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Posted in ffsymposium

Jack Bauer spends a lot of time paying off his abundant stores of bad karma. His pregnant wife has been murdered by a treacherous co-worker. He has been literally tortured to death. He has become addicted to heroin, faked his own death and become estranged from his daughter. He has spent twenty months in a Chinese Prison, returning home to discover that his sociopath family is behind a nuclear strike and that the girlfriend who attempted to rescue him from said Chinese Prison is now a catatonic basket case.

The above list of misfortunes aren’t the sadistic imaginings of fanfic writers. They’re actually part of the official canon. The creative team behind 24 are, even now, inventing new ways to pile fresh grief upon their hero.

Reducing a strong male lead to an incapacitated wreck for Hurt/Comfort purposes has long been a staple of fan fiction. But as an avid follower of both 24 and its resulting fan fiction, I feel that the sub-genre I’ll thusly lable Bauer-Bashing deserves special consideration.

Jack (why are so many TV characters named Jack?) offers a compelling if frustrating moving target for the H/C treatment. Although often described as a cold-blooded and unfeeling killer, Jack is in fact a bundle of raw nerve endings who screams, cries, and even vomits at moments of intense emotion. Jack is as much the victim of violence as he is its perpetrator, and finds himself trapped in an endless cycle of torturer and torturee. Few actors are better than Kiefer Sutherland at portraying on-screen angst. Season 6 drew some much-deserved critical fire but did succeed in providing the fanfic writer with plenty of fresh material. The H/C writer doesn’t even need to invent new sufferings for Jack to endure, but only needs to extrapolate on the torments the 24 writers have so graciously provided us.

So far, so good. Yet the ‘real-time’ structure of the show allows for plenty of hurt but precious little time for comfort. Jack has scant opportunity to indulge in such time-consuming luxuries as heroin withdraw, proper medical attention, or post-traumatic stress. For this reason, the majority of 24 fan fiction is set between seasons once the clock has stopped ticking. With the notable exception of the Chinese Prison, Jack is usually able to escape his various captors through a combination of ingenuity and violence. His has a magical ability to quickly recover from seemingly incapacitating injuries. The last three seasons have ended with Jack’s disappearance from the not-so-safe haven of CTU, much to the aggravation of any number of supporting characters (most notably Chloe, Audrey or even Bill) who would be happy to provide Jack with some much-needed comforting.

Buaer-Bashing reaches great heights (or depths) in the grueling epics of Moody. (http://24fics.18.forumer.com/) In one of her Chinese Prision interpretations, Jack is beaten, tortured, drugged, raped, brainwashed and ultimately returned to the United States as a ninja-assassin. Her “comfort” part of the Hurt/Comfort equation invariably includes strapping Jack to a hospital bed and drugging him stupid. In another story, she devotes an entire chapter to Diane-a woman who apparently has nothing else to do-and her attempts to give a bedridden Jack a sponge bath. The result is an atrophied, whiny wretch who resembles the TV protagonist in name only. Reading Moody is like eating too many jellybeans in one sitting: I end up feeling rather nauseas but oddly satisfied. I find myself eagerly devouring her latest post, wondering if I can withstand her relentless attempts to destroy my love and respect for Jack Bauer forever. I’m alright as long as I can cling to happy memories of TV Jack shooting people in the thigh and stealing helicopters.

It is useful to compare Moody to xbedhead, (http://community.livejournal.com/24_fanfic/) whose excellent “Regroup” series details Jack’s efforts at gluing his life back together after the tumultuous Day Six. This multi-chapter, slightly AU story pays due attention to Jack’s battered body and addled psyche while still allowing him to be a competent adult.

Same character, two different writers, two very different results.

No two fanfic writers portray the same character and his accompanying fictional universe in exactly the same way. Nor should we. Individual interpretation is part of the joy of reading and writing fan fiction. But we must be observant of a character’s speech patterns, personality, and behavior. Ditto for the laws that govern his imaginary world.

Jack Bauer is a difficult man to literally and figuratively pin down. But he’s well worth the effort. Good luck!

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