so I'm studying Sociology and I'm finding it really fascinating. I've started to ask questions about things I never thought so deeply about before. Within the last month I've watched all of Season 1 of Prison Break and I am current up until the episode for this week. I've also caught the first few episodes of a new show called Vanished. One of my favourite shows is also 24 which I have watched since the beginning. And of course Alias. All but the second are extremely popular shows and I think Vanished probably will be. Well anyway my intent here is not to give a review of my favourite shows. I wanted to consider the ethics portrayed in these shows, the morality that underlies all of them and the overarching sense of paranoia which has not been seen since the seventies, which was called an age of paranoia as pertaining to film and television.
First - the paranoia. In both Prison Break and Vanished, the main "baddie" is a pseudo-secret society. Vanished seems to be revealing the Masons as a force for controlling politics and economics and the justice system as well, using any means necessary. Wives are abducted to persuade powerful men (senators, state governors) to behave a certain way. In Prison Break we have The Company setting up patsies to take the fall for murders of powerful people who turn out to not be dead but rather held captive - to maintain hold on yet further powerful individuals. The Company is to blame for the US government being complicit in so much evil in the world for their economic advantage, for Lincoln (Link the Sink) Burrows being incarcerated and sentenced to death for a murder he did not commit, for his ex-wife and son's stepfather being murdered and his son being implicated to keep the secret, for his lawyers (including his ex-girlfriend as well as her fiance) being murdered to keep the secret... and so on and so on. And in Prison Break it becomes rapidly clear that The Company can get to anyone, anytime, anywhere and the will in order to maintain secrecy.
In both Alias and 24 which feature anti-terrorist agencies linked to the US government, there are often "moles" working for the enemy but planted right next to Sydney Bristow or Jack Bauer. And as happens quite often the good guy will be required to knowingly rely on the mole in some life threatening instance. Jack has been in the field with someone he has in custody with his life completely dependent on his "enemy" having his back. In Alias, Sydney re-teamed up with a man who betrayed her and lied to her for six years telling her she was a good guy (CIA counterterrism) but really she was one of the bad guys(SD-6). A sense of not really being able to trust anyone follows our heroes.
And what of our heroes? Prison Break features Michael Scoffield, a brilliant structural engineer with a neurological disorder which prevents him from compartmentalizing the details he sees in the world around him (although he seems to do okay compartmentalizing moral questions, but I'm skipping ahead...) such that he sees patterns in everything and becomes unable to separate details from the Big Picture. Glancing at structural drawings reminds him of the fact that his firm designed the prison his brother has been wrongly incarcerated to, which inspires him to plan a route through the prison pipes and walls, (a la Shawshank Redemption style, only quicker) reading articles about other criminals in that prison quickly transfigure into his mind a way to use their money and resources in order to escape. The state of illinois' governors' daughter being a doctor at the prison sparks a plan to fake diabetes requiring daily insulin injections (and black market supplied insulin blockers) so he has access to the infirmary, a crucial part of his escape route. Every black market artefact he acqires requires him to become involved with more and more criminals. Some victims of circumstance - really good guys deep down that you will root for, some disturbed psychotic animals that you would fear having them on the streets. Michael transcribes the prison blueprints into 200 hours of artistic tattoos all over his body embedding clues and anagrams, and it's visually stunning. The guy is beyond brilliant. He wants to break his brother out of prison and has gone to great lengths plotting to do so. Once in prison, he is almost relentless in his pursuit. There are lines he won't cross. He won't kill anyone. The crime he committed to be incarcerated put not one single person in danger, except himself. But he will exploit the beautiful doctor in the infirmary, who is a recovering addict, even though he is quite in love with her. I like to think he didn't know how vulnerable Sara was, but the boy did his research. It seems doubtful. He conspires with a vicious mobster, he is forced to work with a pedophile murderer, and helps these men to escape the prison with him for the simple reason that he needs to get Lincoln out and they can help.
So that's enough about Prison Break. I didn't mean to spend so much time with it but it's fresh in my mind. I have also thought about Jack Bauer, the hero of 24. Jack has 24 hours to stop a very serious terrorist threat. Generally, he works for CTU (the Counter Terrorist Unit), utilizing other members of the team and all of it's very very very very very very efficient resources. However quite often, Jack is considered a rogue agent. Put up against the clock he must break rules, protocol and disobey orders for the greater good. Jack has killed people. A lot. they were all "bad guys" though, so its okay, right? Jack has had to let good people die in order for the greater good to result. Jack has broken the laws of the Geneva Convention with respect to witness interrogation. But Jack always wins in the end. David Palmer did not get murdered when he was Governor - not on Jack's watch. The terrorist plot never goes down as planned.
Alias is a little different, Sidney Bristow's morality is a lot more clear cut. She gets the job done. She's okay with killing the bad guy, but there is never justification for 'collateral damage'. Alias is actually a variation on the themes of La Femme Nikita... she always accomplishes her mission, and she always looks ridiculously hot doing it. But her heart is constantly being broken, by Michael or her father or some other person she trusts. Her best friend was murdered and doubled (some far-fetched DNA storyline) and so there is a scene where she has to shoot the woman who looks identical to her best friend and been posing as such for months. Quite poignant!
I know, I just have way too much time to think about the tv shows I watch. It may be true but probably not for much longer. but these shows are in my head and they aren't going anywhere - I have to do somehing with them. and I seriously do wonder what it means that our most predominant heroes in TV have so much ambiguity where morals are concerned, and that paranoia is so prevalant again. And just remember - it could be worse, I could have done a discourse on the significance of the gorey CSI/Law & Order type dramas. Just be glad I don't watch that stuff!
thanks for reading, and may I just add... PRISON BREAK PRISON BREAK PRISON BREAK!!!!