Showing once again its warped priorities, the New York Times, which takes great pains to downplay the threat of Islamic terror, took another whack at the “Islamophobia” of Fox’s 24 reboot (and President Trump) in an essay by TV critic James Poniewozik on page one of Monday’s Arts section: “‘24’ Reboot Has a Dire Ring to it – President’s views on terrorism fit right in with the script.”
The text box: “Terrorists are scary and all over the place, according to the script and Donald J. Trump.”
24: Legacy was in the works before the election, but that’s not going to stop Poniewozik from linking it to Trump.
Fox’s “24: Legacy” probably never intended to be taken too seriously. The post-Super Bowl pilot was an hour of television, after all, that included the franchise’s new hero, Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), shooting down a construction pipe and using it as a deadly rolling pin.
But this reboot had seriousness thrust upon it. Running a week after Donald J. Trump’s stringent immigration restrictions on seven predominantly Muslim countries, it could have been scripted straight from the president’s direst imaginings. It was, intentionally or not, a one-hour Super Bowl ad for Islamophobia.
Poniewozik objected to the “supercompetent Islamic terror group” that was the featured enemy, unlike “real life,” where Islamic terrorists are “radicalized individuals or duos.”
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But demagoguery is an act of imagination. You ask people to imagine a mushroom cloud over an American city, as Dick Cheney did in building the case for the war in Iraq. Or that Muslim refugees from the seven countries on the ban list are an existential threat, though none have carried out fatal terror attacks in the United States.
In the tradition of “24” teen subplots, the story is straight-up ridiculous, but the implication is insidious, especially amid the current demonizing of immigrants and refugees: You let them in, and this is what happens. (The president has been eager to underscore this message. Sunday afternoon, in another tweet attacking the federal judge who blocked his travel ban, he darkly cited, “People pouring in. Bad!”)
The best defense of “24” might be that it’s an absurd fantasy, where America has survived multiple nuclear attacks and major cities are free of traffic snarls. No one considers it a documentary.
That’s true, but not the whole truth. People may not take “24” literally. But many take it the way people often take entertainments -- as a cartoonish version of something real.
Poniewozik appreciated the original 24 for engaging in affirmative action for its villains.
Over the years, “24” wrestled with the responsibility of its characterizations. It introduced sympathetic Muslim characters and spread the villainy around: Serbians, Chinese, Russians and the evil president Logan.
The critic insisted on "realism" for this implausible thriller, code for downplaying the terror threat in the United States. He even managed to blame the show for something out of its control: Trump’s election.
“24: Legacy” works on a different level of realism, and it probably expected to appear in a different world. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency, we’d be talking about the implications of casting an African-American hero, or how incongruous it looks for the show’s presidential candidate (Jimmy Smits) to be a man. The show’s stereotyping would be the same, but we would not be seeing stereotyping’s consequences playing out in real life the way they are now.
Poniewozik seems to think that any plot involving Islamic terrorism (which is in fact, an all-too realistic fear) on screen is dangerous and xenophobic.
This wasn’t the only vision of America on display in the past week. Anheuser-Busch prepared a Budweiser commercial celebrating the brand’s founder, a German immigrant, for overcoming xenophobia to create an American icon. The ad went viral days before the Super Bowl.
“24: Legacy” may not have meant to enlist in this culture war. But anyone telling this kind of story now might be supplying rhetorical ammo to people who dream of making America smaller, meaner, more homogeneous and more afraid.
Does “24” want that to be its legacy?