Saturday, May 27, 2006

C.S. Lewis on Jack Bauer

C.S. Lewis starts his landmark work Mere Christianity with a chapter on what he calls the Law of Human Nature. Very simply and succinctly, Lewis shows that all men in all cultures at all times in history have adhered to some standard of decent behavior. This standard, which is a guiding force existing outside of our actions themselves, governs all our interactions with other people, whether we realize it or not. Evidence for the Law, Lewis says, is obvious in the petty arguments we have with one another. Both parties try to prove the other is wrong, each asserting that their own point of view or course of action more closely adheres to the standard. And what point would there be in trying to prove someone wrong unless there is some kind of "right" we can appeal to?

I reread this chapter the day after I watched the season finale of "24," an action-packed male soap-opera featuring federal agent Jack Bauer, whose exploits make him look like a genetic hybrid of James Bond, McGyver, and Bruce Willis's character in "Die Hard," with a tinge of Houdini mixed in. In every season, Jack is called upon to defend his country from terrorists who, for various reasons, want to inflict mass harm upon the American public. Very often, Jack's duties place him in moral grey areas where he must make impossibly quick decisions while weighing the good of the American people against orders from his authorities, his own personal well-being and the safety of those he loves.

Somehow, Jack always seems to make the decision that ends up saving the most people. He readily sacrifices his body, mind and personal life to protect his countrymen from evil. And when all is said and done, circumstances dictate that Jack receives no praise for his actions. In fact, the season usually ends with Jack in some kind of bind.

America loves Jack Bauer. Why shouldn't we? He's just, loyal, honest, humble, strong, brave, self-controlled and he's motivated more by his desire to save others than he is about preserving himself. We rejoice when Jack gets revenge on his enemies and when he puts villains in jail or in a casket.

In my opinion, no other show crystallizes the battle between good and evil as well as "24." It's like the directors have read Lewis's work, and they plan the scenes in such a way as to bring the Law of Human Nature to the forefront. In season four, the writers introduced us to President Logan, a fearful, hesitant man driven more by his desire for a presidential legacy than the good of the country. The fact that we had President David Palmer, an unswervingly virtuous man, for two seasons only amplifies Logan's faults.

I can't compare the two much more without giving away some of season 5, but I will say that watching the finale with a large group of people made Lewis's arguments come to life. By hissing at the TV when evil characters got their way or when Jack's plans were temporarily thwarted, we showed we believe that Jack's cause, the protection of America, more closely aligns with the moral standard than the objectives of the terrorists or other selfish characters.

With the show's
ratings still strong after five seasons, it's refreshing to know that even when it seems like America's moral consciousness is deteriorating rapidly, we still have a beating heart that loves virtuous heroes and happy endings.

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