23 Nov

Earlier this week, we touched on an interesting point of comparison between 24 and Homeland, and this was that of interrogation technique.  In the pilot of Homeland, we get some flashbacks to Nicholas Brody’s experiences with interrogations, where he was both beaten senseless, and watched his fellow Marine, Tom Walker, get beaten to death by his own hand.  These scenes are shown in a very blurry fashion, but serve to capture all of the brutality that comes with interrogation, focusing on the bloodshed and violence rather than the end goal of obtaining information, and using violent interrogation as a means to that end. 

This is interesting to note in contrast to interrogation on 24.  While the third and fourth episodes of season 5 do not show any governmental interrogations, it is clear throughout the rest of the series that interrogation is used as a means to an end, and the focus of the show is which dramatic conclusions the end result can lead Jack Bauer to discover in order to prevent a terrorist attack.  In fact, immediately following the episodes we watched in class (this isn’t much of a spoiler), Jack figures out (as we already had in the episodes we watched) that the President’s Chief of Security, Walt Cummings, was helping with the terrorist plot at the airport.  Storming into the President’s office, Jack forces Cummings to the ground, pulls out a pocketknife, and threatens to cut out Cummings’ eye if he doesn’t reveal more of the plot.  Frightened to death, Cummings does so, and the story arc is allowed to continue.  Here we see an inherent justification within the show to torture (or threatened torture), as it helps Jack to investigate the wider terrorist conspiracy.

Now, it is important for me to note that I have spent half my life defending 24.  While it was on the air, people would tease me for watching it, saying it promotes torture and that Jack is superhuman and can never die.  Still, for a moment I will have to stop defending it, because there has been at least one example on television where interrogation was constantly used to get valuable information, but said interrogation did not necessitate torture.  The example I am citing here is Homicide, the television drama based on David Simon’s corresponding book.  Here, there is a police detective named Frank Pembleton who, along with being a foil to his more emotionally sensitive partner Tim Bayliss, was best known for his interrogation techniques.  Every week, viewers would tune in to watch Frank get people in the “box”, and he would proceed to manipulate people into copping to the murders they had committed through dramatic performances meant to inspire intense emotion from his subjects.  It worked almost every time.  That a television show can depict a detective getting important information without the use of torture suggests that 24 could maybe have gone about its interrogation scenes differently.  Then again, with the 24-hour, time-pressured nature of the show, the writers may have felt the need to handle it differently than Homicide did, where there was rarely a need to solve a murder as quickly as possible.

2 Responses to “Interrogation”

  1. evanharold November 24, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    This subject has a lot to do with TV’s agency as a cultural artifact. An old argument against violence in movies, video games, and shows is that young people necessarily look up to/glorify/valorize the heroes (and villains) coming from these frames. Though that is an exaggeration, it thankfully forces audiences to examine the power of TV as influence (versus evidence). Are more people ok with 24’s torture because the show panders to post-9/11 anxieties, or does the romanticization of brutality develop and reinforce these national sentiments (and they were, given the success of 24, national)? The answer is both, which is boring, but I’d like to track the roles of each “side.”

    More related to the example Lee gives is the idea of violence on TV. The FCC and MPAA represent the apprehension that these media are more influential than they are representative. Playing Cowboys and Indians, Cops and Robbers, and pure bullying have never been addressed as fearfully as the problem of televised violence (cf. the Columbine High School massacre).

  2. jhaderlein November 25, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    At first I agreed with there being a distinct difference between 24 and Homeland regarding interrogation in that throughout Homeland the guilt of the CIA’s targets is generally under some kind of doubt. Homeland is careful to not let its characters go off the rails towards “hostiles” in the same way 24 does. This is likely because egregious harm to the potentially innocent could easily alienate the audience from the protagonist. When during the course of the show the audience is convinced of Brody’s innocence, it makes Carrie’s extreme actions in the first half of the season appear reprehensible, and she becomes self-flagellating and doubtful of her own judgment. What troubles me is that at the same time the show doesn’t excuse the guilty. The only character for whom full interrogation measures are used is Brody’s former guard, whose obvious guilt appears to be a foregone conclusion in the Homeland universe, so it is fine that he is mistreated. Homeland operates under a structure where once a character’s moral failing is established and assumed, that character’s mistreatment becomes more palatable. No one in the CIA is at all bothered by the guard being harassed and at times assaulted, except in the context of trying to pump him for information. Homeland needs its audience to doubt its character’s judgment for the shows themes of misinformation and confusion to play out, but that seems to be the only motivating factor behind the differing approaches to torture. Ultimately the two show’s moral compasses are decidedly proximate in their placement in a darker side of grey.

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