would have a black candidate as a realistic presidential hopeful. I certainly don’t dig the idea that he’d have so great a chance as to prompt a complex, expensive and utterly unrealistic assassination project. But perhaps there are other issues I haven’t yet met, seeing as how I’m only up to episode 10. But I’m afraid I’m just not buying it.
2. The gender stuff. Holy fuck. Rape, rape, rape. And then, most wonderfully, male vengeance for female victims. It’s beginning to make me insanely angry. I hated the Crow for this little narrative element. What is it with people writing media? Can’t they imagine a woman avenging her own rape? Can’t they imagine a woman who is not a victim, a potential victim or man-bitch-who-you-wouldn’t-fuck-but-can-kill?
While 24 no doubt thinks it’s being clever, it’s no I Spit On Your Grave – there are no ambiguous gender politics or opportunities for resistance here.
The rape stuff:
Let’s see. First we have Palmer’s daughter, who was raped seven years ago, but then avenged by her teen aged brother. Even more wonderfully, her mother Sherry colludes in covering up the brother’s vengeance. Sherry is increasingly painted as a deceitful, ambitious, nasty, emasculating harpy who doesn’t do as she’s told. There’s bad stuff in their family generally – a father with a secret (and inability to love his family properly, hence making him responsible for the daughter’s rape, the son’s having to avenge her and the mother’s having to take control of the family), a damaged daughter, an angry murdering son and a harpy mother. It’s not good. It’s certainly no Bartlet family.
Then we have the hero Jack Bauer’s daughter Kim’s friend who is apparently date raped, or at least drugged and drunked to the point where she’ll have sex in a furniture store (I’m not buying the ‘safe sex’ clue – the used condoms helping the mother figure out they were there. These are not condom boys). She ends up getting killed by someone the rest of the characters think is her father. Nice. No one punishes a whore like the patriarchy, right?
Then we have the daughter Kim’s ‘faked’ rape while held captive. The male abductor(who is now her ‘friend’) lies to his fellow guard, telling him he’s going to assault Kim, while really he uses this as a cover to sneak her out and help her escape (though she doesn’t escape).
This rape story then serves as a plot device, with the implication that this character’s story about having his way with Kim placed the idea in his fellow guard’s mind. This guard, apparently aroused by the daughter and mother’s terror as they’re on their knees with guns at their heads, awaiting execution, then decides to assault the daughter.
This is the bit that makes me fucking furious. The mother, Terri, volunteers to sub in for Kim and ‘allows’ the abductor to rape her. Though this is revealed as her using the chance to steal his mobile phone, she is later punished with some nasty cramps.
Meanwhile, Jack is rushing to save the ‘family’ – the vulnerable mother and daughter – save them from… whatever. And the point is repeatedly made in episode nine that all this is to preserve their family. Their nice little nuclear family.
This whole ‘mother subbing in for daughter as rape victim’ thing makes me so fucking angry. I just don’t see it serving any narrative purpose other than disturbing titillation. And the old ‘protect virgins’, ‘women who’ve had sex don’t mind being raped’ thing drives me wild.
I know that that the narrative relies on the mother and daughter needing rescuing (which sucks, but well, what can you do?), but why can’t they make Terri a dangerous captive whose actions mean that she is more likely to be killed, and so making Jack’s speedy completion of his mission all the more important?
2a. The gender stuff – general female characters.
Ok, so now I’m seeing some serious misogyny. What female characters do we have left?
1. Jamey. Asian/Latino (I’m not sure, though Latino is implied, and one of the dodgier characters, Tony, makes a muttered (and presumably racist) comment to her as she’s tied up in episode… eight or nine (I can’t remember which)). She’s a traitor, she ‘commits suicide’ (I haven’t seen enough to be sure of this – it looks like it was set up by Tony, who could be a baddy, but I don’t think he ends up being a baddy. I can’t actually predict this show, which tells me it’s either cutting edge, genre-bending plot action or just a bit messy. I suspect the latter), she’s a single mother. She has to die. Quite bloodily and nastily. She was a technical wizz as well, and of course, had to die.
2. Nina. Skinny, dark hair, the hero’s number 1. Is told by a nasty bloke that she used to have a good reputation, that she was ‘going somewhere’, but her affair with Jack has left her a low-status has-been lapdog for Jack. I’m not sure how or why, and while this male character is kind of unreliable, Nina apparently believes him.
Nina and Jack had an affair while Jack was estranged from his wife Terri. Nina is punished by Jack when he shoots her and shoves her down a hill (she’s not really dead or shot, but it’s suitably emblematic of their relationship). Nina is also continually jostling with the unreliable Tony for Jack’s attention/the number 1 position.
Nina sucks. She’s pathetic. She gets bossed around by Jack and Tony, refuses to think for herself and gets into deep shit.
3. Nina is pushed aside by the pale skinned black woman Alberta, Jack’s replacement as boss of the department. The pale skinned black woman thing is important – all the ‘black’ female characters are very pale skinned, while the black male characters are darker skinned. This shit is so fucking old school racist it’s like I’m at the Cotton Club watching the ‘tall, tanned and terrific’ show girls. Alberta is also painted as a bit of a ball-breaking vagina dentata. Lots of red lipstick and well-fitting suits, but nasty.
4. Lauren, the girl Jack kidnaps as a hostage.
I can’t even go into this one. But she’s the deceitful, morally bankrupt working class stooge character. And it makes me ANGRY because I just BET her weight (ie she’s not a super-skinny stick like all the other women) is deliberately intended as a signifier of her untrustworthiness.
5. Terri, Jack’s wife, Kim’s mother.
Dumb. It’s her fault she and Jack separated (she couldn’t deal with his post-traumatic stress syndrome after a nasty secret mission). She was sucked in by the pretend father of Kim’s friend. She couldn’t escape properly. She’s too skinny.
I really do think I hate 24. I will see out the season, though, to see if this stuff turns around. But I am really having trouble with the fact that the mother and daughter Terri and Kim are held captive in a barn (with bales of hay, no less), and there’s such a nasty undercurrent of sexual tension surrounding them. It really, really makes me angry that they’re just waiting there to be rescued.
There are no decent female characters in this show. It sucks.
In direct contrast, West Wing has interesting gender politics. We are up to episode five or six of season 2, and I had had some concerns about CJ’s character. She was the only character who doubted her abilities/appearance and her repeated stuff ups were given lots of plot time. But the most recent episode, The Lame Duck Congress deals with that in an interesting way. We see CJ deal with a difficult general – she nails his arse (though her decision is later countermanded by the president…which is a bit disturbing, but works within the context of the show’s premise – everyone has to kowtow to the president, not just chicks) and is super-clever and brilliant. I feel better about WW‘s handling of gender stuff because it’s more complex. It’s not cut and dried. I think I need to read and think more about it, because I haven’t made up my mind yet, but for now, it’s really interesting me and keeping me on board. It certainly kicks 24 arse.