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Jack Bauer, Agent of Anarcho-Tyranny, U.S.A.

Jack Bauer is an American hero—of sorts.  He tortures suspects.  And executes them.  And decapitates them.  “I’m gonna need a hacksaw,” he famously declared after dispatching a pervert who knew the men behind a planned nuclear attack on Los Angeles.

If you have never watched the television program 24, you should try it for two reasons: First, it is a gripping, nerve-wracking, and, at times, terrifying thrill ride through the fictional world of huggermugger and terrorism.  Each episode follows the manic derring-do of Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland), a disturbed operative in the Los Angeles Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTU), in real time for one hour.  By the end of the season, viewers have seen one frenetic day in the life of Bauer and his colleagues.  They thwart nuclear bombs.  They stop bioterrorists.  They foil presidential assassins.  They accomplish all this using sophisticated computers that enable them to stalk evildoers anywhere on the planet.  It is a handsome, heroic fable.

Yet, as with many fables, underlying 24 is an ugly, unspoken, unintended truth: The powers with which Übermensch Bauer and his colleagues are endowed, essentially 007’s license to kill, may be less of a threat to the bad guys than to the very people the heroes of 24 are supposed to protect: the voting, taxpaying, blissfully ignorant...

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