Sunday, January 09, 2005

Hyperreality TV
The Mrs. is a Tom Clancy fan. Me--not so much. I don't read a lot of fiction, for one thing, and when I do, my taste runs to T. C. Boyle and John Irving, not to Clancy's swashbuckling techno-military thrillers. But a few years back, I picked up Clancy's Debt of Honor and promptly began staying up far into the night reading it. The novel's riveting premise is a coordinated Japanese attack on the American financial and political systems, and its climax is astounding--or it was in 1996, anyhow: the crashing of a 747 into the Capitol in Washington, leaving it in ruins and Clancy's hero, Jack Ryan, elevated to President of the United States.

Shortly after September 11, I caught The Mrs. rereading Debt of Honor. "How can you stand to read that again now?" I asked. There's too much reality in reality, I said, for me to take any more of it with my off-hours diversions. That's still largely true, except for one thing: Must-see TV around our house includes the Fox series 24, which has its fourth season premiere tonight. It's far from being escapist entertainment: If anything, it's more real than reality. 24 is hyper-real, with its plots regarding chemical weapons, rogue nukes, and terror cells operating on American soil. (Its third-season premiere last fall began with a graphic torture scene that seemed incredible at the time, but is entirely believable now.) So there's a plausible argument that the same impulse that took Tom Clancy off my list should probably drive me to start watching The Bachelorette instead of 24 again, although it won't. In the Times, Frank Rich says this season of 24 deals with the war on terror we should be fighting, as opposed to the snipe hunt in Iraq. So in addition to the adrenaline rush 24 provides (all-cliffhangers, all the time, as Rich puts it), the ambitious plots and the mindblowing twists, there's the knowledge that on TV, good always triumphs in the end. So 24's war on terror has a lot better odds for success than the real one.

Recommended Reading: Also on the subject of truth and fiction, Paul Krugman discusses the bad novel he's planning to write.

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