I have a confession to make: I watch 24. I know it’s over, so you might think to say watch in the present is inaccurate, but my girlfriend and I don’t have TV, we have computers, so everything is observed on DVD. Therefore, I am still in the lull between seasons.
Here’s my official story: I watch 24 to keep up with what middle America is thinking about foreign affairs and homeland security. I want to know who my great aunt Ruth thinks she’s afraid of and why. If you’ve never seen the show, here’s the basic premise… some “other” people (usually Middle Eastern, but also likely to be Russian or some other vague Eastern European) are plotting to bring the U.S. down, Jack Bauer doesn’t want to be involved, but he gets involved, gets implicated, man, even the fucking President wants to take him out, even his friends question him (except for Chloe), then Jack Bauer saves the day. In the course of saving the day, Jack must torture (yes, torture, yes, graphically, on prime time TV, many, many people, sometimes men, sometimes women (the titillation!), Jack Bauer, Feminist believes in equal opportunity… There was this time he even electrocuted his girlfriend’s ex-husband with a table lamp! Now you’ve got ideas!). Also Jack gets tortured. If you’ve gone more than three episodes without witnessing torture, you’re probably not watching 24. Dear Fox Network Marketing Department, you can have that tag line.
I don’t condone violence. I don’t like violence. I once dropped a PC off the roof of my house because it ate a terrible 60-page story I was working on, and that violence felt good. But there’s never an excuse for physically hurting another human being or animal. Rejection hurts enough! Tell them they’re ugly! Or that you don’t like their shoes! Sentences! Hair color! Mode of transportation! I will watch a show or movie with violence though. I won’t like it, but I will appreciate the violence as an element specific to the story, specific to getting The Point across. Whatever the point is. In the case of 24, I need to know that Americans are afraid of a lot of people and that they wouldn’t mind beating the crap out of them for the sake of Patriotism, er, protecting the Homeland. There is violence on TV and in movies because violence happens and also because we are at war, but the real point is that we are afraid. And we would like to see the bad guys get hurt; it makes us feel better.
When I say us, I mean you, middle America. Me, I’d rather watch sex on TV.
Which brings me to the real reason I watch 24: to watch Jack Bauer move. I dig chicks, but I love watching the way that man slinks around a dangerous scene. I can’t even describe it; you just need to see it for yourself. He’s a freakin’ ballerina with a gun and a nasty attitude. I am a dyke who watches 24 because Jack Bauer is one sexy mother—.
Am I represented anywhere on this show? No. Oh, well… there was the lesbian in the first season. She was a hitwoman/bad guy and was killed off so fast most people don’t even remember her. Also, the gay kid who was the black sheep son of somebody important and who gave the terrorists some information while having orgy sex with gay terrorists. I actually don’t remember the details, but this is my emotional memory of the fag content of this show.
Why am I talking about TV anyway? I watch almost anything. I read almost anything. TV’s easier to talk about though. There’s the passivity of letting the images wash over you. Shit comes into your living room without you even asking for it. Books you have to go out and get. There’s implication involved. There’s choice. You asked for it.
I love Henry Miller. William Faulkner. Hemingway. Misogynists are excellent reads. Homophobes. Sure. Them too. I mention these dudes because to mention current names (men and women) would probably get me into trouble, but you probably know some of them. And, like me, you’ve probably also read a good many of them. Their misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, racism, classism, geocentric worldview, etc, etc, is probably today masked to gain readership, or crammed into their characters, but you know who they are.
Turn a good sentence and I’ll read you. I don’t need to be friends with the author of every book I read. I might not purchase some asshole’s book, but I’ll borrow it from someone who did, or get it from the library—the library loves misogynists.
What is interesting to me in watching or reading things so far outside of my experience is to find the universals. That’s what literature is about, no? Making connections? Finding the common thread in uncommon cohorts? Tony Soprano had a breakthrough in therapy?! I’ve had breakthroughs, too! We’re all human (those of us humans), what’s interesting to me is how my rage and desperation for knowledge can have me googling for hours, I might even go to the library. Jack Bauer has the same need and it leads him to stripping the cord of the nearest lamp and pressing it into sweaty flesh. We are one.
What wasn’t asked, but seems the more interesting question, is how to handle these characters in our own work. Or do we? Do we create a strange amalgamated caricature of violence and hatred so the reader knows THIS ISN’T ME! Or do we give the character the same care and respect and depth that we give our god-fearing, mother-loving, friendly-to-animals-and-babies characters? For the one or two or you reading this who know anything about my work, you’ll know that my stories and poems are filled with cruel people. They scare me, I’ve known so many of them, and that’s why they populate my work. Keep your eye on the ball.
Maybe people think they are me. My first book was just released last month. People I know are reading it. People I’ve slept with. People I went to high school with. People who live on my block. There’s a tendency in poetry especially for readers to want the “I” in every poem to be the man or the woman with the pen, but for me that’s just not the case. To mix it up, dear readers, the I is sometimes me, sometimes isn’t, and is more commonly some monstrous combination. I value a kind writer who can write about assholes. I value assholes who can write about themselves and other assholes, and write about them well. I want to know about all of them. About the racism and homophobia of the girl or guy next door. The expected and the unexpected. The homophobia of the homosexual. The misogyny of the woman. The self-flagellating straight white male, wherever he is. The fear of self-implication will only lead a writer away from the truth. And the truth is what matters, whatever form it takes.
How are you implicated in the ills of the world? You—every one of you—are an asshole, too.
What I won’t tolerate is something that doesn’t serve the art’s aim, but I’ve babbled too much to talk about the over-the-top violence in some recent books and films (i.e. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), where I think something has gone too far into pointless spectacle.
All I want is honesty. Honest characters in all their dirty. Wise as readers are, a false character or false moment will come off false. And this (I think) is the biggest offense of all.
Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of just released prose poetry collection Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books), and forthcoming flash fiction chapbook Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press). Learn more at her blog.