August 6, 2008
‘24’ producer Howard Gordon : Our only politics is to have an exciting show
Later this year, the American Jewish Congress, Western Region will give Gordon the Stephen S. Wise Award for his contributions in helping the American public understand the threat of terrorism.
Jewish Journal: '24' has been praised for fast-paced and complex plots. On the other hand, some critics have objected to the excessive number of torture scenes and the show's "ticking-time-bomb" premise that if you don't beat the information out of the suspect quickly, America will suffer irreparable damage.
Howard Gordon: The charge that we may be promoting Islamophobia is not entirely specious. You referred earlier to a giant billboard for our show along the 405 Freeway, which showed a recognizable Muslim family with the warning: 'They Could Be Next Door.' This was put up by the Fox promotion department without our knowledge, but I can see why it caused a fair amount of disgruntlement among Muslim advocacy groups.
On the other hand, we have also been accused of being pro-Obama, because we once featured an African American actor as a presidential candidate. We also hear that the show has a right-wing agenda, which is absurd. The only politics is to have an exciting show.
JJ: So how do you draw the line between putting on an exciting show and your responsibility as a citizen and human being?
HG: That's a question we weigh very carefully. The old excuse, 'It's only a TV show, so it doesn't matter,' doesn't hold water anymore. Yet our ticking-time-bomb narrative, the constant sense of urgency, that's an unreal conceit. You get an unreal picture of the real world, by and large.
JJ: When did you realize that '24' was more than 'just a TV show'?
HG: We had a visit from a high-ranking West Point officer, who said that his cadets were not only great fans of our show but were actually taking their cues from Jack Bauer. That was very disconcerting. We subsequently put out a public service announcement that our show presented a very hyped-up version of reality.
JJ: How does being Jewish play into all this?
HG: Well, I've had to confront my own sensitivities and proclivities. I am very pro-Israel, I love Israel, I consider it the Jewish homeland, but I am also not just a rubber stamp for Israeli policies. I am an advocate for a strong Israel, but I am also an advocate for peace.
I hope that my moral and ethical infrastructure is based on what I learned as a practicing and identified Jew, and these values have certainly influenced me as a writer. My wife, our three children and myself attend University Synagogue, and we're going to Israel in December for our daughter's bat mitzvah.
JJ: Dalia Mogahed, executive director of Gallup's Center for Muslim Studies, speaking to the Writers Guild of America, West, cited figures from a poll of tens of thousands of Muslims in 35 countries that only 7 percent supported the actions of Muslim terrorists, with 93 percent opposed. What do you make of this?
HG: I take the Gallup figures at face value. There is widespread ignorance and contempt of Muslims and a streak of that in the United States, as well.
I am by no means blind to the threat of Islamic extremism and that Jews and Christians are subject to gross caricatures in Muslim countries, such as the dramatization of 'The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.' That's absurd. That's like '1984.' But we're Americans, and we can't use that as an excuse.
Unfortunately, we know so little about each other and, with the stakes so high, that's not a good thing.
For more information on the Dec. 4 function, contact the American Jewish Congress at 310-496-4280.