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>"Dammit, Chloe," Take Two

>I will be eternally grateful to for solving my New Yorker problem. The magazine has always hung heavy over my head with its oh-so-urbane humor and “wry” cartoons (somebody gave us a coffee table book of rejected New Yorker cartoons I enjoyed much more than the ones that made it in) causing me to avoid the thing in its entirety, including, unfortunately, much excellent journalism. But my audio subscription allows me to skip the cartoons entirely and usually includes the meatier articles. Plus, I have a little audio-crush in one of the readers, who I imagine to look like a slightly older Henry from Ugly Betty.

The New Yorker’s recent article about Joel Surnow, the producer of 24, has me in a tizzy. 24 is my favorite tv show. I also think George Bush should be impeached. I was generally happy in this inconsistency, watching Jack Bauer torturing terrorists while secure in my belief that, in real life, it is our president who poses the greatest threat to my safety. But this article not only made me confront the company I keep–

In fact, many prominent conservatives speak of “24” as if it were real. John Yoo, the former Justice Department lawyer who helped frame the Bush Administration’s “torture memo”—which, in 2002, authorized the abusive treatment of detainees—invokes the show in his book “War by Other Means.” He asks, “What if, as the popular Fox television program ‘24’ recently portrayed, a high-level terrorist leader is caught who knows the location of a nuclear weapon?” Laura Ingraham, the talk-radio host, has cited the show’s popularity as proof that Americans favor brutality. “They love Jack Bauer,” she noted on Fox News. “In my mind, that’s as close to a national referendum that it’s O.K. to use tough tactics against high-level Al Qaeda operatives as we’re going to get.” Surnow once appeared as a guest on Ingraham’s show; she told him that, while she was undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer, “it was soothing to see Jack Bauer torture these terrorists, and I felt better.” Surnow joked, “We love to torture terrorists—it’s good for you!”

–I was also horrified by the world-view of the man whose pocket I am lining:

In [Surnow’s] view, America “is sort of the parent of the world, so we have to be stern but fair to people who are rebellious to us. We don’t spoil them. That’s not to say you abuse them, either. But you have to know who the adult in the room is.”

I am reminded of a young teacher on child_lit who had been enthusiastically sharing her love for Roald Dahl’s books with her students until she read his biography. But while I might argue that this teacher has a duty to introduce students to Dahl, my watching of 24 is strictly optional, if compulsive. The show itself is moderately non-partisan (torture for all) but I’m still going to hate myself in the morning.

Roger Sutton About Roger Sutton

Roger Sutton has been the editor in chief of The Horn Book, Inc, since 1996. He was previously editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books and a children's and young adult librarian. He received his M.A. in library science from the University of Chicago in 1982 and a B.A. from Pitzer College in 1978. Follow him on Twitter: @RogerReads.



  1. >Here’s a link to video of that June 2006 panel discussion featuring radio host Rush Limbaugh, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff, and the cast and producers of 24.

  2. >You’re touching on a sensitive subject within my family. One of my young relatives and I have a running argument over whether or not artists can be separated from their work–or should be. What about the people who were horrified by the Dixie Chicks’ world view? Should we support the work of Roman Polanski, who has pled guilty to sex with a minor and lives out of the country in order to avoid jail time? Should movie viewers stay away from Tom Cruise’s work or Mel Gibson’s?

    I tend to be more forgiving than my young relative, who was brought up to have high moral standards and who actually stands up for them. What does that say about me? Where do I draw the line and over what?

    I don’t have any answers for this, but I think it’s a real issue.

  3. >Another hat off to . . . I just downloaded *Wintersmith* yesterday. (It wasn’t available last time I looked.) I’m almost as grateful to the reader of *The Wee Free Men* and the sequel as I am to their author, Terry Pratchett. These are for wise and funny books, humanely and hilariously read. I’m saving this one for my next long car trip.

