Communicator (communicator) wrote,

24 and torture (no spoilers)

I've been watching the third series of '24' - H bought me a 3-season bumper pack of DVDs for Christmas. Like opium it is very moreish, because each episode ends with a hook, which makes you want to watch 'just one more hour'. I've watched twenty hours real-time so far this week.

I think this third season is at least as good as the two preceding it, which surprised me. Whether any of it will stand up to much repeat viewing I'm not sure, but it rocks along.

What I continue to dislike, though, is the insufficiently - what's the word - 'nuanced' attitude to torture. I've not got a problem with showing people doing bad things. What I don't like is the plot convention that torture can result in two outcomes - the tortured person always has the information required - they can 'hold out' and reveal nothing, or they can cave in and give out the truth.

When I watched seasons 1 and 2 this objection would have seemed overly fastidious. However, since then we have seen torture practiced systematically by the US on large number of detainees. It is clear that the people practising the torture, and the people making moral judgements about it among the general public and in the administration, have a false model of torture as a practical solution to political problems. I think this false model is largely due to the way torture is represented in books and films and TV shows: in Dirty Harry and James Bond and 24. That's how people 'experience' the moral dilemmas of torture.

I think given this effect writers and directors have to step back and think about what they have done, and whether they should continue to present this false and simplistic model. (BTW this model was very well satirised by Iain in a comment to a previous posts of mine, that I can't find now. Iain if you get a chance, can you post it again?)

NB digby disagrees with my pessimism. He thinks everyone knows that torture is wrong, and the '24' style justifications are mere rationalisations.

The arguments for torture being raised by the right are rationalizations for what they know is immoral and illegal conduct. Their discomfort with the subject clearly indicates that they don't really want to defend it... they are forced to positively defend something that many of them know very well is indefensible. And every time they do that their credibility on values and morals is chipped away a little bit.

I hope he is right.
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