Terror’s Blinding Horizon: 24 and the Normalization of Nuclear Terrorism

Curator's Note

In the clip you just saw, the city of Valencia, California is annihilated in the year 2013 in the fictionalized near future of the sixth season (2007) of the Fox Network’s 24. What I find remarkable about the season opener, which was aired in four episodes on January 14th and 21st, 2007 in the United States, is not the representation of a near future act of nuclear terrorism within the territorial confines of the US “homeland”, but rather the suburban banality of the context of this attack. Los Angeles itself has been repeatedly annihilated in post-World War II cinematic and televisual fiction and science fiction, but what I find most interesting about this particular clip, is the utter normality of the environments that provide the context for this attack. As you notice in the clip, the mushroom cloud produced by the detonation rises over the obsessively disciplined terra cotta tiled homes of the wealthy suburbs of Los Angeles, smashing the veneer of early 21st century American civilization. Why this is worthy of note is the fact that the plot of 24 is not only the materialization of subconscious fears of nuclear attack, but also a representation of the fears that cause the US internal security apparatus to shudder in terror, and rehearse compulsively, the response to imagined events that are eerily similar to the nuclear terrorist attack that serves as the dénouement for the season opener. My question for those who are reading this piece is: does the blinding flash of the nuclear detonation that transfixes CTU agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) represent merely a fictional representation of a fear that will never be materialized, or a premonition of a near future where the erasure of an urban or suburban core of a major American city is the “new normal”?

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