Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Salute to 24

Two shows that revolutionized my television watching experience are coming to an end at the end of this season. I thought this would be a good time to memorialize one of them: 24.

Spoilers ahead: reader beware

I started watching 24 in 2004, three years after it premiered on Fox. I watched the first three seasons on DVD and was blown away. The concept was so novel, a TV series that occurs in real time, as the shows opening line states, "The following events take place between 8:00 am and 9:00 am. Events occur in real time." This line starts every episode, only the time changes. What is interesting, is that watching other shows I sometimes tend to expect things to be happening in real time. Nevertheless, the concept was brilliant, one season, one day, 24 hours. The only real problem for "real time" viewing is that sometimes the events could not possibly happen in real time. For example, Jack can drive clear across LA county in about 10 minutes. Ask anyone who has even been to LA and they will tell you know that is an impossibility.

In 2007 my girlfriend (now my wife) decided to take what we called the 24 challenge. That is, watch a full season of 24 in 24 hours. We decided to watch season 2 which begins at 8:00 am. So, we got up early on a Saturday morning and popped in the DVD and started along with the show at 8:00 am. We proceeded to start every episode in real time, corresponding to the show. This meant that we had about 15 minutes for break between each episode (the DVD's don't account for the commercials). By the middle of the night after about 18 hours of 24, we were considering skipping our 15 minute breaks and just watching straight through. That would have got us to bed about an hour and a half earlier. As it was, we stayed strong, kept our schedule and finished the season at about 7:45 on Sunday morning. The last few episodes were a blur and the breaks now consisted of calisthenics to stay awake. In the end, a great experience, but one that I am not eager to repeat.
So, what makes 24 so great? It is a formula show. It is not complicated. Follow the formula and keep the audience happy. So, what is the formula?

First rule of 24: Jack is always right.
Jack has an infallible moral compass. Everyone else gets conflicted from time to time, but Jack is steady and never has to debate a decision. He just knows what to do. So, you can determine the relative goodness or badness of any character on 24 based upon their current relation to and opinion of Jack.

Rule number tw
o, don't ever disagree with Jack. If Jack says it needs to be done, do it.

Third rule of 24, there will always be at least one mole at CTU (counter terrorism unit), and somehow, they always manage to shock the audience.

Fourth rule of 24, there are always two and only two plot lines in 24 (with one exception, see below on how to ruin a season of 24) There is always a bait and switch. The show begins with a terrorism attack or credible threat of one. The first part of the show consists of stop this imminent terrorist attack. This plot line usually comes to a climax somewhere near the 12th hour. For example, the nuclear bomb that Jack has been chasing for the entire season in season 2 is harmlessly detonated in the desert
at the end of hour 12. Then, the switch. The plot then moves to the conspiracy behind the attack, as Jack investigates deeper and deeper into this conspiracy usually finding members of the US or other major governments that are ultimately responsible for the attack.

Fifth rule of 24: if the terrorists are Islamic, they are ultimately either too stupid to have really planned it, or they lacked the resources to do so themselves. There is always some other less politically incorrect entity pulling the strings. I think this is the way that the show has walked the PC tightrope of not shying away from Islamic terrorism, while at the same time not making them ultimately responsible.

Sixth rule of 24, with only a couple of exceptions, all women are either stupid or evil. Season 1: Jack's wife and daughter are so dumb that it is at times hilarious, and at other times downright annoying. Also season one, the only smart girl is Nina, who turns out to be evil. Possible exceptions to this rule: Michelle Dessler, but, once you got to really like her, they killed her off. Same goes for Renee Walker, she rocks, so she gets dead. President Taylor in seasons six and seven but now she is possibly turning evil. The best exception: Chloe O'Brien, one of the best characters on 24.

Seventh rule of 24: dead people stay dead, or should. If someone dies in 24, and we actually see them die, they stay dead, no matter how much we loved them. There is one exception, which I will discuss later in my section of how to ruin a 24 season.

Eighth rule of 24: Jack, I would guess in support of George W. Bush, will always stubbornly refuse to pronounce nuclear correctly. He always says Nu-Q-Lar instead of Nu-Clee-Ar

How to ruin a season of 24: break some of the rules. For some reason we just like the rules and to break them goes way over the line. So, by far the worst season of 24 is season seven. It broke two major rules. First, it did not follow the two and only two plot line rule. Instead, I think in an attempt to top its previous seasons, it just included every plot line available. There was a air traffic control terrorist threat, followed by an assassination plot, followed by a presidential kidnapping, followed by another assassination attempt, followed by a biological threat, followed by, followed by, etc., ad infinitum. This led the overall plot to fall apart and the audience had no idea what was going on. Second, they brought Tony Almeda back to life. Remember the rule on dead people staying dead. Yeah, we saw Tony die in season 5. It sucked to see him die, he had become a fan favorite, but to bring him back was a big mistake. Moreover, it works in 24 to turn someone from evil to good, or from good to evil, ONCE! Instead, Tony ping-ponged back and forth in season 7 so many times that I cannot even remember where he ended up. At the end of the episode was he good, evil? Don't know. By that time, I was through caring.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Martin Luther King Jr: The Scholar?

