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24 AND THE EXISTENTIAL MAN OF REVOLT Jennifer L. McMahon One does not have to watch Fox's hit series 24 for very long to see the noir elements in it. The focus on crime (namely terrorism), the stunning amount of violence; the cynical air of many of 24's lead characters; the presence of several femmes fatales, and the stoic resolve of the show's protagonist, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) are all suggestive of the noir style. I shall argue specifically that in addition to fitting the profile of the noir protagonist, Jack Bauer is also an example of Albert Camus' existential hero, the man of revolt. Before turning my attention to Jack Bauer, however, it is first important to establish that 24 is an example of the noir style. For some, 24 may seem more obviously an example of the action genre than of TV noir. Certainly, it bears action trademarks. The plot moves at a blistering pace. Action sequences command a substantial portion of each episode. And of course, the show capitalizes on its audience's interest in violent spectacle: explosions are frequent and sizeable, car chases are commonplace, danger is always imminent, and weapons are ubiquitous and consistently employed. While 24 has action to spare, however, it counts as a TV noir series because it is rendered in the noir style. 24 and Noir While most people are familiar with instances of film noir, it is unlikely that many would be able to offer a succinct definition of it. I shall use the term noir here to refer not only to the classical period (generally recognized as beginning in 1941 with John Huston's The Maltese Falcon and ending in 1958 115 116 Jennifer L. McMahon with Orson Welles's Touch of Evil), but also to a contemporary style that is inspired by that period and exemplifies prominent features of it. One of the most notable features of noir is its focus on crime. As Jason Holt remarks in his essay "A Darker Shade: Realism in Neo-Noir," the term noir refers "essentially (among other things) to a type ofcrime film."1 As Holt rightly notes, works rendered in the noir style place a central focus on crime. In particular, they emphasize violent crime and moral corruption. Moreover, these works also tend to focus on individuals who are either enmeshed in, or involved in the detection of, crime. 24 clearly exhibits this sort of focus. Centered on the agents and activities of the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU), it concerns itself principally with threats to national security. Since first airing in 2001, 24 has placed an unwavering emphasis on violent crime. The criminal plots on which it has focused have ranged from plans for political assassination to biological warfare. CTU agents have sought enemies varying from religious zealots from foreign lands to corrupt members of our own government. While 24 manifests other elemental features of noir, it clearly exhibits the focus on crime that is characteristic of this style. Another feature characteristic ofnoir is a certain cynical air. As its name suggests, central to noir is its invocation of a dark mood. Indeed, noir is frequently noted as displaying an "existential attitude toward life" insofar as it generally inspires a "mood of pessimism, loneliness, dread, and despair."2 Certainly, "bleakly existential" themes are present throughout the corpus of classical noir films and are emblematic of contemporary works characterized as neo-noir.3 While the fact that the good guy always seems to win in 24 does ultimately inspire optimism, it does not eliminate the program's cynical tone. Like classical works of noir, 24 is "expressly dark and laden with conflict."4 Essential to its cynicism is the fact that the conflict upon which the show focuses never receives any true resolution. As I shall discuss in detail later, the characters in 24 fight against an invincible enemy: terrorism. Though the end of each season brings viewers the satisfaction that comes from the eradication of the immediate terrorist threat, 24 never creates the impression that a unilateral victory has been achieved. Rather, it fosters the sense that the peace and security achieved are tenuous and that new and greater dangers are lurking. In addition, 24 attends quite explicitly to the sober themes of "meaningless existence" and "moral ambiguity" commonly addressed in noir.5 The menace of meaninglessness (e.g., the threat of a loss of order and purpose) is evident both in dangers like the decimation of...


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