Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Gregory House and Jack Bauer

It all changed with Bonnie and Clyde. At least thats what Graham Daniels said, and used to play professional football, so he must be right. For the first time in Bonnie and Clyde, we're supposed to side with the bad guys over the good guys, we're supposed to cheer the robbers rather than the cops.

I'm sure it's just a fluke of scheduling, but watching House, and then 24 back to back on a Monday night makes you think of some similarities between the two. Gregory House is the obvious heroic anti hero; addicted to vikiden, rude to patients, colleagues and superiors and with questionable morals outside the workplace. Yet House saves lives. Even if he just sees them as a 'puzzle to be solved' people come in dying, and House makes them well. So does it matter how he does it?

I'm less clear, and at the same time, more clear on Jack Bauer. This is the first season of 24 i've watched to forgive me if i overlook some obvious points. Jack should be the all American hero. he fights the bad guys, he does everything to protect his country, inside and outside the law. But that's the problem, the great contradiction with Jack. On the one hand a great hero, a great man who risks life and limb for others' freedom, and on the other hand a man who sees no problem with a baby being held at gunpoint as long as it gets him what he wants.

What should we do about this collision of good and bad? It's not like this in Maybury, there the eponymous hero of the Andy Griffith show defends his 1950s small town America with a firm fairness, and still finds time to take the kids to the fishing hole. He was a simple 'hero' and watching that show is like a window into a different world. I guess that's exactly what it is.

Jack and Gregory and different, but the same. We're supposed to like Bauer, we're not supposed to like House, and yet they're the same. The lines today are as blurred as they can get. Probably. There's only ever been One hero we can trust totally, only ever been one Man who was totally consistent, only ever One never let anyone down. I like the similarities between House and 24 because they illustrate that what ever our expectations, no man will ever be worth all of our trust. And that takes me back to the Bible, and back to Jesus.


Paul said...

Good thoughts. The difference is that Bauer hates threatening 'good'/'innocent' people. Sure, he enjoys some parts of his job a little too much but when he makes a call on which life to save, you see him forcibly ripping his soul apart from time to time (eg. in series 4 with the emergency surgery he denies to paul - I know you haven't seen that yet)

Every season, the combined weight of those decisions, and the ensuing guilt weighs him down more.

House, on the other hand, has occassional moments of change for the better (eg. starting to call fetuses babies... can't remember what series that was). From time to time he'll 'get it' and see how his worldview is flawed but he always seems to have forgotten by the next episode.

It's like House has Asperger's and can't quite 'get it'. Bauer 'gets it' but constantly tears himself in half making hard decisions.

Tom said...

I think that you've misrepresented Jack Bauer. He does have a problem with the baby at gunpoint, he just thinks that there isn't another choice. He has a big problem with it, and it is destroying him and he knows it. But, he is, in some ways selfless because he is willing to allow himself to be destroyed in order to save more lives.

This is a current discussion from moral philosophy about a theory called utilitarianism. And in particular an objection to utilitarianism called 'the integrity objection'.

See this http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/williams-bernard/#Day

dave bish said...

Bauer is clearly destroyed by the choices he makes - as Renee Walker is beginning to be in Day 7. But "we're running out of time" and "we don't have a choice" - he's so driven by the urgent greater good of protecting his country that it overrides other things, even though it costs him everyone he loves and everything of himself.

The current 24 dilemma seems to be around whether we can "save the world" without that kind of cost, without the torture which Jack sees as essential and unregrettable... even if people are to be asked to keep the rules we need some who can go beyond that in extreme circumstances.

House is Holmes for a new generation, incredibly formulaic, thought provoking and perpetually entertaining.

FloydTheBarber said...

I probably have misrepresented Jack a bit. Not having a background context to see him against it's hard to know what affect his decisions are having on him. He's not as obviously cut up as Renee is over the whole baby thing, and even in the face of the death of marika he seems at least almost unmoved. Does he hate threatening good/innocent people, or does he just see it as a neccesary evil?

So how much evil in the means justifies the good in the ends? Are we supposed to like him? I'm guess if i'd started watching six seasons ago i'd have resolved all this by now.

Hello Tom, I remember studying utilitarianism in a-level philosophy. The guy sitting next to me was totally convinced by it, whereas it was just one more part of that class that convinced me that the Gospel was true and i needed to do something about it. I think i agree with Williams...

dave bish said...

If you'd been there for the previous six days you would love Jack - he gets pretty well broken by the stuff he has to do - most clearly seen at the end of Day 6... hence he flees to Africa, and then it's his heroic devotion that makes him hand himself into the authorities and so end up on trial for torture...

I think them facing the issue in Day 7 is a great idea (as the series winds up, Day 8 is due to be the last one i think), both seeing Jack back in action but also how it impacts Renee.