When I think of Martin Luther King Jr. I think of a great speaker, civil rights activist, a Baptist Minister, a rhetorician, a non-violent protester, a martyr, and other such titles, but I do not think of a scholar. Upon a re-reading of his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" I will have to re-think my judgment.

A letter such as he wrote would be nearly impossible today, even from a scholar. As I was re-reading the letter in preparation for my yearly lecture on the Civil Rights Movement in my Christian Heritage class at Baylor University, I was struck by one thing that I had not noticed before. Sure, I have always noted King's ability to weave words into powerful figures of speech as a means of persuading his audience. Sure, I have noticed his empassioned plea for racial equality. Sure I have noticed his well reasoned defense of non-violent resistance. Yet, I had never noticed the depth and breadth of his scholarly knowledge.

King, from a prison cell without any source material rattles off quotes from a surprisingly diverse group of scholars. Among his citations are a comparison of himself to Socrates acting as a social gadfly from Plato's Apology, Augustine's claim that "an unjust law is no law at all," a comparison of segregation to a reduction of human relations to Martin Buber's "I-it" relationship, and a comparison of segregation to Paul Tillich's definition of sin as separation.

Moreover, King, in a masterful rhetorical argument of ethos, does not shy away from calling himself an extremist and quotes several famous extremists of the past, such as Jesus, an extremist for love, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you.." Amos, an extremist for justice, "Let Justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Paul, an extremist for the gospel, "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Martin Luther, " Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." John Bunyan, "I will stay in Jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." Abraham Lincoln, "This nation cannot survive half slave half free." Thomas Jefferson, "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal..."

King wrote this masterful work from prison, drawing on and often quoting great leaders and scholars from over 2400 years of human history. Add one title to the list of those attributed to Martin Luther King Jr: Scholar!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Role Models

Our society, being driven as it is by fame and celebrity, usually seeks role models among the rich, powerful, and successful members of our society. Yet, as my previous post demonstrates, those with power and those who have received special treatment in this society are often poor examples of role models. Instead of looking to the celebrities in our culture for role models, we would be much better off looking closer to home, to those we actually know.

In my case, one of my role models is my mother. She is truly an amazing woman and one of the strongest people I have ever known. In 1988, at the age of 39, she had little to boast of. She had married shortly after graduating high school and spent the next 20 years as a wife and mother, raising me and my older sister. 1988 marks the year of my parents divorce, and also the year my mom graduated from the University of Colorado with a Kinesiology degree. Two years later, she graduated from the University of Colorado Health Sciences center with a Physical Therapy degree. How she accomplished these goals while raising two children and going through a divorce is beyond me. In her twenty year career as a physical therapist she has helped to heal myriads of people and has become one of the most respected physical therapists in Colorado.

As much as she has touched lives as a physical therapist, the lives she has touched personally are what really distinguish my mother as a great woman.

The early 1990s were a tumultuous time for our family. My sister was killed in a car accident in 1993 and at the same time my mother was dealing with an abusive (second) husband. As I have learned from my mother, many abused women lack the strength and courage to escape. Yet, my mother, showing her incredible strength, fought for herself and got out of the relationship, divorcing in 1996. I lived solely with my Mom for my final semester of High School, and really witnessed her spirit, which had been beaten down for so many years, come to life.

She quickly became involved in Boulder County Safehouse, an organization for battered women. She began working with them as an advocate, going on domestic disturbance calls and counseling women in abusive relationships. She continued to work with the organization, eventually serving as the Boulder County Safehouse Chairperson in the late 1990s Her work with this organization led to lecturing opportunities at the University of Colorado and to articles appearing in the Boulder Daily Camera. Her work in this area touched, if not saved, numerous women's lives in the Boulder area.

