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Why Jack Bauer must die (an Aquinas-style essay)

In Art, Culture, Debate, Entertainment, Humor, Logic, Media, Opinion, Philosophy, Spoilers, Spoof, Television, Theology, Thomism on January 19, 2008 at 17:22

Previously on this blog, this was published in 3 parts. The following post was written between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.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 wouldn’t, since Sutherland’s contract subsists for 2 more seasons. However, the television watcher can’t avoid wondering what should happen to Bauer in the story. Hence this essay, which follows (i.e., which spoofs) the structure of the quaestio used by Saint Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica, in 3 articles:

  1. Whether we may judge if Jack Bauer should be removed from 24 (first posted here);

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

  3. Whether Jack Bauer must die (first 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: 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.  The proper response to its inherent quality is, rather, non-discursive pleasure, as seen in the words of Atlantic Starr, “I’ve found a masterpiece in you/ a work of art it’s true/ And I treasure you”

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 Metro Goldwyn Mayer declares, ars gratia artis, “art [exists] for art’s sake”.

Objection 3: Furthermore, whatever our judgment, the network and producers will have their way, as shown by their refusal to revive such esteemed programs as Wonder Falls, Firefly, and Gilmore Girls despite insistent demand. Hence, there is no point to deciding whether Jack Bauer should be removed.

On the contrary, it is said that art imitates life, and the Venerable John Henry 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 psychologist 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 not to say that it involves no exercise of reason, as Michelangelo illustrated in his sonnets. Moreover, calling art passionate is not proper for all art, as it would not be for Alexander Pope’s, or for that matter that of the Augustans; and even Romantic art is 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 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  so Marshall McLuhan notes in The Gutenberg Galaxy that persons who do not 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 to the semiotic world of the consumer. Therefore for us to judge 24 is no threat to artistic integrity.

Reply to 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.


Whether Jack Bauer should be removed from 24

It seems that Jack Bauer should not be removed from 24.

Objection 1: For in the past 6 seasons, Jack Bauer had been the central character of the series 24, and indeed he is 24, as affirmed by Movies Online. Now in any work or institution, the center should not be removed, for as noted by John Butler Yeats, when “[t]he center cannot hold”, “[m]ere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” Therefore, removing Jack from 24 would result in chaos, and it should not be done.

Objection 2: Furthermore, the formal cause of 24 is the intensity of the characters in the series. But Jack Bauer is the most intense character in the show, as well as the source of much of the intensity of the other characters, and to remove him would weaken the drama of its stories.  Therefore Jack Bauer should not be removed from 24.

Objection 3: Also, immoderate change would make the subject of the change pine for the old state: thus Billie Holiday says, “I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places.” Hence, 24 watchers would be alienated if Jack Bauer is removed, and therefore he must remain in 24.

I answer that: Jack Bauer should be removed from 24, because Jack Bauer has become increasingly marginal to the action of 24. In Day 5, at least, he was the central node of the story, from the assassination ex-President David Palmer that was pinned on Bauer to the fall of then-President Charles Logan. In Day 6, however, the significant action was done by other characters like Nadia Yassir, Tom Lennox, and Bill Buchanan. The attempt to place him back at the center of the story, by focusing it on his desire to save Audrey Raines, merely highlighted the fact that Jack Bauer has actually become a barrier to the smooth progression of the plot.

Nor does there seem to be much chance for Jack Bauer to become fully integrated into 24’s action again. As the Philosopher notes in his Ethics, a person is integrated in his society when he has relations of friendship; but in 24, almost all of Jack Bauer’s friends have been lost by death or otherwise, and there is no person left to whom Jack is actually important. A similar situation would obtain if, in Star Trek, Dr. Leonard McCoy, Spock, and the rest of the crew had died, in which case Captain James T. Kirk would become superfluous to the characters, even if he lasts longer in the story.

Now Jack Bauer, considering his intensity and action-worthiness, should be either central to the story or absent from it. Since he cannot be central any longer, then Jack Bauer must be removed from 24.

Reply to 1st Obj.: Even the center of a thing may change without being fatal to its continued existence, provided that the center thus changed does not constitute its very substance or hypostasis.  Now as shown by the frequent changes in cast, we see that the substance of 24 is not its characters, but the time-pressure action framework that gives the series its name.  Therefore, because Jack Bauer is not part of the substantia of 24, then he may be removed from its ensemble.

Reply to 2nd Obj.: The formal cause of a story is what makes it a story itself, which is the plot, without which the characters would become mere case studies.  For 24, its substantial form is the intensity of its action, hence the suitability of relatively understated characters like Karen Hayes and Wayne Palmer. Therefore removing Jack Bauer would not be fatal to the show, provided a good story is provided.

Reply to 3rd Obj.: We must distinguish between ordered change, which respects the nature (physis) and purpose (telos) of what is changed, and disordered change, which does not. Ordered change being according to nature, it must be done, for, as the Venerable Newman writes in his Development, “here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”

Here, 24 is by nature and purpose an action-drama series, and it is for this that it has audiences, and such change as furthers this is therefore properly ordered. Hence, since removing Jack Bauer would help 24‘s action as shown in the body of this article, then it would be proper.


