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John McCullough

Popular Culture, Television Studies

TV Milestones Series

Published: May 2014
ISBN: 9780814338674
Pages: 144 Size: 5 x 7
Illustrations: 20 b&w illus.
Published: May 2014
ISBN: 9780814338681

For eight seasons between 2001 and 2010, Fox’s 24 garnered critical accolades and became one of the most watched and discussed shows in primetime. In an innovative premise, the show’s hour-long episodes were meant to represent a real-time hour of the story, so that each twenty-four-episode season depicts a single day in the life of its characters. Influential as a popular hit, 24 was also closely linked with the "culture of fear" that dominated the post-9/11 period. In this insightful study, author John McCullough demonstrates that the series was not only unique and trendsetting, but also a complex creative response to its historical context.

In three chapters, McCullough looks at 24’s form, style, and overarching themes and meanings. He argues that although the series is driven by the political and cultural shifts brought on by the War on Terror, it is routinely out of step with real history. Using Linda Williams’s distinction between the melodramatic mode and melodrama as a genre, McCullough explores 24’s use of the action-adventure and spy thriller forms with particular attention paid to the series’ hero, Jack Bauer, who is depicted as a tragic hero perpetually in search of a return to innocence. Ultimately, McCullough finds that the series’ distinction lies less in its faithful re-creation of the history of the WOT than in its evocation of the sense of crises and paranoia that defined the period. McCullough also analyzes 24 as a response to television culture in the "post-network" age, characterized by reality TV’s populist appeal and visceral content, on the one hand, and sophisticated boutique cable programming ("quality TV"), on the other.

McCullough demonstrates that 24 engaged not only with the most pressing issues of world history and the geopolitics of its time, including terrrorism, neoliberalism, and the state of exception, but, on the strength of its form and style, also represents significant global trends in television culture. Fans of the show and media history scholars will appreciate this thorough study.

John McCullough is associate professor and chair of the Department of Film at York University in Toronto, Ontario. He is co-editor of Locating Migrating Media and John Porter’s Film Activity Book.

[McCullough's] investigation of the series is particularly thorough, illustrating many relevant textual examples from across its eight full seasons and drawing from an impressive array of media theory and contemporary accounts. Although the book occasionally shifts into deep formal descriptions that risk some clarity, its pace and depth are otherwise exemplary for this format.

– Derek Kompare, Cinema Journal

John McCullough offers a tour de force analysis of the narrative structure, style, and thematic obsessions of the most famous of the post-9/11 terrorism-themed adventure series, 24. His careful attention to poetics and form supports a larger argument about the role of excess, artifice, and fantasy in the imagining of contemporary political conflicts. If history hurts, as Frederic Jameson once argued, then 24 tickles, and McCullough explains precisely how and why that is. Required reading for anyone interested in the poetics and politics of postmodern pastiche.

– Stacy Takacs, associate professor and director of American studies at Oklahoma State University