  4. rindawriter says:

    >I have no cable and so cannot eavluate the show, but I’ve seen more than enough violence and torture and horrible deaths on regular TV to really wonder what and why is going on among us that we, as a culture, somehow need this constant, intense level of hyper-stimulation-and, I might add, the constant reassureances from audiovisual sources that we’re #1, our way is the best way, the only way, etc., etc. I do worry about what this does to younger folk.

    I perhaps have an easier time accepting that creators of art and music and writing may have less than perfect lives and can more easily myself separate the work from the person since I grew up in a deeply religious background–where every sin that can possibly happen does still happen…

    It sort of innoculates one in the wider world. You learn early that no one, no one is ever perfect…to not put anyoen on a pedestal…and to be grateful when miracles occur and you hope always for grace and healing and good things for others no matter how imperfect their lives…with that being said, I HATE being preached at, having someone else’s agenda being thrust down my gullet in a TV show–or in a book–no matter how expertly thrust.

  5. Andy Laties says:

    >Roger you dog, you are SO politically incorrect. Next thing you’re gonna say is that you can’t get enough of Ezra Pound and Martin Heidegger. Lucky for you the ACLU will be your friend on judgment day.

  6. >I have to say that I thought of you when I read that article, Roger. Happy to see you confronting the issues.


  7. >Yes, we’ve been struggling with the same thing over here at my house. I think, after reading that article, that we’ve decided not to watch the show anymore.

    Gail– I would say that it’s not so clearly an issue of separating an artist from his/her work. In this case, the “art” is clearly advocating for a particular political ideology. Which might not be so troubling in and of itself… except that the article argues that the show has been succesful in changing real people’s opinions about real public policy. When a show I like is succesfully promoting the actual use of torture, it’s time for me to take another look at what I’m watching.


  8. >Since my local NPR station moved Fresh Air to the dinner hour, which I am trying with near neurotic desperation to keep sacred, I am thankful for Audible’s recordings of that show – 3 interviews for 1 book point.

    If your conscience bothers you watching 24, I highly recommend a BBC program called MI-5 in the US (Spooks in the UK). Delightfully implausible, and available on Netflix.

    As to Gail’s question about artists and their politics, my intellect tells me to ignore it, but my gut can’t help itself. I can stomach neither the work of Mel Gibson nor Tom Cruise, but I seem to be less bothered by Roman Polanski. I have no explanation to offer. –m (not to be confused with the upper case M)

  9. >And by succesful, I mean successful.


  10. >But isn’t this a form of censorship? Or is it simply voting with your feet?

    Knowing about the artist can really mess up your relationship with his works, though. Millions of people grooved to Michael Jackson’s music before the child molestation charges came up.

    MJ’s music is still good; that hasn’t changed. But now I’m going, “Well, gosh, I’d really like to load up some of his music on my i-Tunes at work, but what would people think about me if I did?” Which is a bad way to approach a song which states, “The doggone girl is mine.”

  11. >I think it’s censorship only if I petition Blockbuster to stop carrying Mel Gibson movies (which I won’t, I promise). I simply have no personal interest in Apocalypto, or Mad Max reruns. Perhaps it’s an issue of one’s politics affecting one’s work to a degree that makes the work uninteresting to me. Perhaps it’s just that I like a movie that is a little heavier on plot than gore.

    You bring up M. Jackson, whose music I still love, but only from the Thriller era backward. I think he began losing touch after Thriller and started making mediocre music. Whereas Roman Polanski’s work remains good (she said, egotistically presuming a universality in her own taste) perhaps because his artistic vision comes from a more centered place.

    Anyway, I’ve Tivo’d Grease, You’re the One that I Want so better get to it – decidedly politics free. –m

  12. >I have never watched 24 and am a bit oblivious to the buzz it creates.

    It is difficult to maintain the distance between the artits work and their opinions because celebrity is often used to further political opinion.

  13. >As another fan of 24, I am definitely disturbed by that article. But at the same time the show advocates for torture policies I find despicable, I find it also has things to say about (among other things) presidential abuses of power that are definitely NOT favorable to the current administration. That’s always been my justification, at least. Hmm.

    Now, how can I tie this into children’s lit… nope, I can’t, sorry.


  14. >

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