But, in perhaps my mother's greatest act of self-giving love, she took in a foster child in 1997. Diana Smith was a 16 year old terror, a stark contrast to me, a perfect angel. All joking aside, Diana really was a difficult child to raise. She had been in and out of foster homes her entire life and lacked they stability needed to stay out of trouble. No one had ever loved Diana long enough to teach her how to live. My mother was committed to providing that stability to Diana and just refused to give up. I remember a story of Diana from my college years. My mother had come to visit me for parents weekend at Baylor University. On the first night she was here, we got a call from my aunt, who lived in the same Condominium complex as my mom. My mom's condo was surrounded by the flashing lights of police cruisers, called out to deal with a multi-keg underage party thrown by Diana. My mother was furious, and took out that fury on Diana, but she refused to give up on her. My mother's persistent love for Diana and her stubborn refusal to give in to Diana's rebellion has proved a godsend for her. My mom, in a symbolic move which demonstrated her commitment to Diana, adopted her when she turned 21 (her deadbeat dad would not allow it before that time). Diana is a wonderful sister who takes after my mother in strength and courage. She lives with her wonderful fiancee in Brewster, NY, works multiple jobs while earning her college degree. My mother really gave Diana a chance and turned her life around.

As an offshoot of that relationship, my mother has also turned around the life of Roger Smith, Diana's younger brother. Though there is no legal relationship, my mom and her wonderful third husband, Jimmy Macrina, have essentially taken Roger in and guided him on a productive path. Roger, though not quite as hell raising as Diana, was also on a path to a bad place. Through my mom's support and direction, Roger Graduated from Job Corps while also earning his high school diploma. He recently got a Job working for Denver County, where he has already been promoted. Roger and Diana are part of my mom's wonderful legacy of loving people until they are in a place to succeed.

To cap it all off, my mother recently sold her successful physical therapy company and took a job where most people would not work. She provides physical therapy at a nursing home in Windsor, Colorado to patients with Alzheimer's and Schizophrenia. I have visited her work multiple times and her patients, those whom society has forgotten and discarded, are given wonderful care and love by my mother and it shows on their faces when she enters their rooms.

I am graduating this May from Baylor University with my Ph.D. and I must say, I could never have done it without a role-model like my mother, Cassandra Lynn Reich.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Death to the Athlete/Role-Model

I just read that the ratings for the final round of the Masters' tournament were up 36% from last year. The opening round ratings were up 47%. Why? Tiger Woods. Perhaps some of it was curiosity after all of his negative publicity. But in the end, Tiger will always bring in viewers.

I also just read a story entitled, "Mickelson is a feel good story at the Masters" that can be found here. The last line of the story reads, "And if you watched the tournament and saw the tears of joy with Phil and his family, you can't help but think there is justice in this world of ours." I could be wrong, but I think the "justice" Bill Scott was talking about was the fact that this "good guy" Mickelson beat out the louse Tiger Woods.

Can we, as a society, please stop trying to find our role models among professional athletes? Tiger Woods should mark the end of myth of the upright and civic-minded professional athlete. I am not saying that all athletes are scum, nor, God forbid, am I making any claims about Mickelson. I have nothing for compassion for him and his family and I give him the highest praise for an excellent tournament win. But lets not make him a civic hero or role-model. Lets call him what he is, an excellent golfer, and, in the same regard, Tiger Woods deserves the same treatment.

Why do we expect, or perhaps the better word would be hope, that those who entertain us in the world of sports are genuinely "good guys?" We certainly should not expect them to be good guys. Look at the evidence. In elementary school, the jocks were usually cruel to others, but were rewarded with popularity. In Jr. High and Highschool, they continued to pick on outcasts and were rewarded with more popularity and women. If they were good enough, they were rewarded with college scholarships, more women, special treatment from teachers and administration, and sometimes special perks from boosters. All this while continuing to act from time to time in a socially unacceptable manner. Finally, we give them multi-million dollar contracts, signing bonuses, lucrative endorsements, captivated television audiences, fame, fortune, and yes, more women. Yet, we expect that somehow their behavior will have changed? They have tested the boundaries, wondering when someone would hold them accountable for their bad behavior. Guess what? That day still has not come.

Tiger Woods disgraced himself in with his multiple affairs, yet what was his punishment? Some public lambasting and a 47% increase in television ratings. People still watch him. So, why do we continue to hope for an athlete/role-model? We, the general public, want to excuse ourselves for supporting such behavior by finding athletes worthy of the praise, adoration, and ridiculous amounts of money we lavish on them. We don't like giving these rewards to "bad guys." But lets be truthful, we still turn out to watch the Tiger Woods and Michael Vicks, the Kobe Bryants and the Ron Artests. We watch them not because they are "good guys" but because they are excellent athletes. As long as a society rewards bad behavior, is it any shock that those they reward continue to act badly?