Why Counter-Terrorism Shows Like 24 And Homeland Don’t Work

24. Homeland. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Quantico. What do all of these shows have in common? Besides prettier than real secret agents? They all, basically, focus around the idea of counter-terrorism in some way or another. Jack Bauer, Carrie Matheson, Phil Coulson, Alex Parrish, their entire calling in life is to snuff out the latest threat to American interests. Sometimes an Allie may be in danger but, come one, we all know that it’s really all about the good old US of A. 

And for a time there, that made sense. It’s become a cliche to say it but 9/11 has really changed everything in the West, and in the US in particular. Not since Pearl Harbor, which wasn’t even on the US mainland, have Americans been attacked at home. The World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, all of them fought in the distance, and in many ways it was impossible to tell it was war at home. 9/11 changed that. Paris and Brussels are changing that right now in Europe. Vulnerability is something even our high powered armies with precision missiles smarter than the average middle schooler, and what not, cannot make us feel safe at a concert or some other big event anymore. So, like always, we took to fiction to cope with this. Jack Bauer can take out two terrorists threats in a day all without sleeping, going to the loo, and reading the Geneva Conventions. Carrie Matheson can track down Not-Bin Laden in a couple of weeks by connecting all the dots. Phil Coulson… does stuff with Not-Mutants. And Nazis. And something is happening on Quantico but that’s not been spoiled by pop cultural osmosis yet so why spoil it here. In real life the big three letter alphabet agencies were not able to protect the citizenry even while happily undermining basic civil rights for privacy and person-hood.


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