Remediating the apocalypse

Jack Bauer: Remediating the Real

Unlike many other TV series where we see the characters evolve over a period of months or years, viewers have been witness to only four days and nights in the life of Jack Bauer. However that has not stopped fans from compiling his back story from snippets mentioned in various episodes. The official 24 website has full C.V.s posted for all the major characters.

The internet encyclopedia Wikipedia has a detailed biography of Bauer hyperlinked to biographies of other characters and to both fictional (CTU) and non-fictional organisations (CIA) that he is associated with. It includes a link to an entry on "Operation Nightfall" a fictional Kosovo undercover mission led by "Captain Jack Bauer of the US Army's 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta". It was his role, and the role of the then Senator (and in season one presidential candidate) David Palmer, in this mission that leads to complicated reprisals in 24 season one.

The leakage of the fictional character into the political realities of viewer's worlds is striking in the construction of these and other similar scenarios. One blog called for the institution of a national holiday: Jack Bauer Appreciation Day and Zach Hale a University of Washington student thinks that Jack could be what America is looking for in a leader.

Yes, that’s right, forget John Kerry and George Bush, vote for Jack Bauer. Jack Bauer could have stopped 9/11 in 2 hours flat, easy. I mean, seriously, who are we kidding watching Kerry and Bush debate when there is such an obviously better alternative.

That Jack provides an alternative reality is not something that could be argued with. This is expressed at its most raw in this "survey" report from Random Perspective

37% of Americans stated that they trusted the abilities of CTU agent Jack Bauer to step in and intervene before the terrorists were able to carry out their actions. 14% of those surveyed stated they believed that whilst the terrorists would be successful, the Enterprise would then come back in time to prevent it from happening. Most surprisingly, however, were the remaining 7% who said they thought all the terrorist attacks in the last 5 years were just a new cable show on Fox.

Yes it's parody. But it resonates with actual surveys such as those that found in 2003, that 48 percent of the American public believe US troops found evidence of close pre-war links between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist group; 22 percent thought troops found weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq; and 25 percent believed that world public opinion favored Washington's going to war with Iraq. And that those who nominated Fox as their major source of information were much more likely to get it wrong on all three counts.

But Jack Bauer is not just a consolatory fiction. The enmeshed realities of Bauer, his alter ego Kiefer Sutherland, the narratives of 24 and unfolding world events often have unexpected consequences and lead to ongoing debates and disagreements on fan sites and blogs.

This web project is an evolving space exploring contemporary manifestations of the apocalyptic in current affairs and popular culture. It is being developed in association with my Ph.D. research and is both a research method and a presentation of that research. In exploring the apocalyptic I am particularly interested in mapping a series of multimodal mythic clusters that are evolving through a process of remediation which I identify as a key cultural logic for an age in which electracy is the new literacy of nomadic subjects. This hypertextual presentation foregrounds affiliational logic and although I hope the project accumulates meaning it does not seek to present a single, formal, linear argument. I have presented some of these ideas in more traditional academic formats in other places. Although the navigational choices are the user's own these tips may be useful. Feedback is very welcome.

Marcus O'Donnell 2005-2006