In each episode of the first season of 24, Keifer Sutherland’s voiceover introduces the overall plot of the story:
Right now, terrorists are plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate. My wife and daughter have been targeted, and people that I work with may be involved in both. I’m federal agent Jack Bauer, and today is the longest day of my life.
Premiering in November 2001, 24 was clearly topical in relation to the terrorist acts of 9/11. But despite the rhetoric of the introduction; it could be argued that the first season does not actually contain a single terrorist.
A terrorist by definition is an individual or group that uses terror in pursuit of political aims, something the enemy in the series does not do. This is a mistake which is perhaps more easily forgiven in the first 12 hours where the ambiguity of the storyline means we have yet to learn the reason why the group wish to assassinate a presidential candidate (indeed, at this point there is every possibility that they are terrorists whose could be attempted to assassinate a prominent politician in order to install fear into the American population). But this mistake is not rectified in the second 12 hours where we find out that the group are in fact Serbian soldiers that are enacting revenge on an American team (including Bauer) that caused them an injustice in the past as part of a botched secret mission.
Not only does 24 reflect a wish to ‘cash in’ on the discourse of terrorism which engulfed the US at the time (and still haunts discourses now), but I think it also reflects how we experience universal / structural problems in contemporary society. The universal threat or problem is immediately personalised and considered a threat to each individual rather than to society, and this is how Bauer can get away with calling them terrorists (even after it is revealed that their aim is a personal vendetta rather than terror) because the structural problem of terrorism is immediately experienced as a personal attack on each and every individual; not society.
Terrorism – as well as other structural problems, such as poverty – are packaged neatly into a consumable and personalised narrative which can be interpreted by the individual as a personal threat because there is no longer any collectivities to protect (or meet) with structural problems and this leads to their individualization. Instead of being autonomous or free, people are governed through biopolitical narratives where those in power justify themselves through their protection of your personal life.
When people equate the ruling ideological framework into their primal wish to survive, and experience a structural problem as a threat to their own well-being, those in power become completely justified in reducing liberty in order to further your survival (for example, see this fascinating video on police stop and search laws). What is actually needed, however, is new collectivities that reassert a common face and solidarity and which require fidelity above personal concerns. Only by attacking the values that are currently most dear to oneself – such as fear of terrorist harm – will subjects become dis-entangled from the ideological rhetoric of biopolitics.