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October 10, 2009

Counterterrorism’s Mise En Scene

Obama NCC.jpg

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)

  • Aurora

    Oo oo oo…I’m a bit gobsmacked as the Cousins say! got to think about this a bit more, but just now want to thank you again for a site that is thought-provoking.

  • jtfromBC


  • c.

    you may not be aware, but the Intelligence Community is pretty enamored of Bran Ferren (formerly of Disney Imagineering) and has used he and his company (Applied Minds) for conceptual work in several of their major builds. I’m not sure about the CTC, but he did do a large center at DIA as well as for NSA’s new facility in Hawaii. They all look good, but haven’t “worked” very well for the souls working in them.

  • jean

    I’m confused, who copied who? I don’t watch Jack Bauer. I know the bushies venerated Bauer, but did they actually copy the SET OF HIS TEEVEE SHOW? If so, the last eight or so years have been much worse than we thought. We have been living in a TEEVEE show. I don’t HAVE a TEEVEE set, how can I live in one? ACK.

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