Technology and 24

22 Nov

All the talk about technology and its importance in communication in The Wire carried over with me when I watched season 5 episodes 3 & 4. In these two episodes, technology-enabled communication was paramount in connecting all the characters – when Jack is taking pictures of the terrorists through his cell phone to CTU, how the President’s right hand man stays on the cell phone so he can immediately tell him when the rescue has been successfully carried out, how Jack is able to set off a bomb via a cell phone signal, how CTU tries to negotiate with the terrorists, and how the terrorists use the mass media to send a message to the President. Without a doubt, technology is what drives the narration in a show like 24. That is why most of the shots in these episodes are not of someone just gathering information, but it is always the relaying of information over technology that is shown – for example, the dual split screens with people on both ends of the line, and how we always see shots either from the camera screen or the TV screen during the terrorist shooting scenes. Technology is what connects all the characters to a single piece of information, and we see how they react to it.

However, communication cannot always be received so easily. Technology is also used to impair communication. The terrorists force Jack to call the CTU team and give them false information in order to set them in a trap. Technology cannot always extract the truth – just relay information. Similar to the codes used by the drug lords in The Wire, Jack uses the code “flank 2” in his message to convey a distress signal. Once again, some can only understand Jack’s message at face value if they do not recognize the code- thus, the terrorists suspect nothing. To others, the message has hidden information that needs further extraction and understanding. Communication is extremely complex, especially in 24 because of the twists and turns of the plot. It uses “rapidly unexpected and changing narrative states [to evoke] an informatics pleasure” (Galloway, “24/7, 16.8”).  You never know when information is true or if there’s a double meaning, but this also lends to narrative, and is also what keeps the audience engaged with every piece of new information. A show like 24 is as much about the action scenes as it is about gathering information, monitoring communication, and deciphering its meaning.





5 Responses to “Technology and 24”

  1. leemac113 November 23, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    What a scary notion. When he says, “When you’re watching Scrubs or whatever… know that it’s me who okays it,” it seems ominous that a random selection of Americans can help decide what remains on the air. Still, it’s hard to imagine any feasible alternatives. The only one I could come up with would be to find a way of tracking what everyone watches all the time. However, many people would not consent to this, and so that would be decidedly “un-American”. A more democratic system would involve people volunteering their television sets, but this would probably create a bias in the types of people who would want to do so. Ultimately, a television station needs to make money, and Nielsen ratings do provide a fairly accurate assessment of what the most people watch. So shows like American Idol are going to have to remain on the air, whether we like it or not.

  2. evanharold November 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    What interests me about 24 is how aware it is of its own obsession with communication and simultaneity. It reaches the point where even the most mundane filler talk is given a jolt of excitement when the time is flashed on the screen, the screen splits, and the overwhelming music swells in. There is definitely a sense of paradoxical relief in this overstimulation. When it calmed down, and the scene was specifically located, uninterrupted by temporal reminders and screen splitting, I found myself recognizing narrative tension. I was so used to the rapid overlapping that in it’s absence I couldn’t not think about what everyone else might be doing. Before the writers even sit down for an episode, they have a set of aesthetic narrative tools already working in their favor. Though this reliance sometime shows through the weak writing and redundant split screen (I’m recalling a moment in E03 in which a cop at the airport is shown from two different angles via splitscreen. ACTION! SUSPENSE!), it still kept the series clock-punning along for nearly a decade.

  3. Jan Feldman November 25, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    While it may be true that they rely heavily on these techniques to keep the show suspenseful, the constant flow of information can also be very satisfying for the viewer. Like someone obsessively checking Twitter, the viewer gets constant updates on what every character is doing, no matter how mundane. In a stressful situation, people crave even the smallest updates. During the recent hurricane in New York, I remember checking Twitter and every other news source I could find on the Internet to see if anyone had new information. Even if the plot of 24 isn’t that plausible, it is still the kind of situation where people crave minor updates.

  4. ambailey9113 November 25, 2012 at 7:05 pm #

    Technology is definitely pervasive in 24. One of the things that separates it from The Wire, which also featured a significant amount of technological equipment, is that technology seems to determine so much of the action in the series. While surveillance equipment aids the police in understanding the Barksdale organization, it never “solves” the police’s investigation. For example, the equipment records all of the communication leading up to Brandon’s murder, but all of these recordings mean nothing without the unit putting the pieces together. The first few days of surveillance reveals that the drug organization uses a code, but this knowledge was also useless until Prez decoded it. This allowed for character development and a more nuanced depiction of the networks being explored. 24, however, is a very technologically-determined show. For instance, being able to attain a serial number of an explosive device from a grainy picture provides Jack and the CTU with enough information to remotely set off this explosive and foil the hostages’ plot. The fact that technology determines the events within the show, in my opinion, reduces the characters to a secondary status. In some ways, the emphasis on technology makes all of the characters besides Jack interchangeable and replaceable. In preventing the show’s characters from exhibiting any individual agency or talent, the show reduces them to static characters.

  5. kebullock November 25, 2012 at 9:59 pm #

    I find the contrast between the uses of technology in The Wire and 24 interesting. Whereas we made a point to say that, while The Wire would not work without the integral use of technology, it does not fetishize it. Yet 24 definitely does the opposite. This becomes apparent with aspects of the show such as the often unintelligible tech dialogue. Such dialogue helps to set technology on a pedestal. It says “look what I can do!” instead of hiding in the background allowing the characters and institutions using it to take the spotlight. While you can say that 24’s United States would fail without Jack Bauer, you could just as easily say that Jack Bauer would fail without technology.

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