omnibus omnia

Why Jack Bauer must die (an imitation of Aquinas), part 1 of 3

In Art, Criticism, Critique, Culture, Entertainment, Humor, Life, Logic, Media, Medieval, Opinion, Philosophy, Review, Society, Spoilers, Television, Thomism, Thoughts, Writing on September 22, 2007 at 16:40

The following was written between 8:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. 

Season 6 of the Fox drama series 24 was the worst season for its lead character Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland).  On that “day”, Jack was forced to torture his brother in an attempt to stop a nuclear attack, then saw him die soon afterwards (by their father’s hand); he probably killed his own father; and he lost the woman he loved in the worst possible way.  The very last scene has him looking down into the sea, and as the season stops there, the person watching cannot but wonder if, indeed, Bauer jumped into the water.

Of course, it is known that he would not, since Sutherland’s contract subsists for 2 more seasons.  However, since the watcher of television is, even prior to the infusion of grace, a person–that is, according to Boethius, an “individual substance of a rational nature”–, then he/she cannot avoid wondering what should happen to Bauer in the story–as, likewise, I cannot.  Therefore, I shall state my own opinion, following the structure of the quaestio as used by Aquinas in his Summa, in an essay comprising 3 articles:

  1. Whether we may judge if Jack Bauer should be removed from 24

  2. Whether Jack Bauer should be removed from 24 (posted here)

  3. Whether Jack Bauer must die (posted here)


Article 1. Whether we may judge if Jack Bauer should be removed from 24 

It seems that we may not judge if Jack Bauer should be removed from 24.

Objection 1: For as 24 is a work of broadcast art, it should not be subject to judgment.  Art is a matter of spontaneous and passionate expression, and to this discursive judgment is necessarily foreign.

Objection 2: Also, whether or not Jack Bauer should be removed is a creative decision of the writers and makers of 24. For us to judge whether or not to remove him would imperil their integrity as artists, and would demean their work.  Thus, as MGM declares, ars gratia artis, “art [exists] for art’s sake”.

Objection 3: Furthermore, there is no point to deciding whether Jack Bauer should be removed.  For whatever our judgment, the network and producers will have their way, as shown by their termination and non-revival of such esteemed programs as Wonder Falls, Firefly, and Gilmore Girls despite their respective followings.     

On the contrary, it is said that art imitates life, and Newman tells us in his Grammar of Assent that: “Life is for action… [and] to act you must assume”.  Now assumption is an act of judgment, and so it is proper for us to judge if Jack Bauer should be removed from 24

I answer that: We may indeed judge if “Jack Bauer” should be removed from 24, for as Otto Rank notes in Art and the Artist, the efficient cause of artistic creation is the will-to-form of the creator.  Now the will should be guided by the practical reason or the faculty of judgment, as otherwise, it will merely obey the passions and thus become disordered.  Therefore the judgment may, and indeed must guide, the making of art, which includes the television series 24.

Reply to 1st Obj.: Although it is indeed true that art is spontaneous expression, this is entirely compatible with the exercise of reason, as Michelangelo illustrated in his sonnets.  Moreover, calling art passionate would only be true for Romantic art, and even these are fashioned when already recollecting in tranquility, as Wordsworth tells us in his Preface; that is, only when reason can already break through passion.

Reply to the 2nd Obj.: For us to so judge would not imperil the artistic integrity of the makers of 24.  For 24 is broadcast art, which necessitates a shared field of meaning or, according to Rank, of collective ideology; and as Marshall McLuhan notes in The Gutenberg Galaxy, persons who don’t share that field of meaning will not understand the work.  But broadcast art is meant to be understood and appreciated, so it belongs to its very essence to conform in some sense with the semiotic world of the consumer.  Therefore for us to judge 24 is no threat to artistic integrity.

Reply to the 3rd Obj.: The mere inability to execute our judgments does not make such judgments superfluous, for, in this case, it would still affect our response to the art presented to us, so that we can then watch or not watch 24.

(Continued here)


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