Is there too much torture on ''24''?
Once a trademark of 24, Jack Bauer's relentless use of torture to extract the truth from suspects has become a lightning rod for human rights advocates. Concerned about what Human Rights First's Jill Savitt says is ''the unbelievable phenomenon of good-guy torture,'' several military and FBI interrogators, together with HRF officials and the dean of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, met with 24 producers and writers last November to discuss the adverse affects of TV torture on cadets and U.S. soldiers. Among the participants was former U.S. Army interrogator Tony Lagouranis, who told the producers that field soldiers often ignore the Geneva Conventions by routinely employing torture techniques learned from TV, like mock executions, waterboarding, and sleep deprivation (in other words, war imitating art imitating war).
''If it were just the folks from Human Rights, that would be one thing,'' says Savitt, who also met with Lost producers regarding their use of torture. ''But when a gentleman from West Point comes to say Jack Bauer is posing a training challenge at the academy, that takes it to another place. We wanted to alert them to the unintended consequence of what's happening in the field.''
What does this mean for the future of 24? The producers have since announced plans to cut back on torture this season although they claim for entirely other reasons. Executive producer Howard Gordon has recently said that graphic scenes like Abu Fayed drilling through the shoulder of CTU's Morris O'Brian have become ''a little trite'' and ''tiring.'' (The writers and 20th Century Fox TV, which coproduces the show for Fox, wouldn't comment on this subject.)
In the meantime, Gordon recently shot an educational video for HRF to remind cadets that 24 should be viewed as entertainment not as a field guide (Lost's Carlton Cuse shot a similar video). ''We think it's a real positive development,'' says Savitt. ''24 was among the shows that led the way in the increase in scenes of torture. Perhaps now it will lead the way in the decline.''