10 life lessons Jack Bauer taught me

10 life lessons Jack Bauer taught me May 12, 2014

Jack is back. (Sort of: 24: Live Another Day is a 12-episode “limited event television series,” which is a way of saying miniseries without connecting the words “mini” and Jack Bauer.) When the eight-season series concluded four years ago, I published the below 10 Things 24 Taught Me, which I here present again because, you know: class is back in session.

1. Food and sleep are for the unmotivated. I used to think I needed food and water/soda/coffee/Red Bull to operate at maximum capacity. Because of 24 I’m now embarrassed to think I’d ever let the need for even minimal sustenance stand between me and punching a terrorist in the chest so hard he starts giving me information I don’t even want. Food and water are for losers. I’ve never seen Jack so much as pop a Tic Tac. (For more on another reason that might be, see reason #2 below.) Now, when I’m hungry, I just grit my teeth, press the accelerator, keep my hands on the wheel, and tough it out until I get home to eat the pizza I just picked up.

2. Love equals death. If there’s one thing 24 has taught me, it’s that nine out of the ten people I love most in the world will be killed, and ten out of ten of them will be tortured. Bummer for them. I’ll do what I can to protect them, of course. But I’m only one man, and I’ve got to sleep 364 nights out of the year. The best thing I can do to ensure the safety of as many people as possible is, I know, to first break off those deep personal attachments that, in my foolishness, I’ve already let develop, and to then form new attachments to as few people as humanly possible. To that end I have already filed for a divorce from my wife. If she gets out now, she stands a reasonable chance of only getting kidnapped, being sprayed with nerve gas, turning into a terrorist, or going permanently insane. I’m pretty sure she can handle any of those. Beyond that, I’ve already initiated my new plan to cease any and all grooming of myself, until I become so gross that flies wouldn’t land on me. If saving lives means having breath that could drop a bird in mid-flight, then so be it. Besides, breath that could deflect bullets could come in handy in the field. And talk about your excellent, ever-ready instrument of torture.

3. No one can ever be trusted. I must have in my life right now twenty people to whom (for now) I’m close. Not one of them, I know, would ever cruelly betray me, or do everything in their power to destroy the United States of America. Wrong! Each of them is right now plotting to do one or both of those things. I don’t know how it will happen, or when — but sooner or later my own father, for instance, is sure to pull a remote bomb detonator out of his over-sized Bermuda shorts. True, unless he got a good night’s sleep the night before he’s unlikely to recall the exact purpose or location of the bomb — but it’ll come to him. And when it does, there’ll be hell to pay. And as the destruction he’s unleashed commences, he’ll only smile the wry smile of the purely evil, before his stupid upper denture falls out. Perhaps the person who is about to destroy the world isn’t dad (yet). Perhaps my wife is a clandestine key player in an international ring of power mongers who, even as I type this, are plotting to kidnap the president of the United States and/or let all the air out of my car tires. You never know. And that’s the point: danger is everywhere.

4. Anything can be an instrument of torture. When Jack wants to torture someone, does he wait around for one of those creepy guys with the case of dental tools to show up? Maybe, if he’s at CTU. But out in the field, Jack knows that virtually anything can be used to do something horrible to some part of the human anatomy. A stapler, a toothbrush, an ice cream scoop: if Jack can pick it up, he can use it to make you wonder, in the few quiet moments coming to you, why you, an evil genius, never thought to operate from the Midwest instead of Los Angeles. But it’s too late for you now, because now Jack’s got that look in his eyes — and he just picked up his torture weapon of choice: an everyday writing pen. Or maybe he’s just picked up a pair of pliers and is eyeing one of your fingers. Unless you’re Gumby or the Tin Man, you’d better start talking.

5. The government possesses cell phone batteries that never need charging. 24 has proven beyond a doubt that the government is in possession of cell phone batteries that could no sooner run out of power than Jack could lay down and take a nap on the one day a year that he works. Jack’s more likely to say, “If you tell me where the bomb is, I’ll give you a foot massage,” than he is, “Damn it! My cell battery’s run out! My cell battery ran out!” This is great news for the rest of us, because top-notch products developed and used by the government very often end up in consumer-friendly versions then used by the rest of us. That’s how we got (to name just a few) black Ray-Ban sunglasses, the dribble glass, Spandex, the M-16 assault rifle, canned cat food, Hummers, the M-16 assault rifle, and pens that write in space. (I, for one, rest peacefully knowing that if it comes down to it, Jack, with just that pen, has everything he needs to torture a terrorist in space.)