Whether Jack Bauer must die

It seems that Jack Bauer must not die.

Objection 1: For, as reiterated by Sir Philip Sidney, literature must both edify and entertain. However, it would not be edifying if the most heroic character of a television series should perish, when he should be portrayed as receiving his appropriate reward. Therefore Jack Bauer must not die.

Objection 2: Moreover, the killing of Jack Bauer would be dramatically superfluous. For a character’s death is significant only if his survival matters to other characters. In 24, however, Jack Bauer is alienated from all who may have loved him, whether by death or otherwise. Therefore, killing him in the story would be a superfluity.

Objection 3: Furthermore, it is more dramatically appropriate for heroes to disappear mysteriously, “into the sunset”, as it were, than to die. A mysterious disappearance would keep his heroic aura intact, whereas death makes him seem ordinary, since all humans die, as stressed by the epic Gilgamesh. Also, a mysterious disappearance retains the possibility of the hero returning where the portrayal of his death would not. Therefore Jack Bauer must not die.

On the contrary, in the last episode of Season 6, James Heller told Bauer, “You’re cursed, Jack.” Now what is cursed ends in death, and therefore Jack Bauer must die.

I answer that: Jack Bauer must indeed die. Considering that, as shown in the second article, he must be removed from 24, the question remains as to how this will be done. Now a character may be removed (1) by being exiled or by being told to leave by other characters; (2) by leaving of his own desire; (3) by simply vanishing; (4) or by dying.

As to (1), Jack Bauer had been told to leave at the end of Season 4, and he had gone to exile at the end of Season 5, and another exit of this kind would therefore be unduly repetitive. As to (2), this would be inconsistent with Jack Bauer’s devotion to duty, considering that his country would face new threats and he would certainly be called to action again. Possibility (3) is dramatically inappropriate, considering the past centrality of Bauer in the story. It would also leave matters unresolved, which would violate the need for katharsis in such an emotionally charged series.

Therefore we are left with (4), which would be appropriate, for 4 reasons. First, Jack Bauer has been written and portrayed as a very intense character, and nothing less than death would suffice to end his role in 24 in a fitting manner. Second, Jack Bauer is a violent anti-hero, and it is understood that such characters will end as they have lived, as happened in Scarface and Layer Cake. Third, as Heller told Bauer, “[e]verything you touch, one way or another, turns up dead.” Now if something causes death, then death is somehow part of its essence, as the effect must be proportionate to the cause; and therefore death is part of its perfection, and is a fit destiny for it.

Fourth, the whole story of 24 from the beginning has had, as an underlying theme, the tragedy of Jack Bauer, with his tragic flaw being his too-great devotion to duty, which he pursues at the cost of human relationships and standards. The last episode of Season 6 operated as his catastrophe, which awakened him to what his life has become. Being a tragedy, therefore, the Jack Bauer theme must end in a manner that inspires pity and fear, as the Philosopher described in his Poetics; and for Jack Bauer, considering his violent and heroic life, this must be through dying in a tragic and heroic manner. Therefore Jack Bauer must die.

Reply to the 1st Obj.: Jack Bauer’s death would be appropriate to the moral universe of 24, for his tragedy consists precisely in that he saved the ability of others to have normal lives by having none of his own, and that he saved social order by himself violating it.

Now a violator of the social order may either suffer punished or escape. If he escapes, this would disrupt its ethical universe, considering that Jack had at last betrayed his intrinsic loyalty to country by risking its welfare for the sake of Audrey Raines; but if Jack Bauer is punished, this would be unjust considering that his past service. Hence, the only way to end things that is both satisfying and edifying is for Jack Bauer to die.

Reply to the 2nd Obj.: Though Jack Bauer is no longer important to any character (save Chloe O’Brien, in a limited sense), he remains important to the universe of 24, in view of his continuing role as the person best suited to save his country. Hence, Jack Bauer’s death would not be dramatically superfluous.

Reply to the 3rd Obj.: A mysterious disappearance “into the sunset” is only appropriate for characters that are and remain mysterious, like the Lone Ranger and the Baron Munchausen, while for better-known characters, this is ill-fitting and inconsistent. Also, the universality of death accentuates the fear and pity in a tragic heroic end, for it shows us why we can identify with a hero/heroine at the same time that we admire him/her, as witness the death of King Leonidas in 300. Therefore, Jack Bauer must die.

(Clock in the foreground, moves silently to zero, fades.)

  1. […] unknown wrote an interesting post today onHere’s a quick excerptObjection 1: For in the past 6 seasons, Jack Bauer had been the central character of the series 24, and indeed he is 24, as affirmed by Movies Online. Now in any work or institution, the center should not be removed, for as noted by … […]

  2. […] Why Jack Bauer Must Die […]

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