October 10, 2009

Counterterrorism’s Mise En Scene

guest post by Cara Finnegan

Obama visited the set of “24”! Where’s Jack Bauer? Where’s Chloe?

That’s what I thought when I saw this photo on the front page of Thursday morning’s New York Times. This isn’t the fictional CTU, but we should be forgiven for making the mistake. It’s Obama speaking on Afghanistan at the National Counterterrorism Center‘s headquarters in McLean, Virginia.

Film scholars use the term “mise en scene” to describe the visual style of a set, especially the way it appears on camera. When done well, the mise en scene becomes another character. Certainly that’s the case for “24,” where its metallic military-industrial glamour, strategically placed catwalks, and be-REEP-ing phones are almost as important as Kiefer Sutherland’s taut, husky whisper.

The NCTC was founded in 2003-2004 during the heyday of the Bush administration’s war on terror. Is it a coincidence that the NCTC’s headquarters look a lot – a lot – like CTU’s? For further evidence check out this video, which offers a “rare peek” into the NCTC’s “state-of-the-art Operations Center” and also traffics a bit in CTU-style excitement (minus all that messy Jack Bauer torture stuff). Whether the physical space was actually created with “24” in mind is beside the point. I’m more interested in the idea that perhaps the “24” aesthetic taught us what counterterrorism looks like. Once this mise en scene is in your head, how could you possibly envision anything else?

cross-posted from First Efforts

(image: Brooks Kraft. October 5, 2009)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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