6. Getting horribly tortured isn’t that big a deal. I used to think that if major electrical volts were applied to different part of my strung-up body over the course of ten hours, or if my face was smashed with the edge of a shovel right before someone shot a huge bullet hole through the palm of my hand, or if the GNP of China dropped twenty-two points due to the amount of money the Chinese government has spent torturing me for two years, I might be inclined to take the rest of the day off — or to at least be so weak that I couldn’t secretly chew through my handcuffs before suddenly jumping up, grabbing a fountain pen, and killing everyone in the room. But now I know that, if you are on the side of right, you can be mercilessly tortured for hours on end and thirty minutes after the fact have nothing to show for it but a well-placed bandage or a little cut near your bottom lip.

7. Man-purses are sexy. I used to carry so much stuff in my pants pockets that I could barely walk, let alone sit down. But at the same time I felt man-purses were much too dainty for the likes of me. Well, those days are gone like yesterday’s torture bruises. Thanks to Jack, man-bags are now so masculine that my new one actually develops a five o’clock shadow. I own two such sacks: one, in Jack Black, for taking care of the kind of business it’s best you know nothing about, and one in Bauer Flower Power, for business of mine it’s also best you know nothing about, but for totally different reasons.

8. Always demand full immunity. While driving the other day a policeman pulled me over. “Do you have any idea how fast you were going through that school zone?” he authoritatively asked me. I answered with fervent urgency, “I’ll tell you what you want to know. But I demand full immunity!” The cop’s response was less rewarding than I’d anticipated. “You know, from 24,” I giggled nervously. “How the people are always asking for full immunity.” “Oh, yeah, yeah — that’s a great show,” he softly chuckled, slowly moving his hand up to the gun at his waist. So my first attempt at demanding full immunity didn’t actually work out for me. But eventually I paid my bail, and that’s all almost behind me now. Apparently, when demanding immunity, delivery counts for more than I’d reckoned. But once I get that quiver out of my voice, I’ll be on my way. Not that I ever really expect to do anything so dastardly that full immunity will be a reasonable request. But, as we’ve seen, Jack’s taught me that I can’t trust anyone. Not even me. So I need to be prepared, just in case I, like so many before me, inexplicably turn like a flapjack.

9. Rapid eye blinking maintains your cover. Whenever Jack has to suffer a severe emotional blow while not giving away his cover and/or cool, he blinks a few times really fast. I’ve tried this myself. It works. Last month I was at the DMV. I had to take the written driver’s test, which I haven’t taken since Ford Pintos were randomly exploding all over the road. Amazingly, the DMV had no means of separating from one another individuals who were taking the written test. So I cheated off the test of the woman next to me. When the lady behind the DMV counter who corrects the tests leveled her gaze at me, and said, “How odd. You missed the exact same five questions the woman you were standing next to missed,” I started blinking like Barney Fife on cocaine. As it ended up, I didn’t have to retake the test; five was the limit of questions you could miss. I was, however, constrained to continue pretending to have eye problems, to the point that now, even though I have 20-20 vision, I have to wear eyeglasses while driving. So I’m probably going to end up in a terrible car accident. But at least I successfully got away with cheating on my driver’s test, thanks to Jack “Blinky” Bauer.

10. Our next president will be Joe Lieberman, and after that probably Hillary Clinton. In the first three seasons of 24, the president of the United States was a black man whose primary legislative agenda was the passing of a bill overhauling American’s health care system. Our current president is a black man whose primary legislative agenda is the passing of bill overhauling America’s health care system. In the fourth and fifth season of 24, the president of the United States was a squirmy, indecisive, opportunistic, shifty-eyed, double-crossing weasel, who looked like this:

So I think it’s obvious that our next president will be:

The final 24 president of the United States was this woman:

This is Hillary Clinton:

Now, seriously. You tell me.

At the end of the final season of “24” the religion editor of The Huffington Post asked me to write a piece about the spirituality of show. The result was We do know Jack. We are Jack.

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