question of the day: Does it help or hurt when real-life cops connect the Times Square would-be bombing to Jack Bauer and ‘24’?

It was bad enough when politicians and pundits hellbent on turning the United States into some sort of Orwellian nightmare of vanished civil liberties, all in the name of keeping us “safe,” invoked the right-wing wet dream that is Jack Bauer and 24. From high-tech toys that spy on anybody to the right to torture bad guys — and with none of that pesky due process in the way, ever, because the Clock. Is. Ticking! — the endorsement of this fictional story and this fictional character by the people meant to be leading us was terrifying.

It feels even worse now that there’s a real-life incident to latch on to (via The Washington Post):

In an era when television is often ahead of reality, perhaps it was inevitable that the New York police commissioner measured the country’s success Tuesday in the attempted Times Square bombing against the fictional heroics of Jack Bauer on FOX’s “24.”

At a midday news conference, Ray Kelly praised the actions of law enforcement officials for capturing a suspect in the car bomb case a little more than two days after the incident.

“Now, by my calculation . . . it was 53 hours and 20 minutes,” Kelly said. “Now we know that Jack Bauer can do it in 24 minutes. But in the real world, 53 hours is a — is a pretty good number.”

Kelly meant 24 hours, of course, a reference to the TV series in which Bauer always manages to solve a major terrorist event in a single day. But Kelly’s comparison was clearly meant to draw the comparison between real-life agents and the Hollywood version.

I think what law enforcement personnel do every day is generally worth celebrating, but of course the plodding minutiae of authentic police work is nowhere near as exciting as looking like a movie star running through the streets of a major city and pulling the blue wire with three seconds to go. It’s fine for that kind of fantasy to be fantasy, but it does a disservice to everyone — the public, the real police — when even those who should know better seem to get a kick out of glomming on to that fantasy and likening themselves to it. (The first people who should be eliminated from police or FBI work should be those who fancy themselves a Jack Bauer!)

Even Washington Post writer Michael D. Shear seems enamored of the comparison: he describes the “similarities” between the Times Square bombing attempt and this season’s 24 — which is about a bomb hidden in a van in Manhattan — as “eerie” not once but twice. But it’s just bizarre to be surprised by the similarities: 24 is reflecting, if in a distorted way, the world we live in today. Terrorism is real; we know New York City is a target. To call any of this “eerie” is like noting the “coincidence” that that romantic comedy you saw last week ended in a wedding, and then your cousin announced she just got engaged.

What do you think? Does it help or hurt when real-life cops connect the Times Square would-be bombing to Jack Bauer and ‘24’?

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