Terrorism TV

Popular Entertainment in Post-9/11 America

Stacy Takacs

The Fox-TV series 24 might have been in production long before its premier just two months after 9/11, but its storyline—and that of many other television programs—has since become inextricably embedded in the nation's popular consciousness. This book marks the first comprehensive survey and analysis of War on Terror themes in post-9/11 American television, critiquing those shows that—either blindly or intentionally—supported the Bush administration's security policies.

Stacy Takacs focuses on the role of entertainment programming in building a national consensus favoring a War on Terror, taking a close look at programs that comment both directly and allegorically on the post-9/11 world. In show after show, she chillingly illustrates how popular television helped organize public feelings of loss, fear, empathy, and self-love into narratives supportive of a controversial and unprecedented war.

“Extremely well researched, theoretically sound, accessible to students and academics alike, and has much crossover appeal to those interested in public scholarship. Takacs makes no simplistic causal claims and her serious treatment of perhaps the single most influential medium (so far) in human history is fascinating and refreshing.

—American Studies

“In this thoroughly researched work, Takacs carefully analyzes the pervasive influence of television, specifically in the aftermath of 9/11, and scrutinizes how the emotional news coverage of the event simultaneously minimized related critical concerns (e.g., government unpreparedness for the attacks). This original, powerful work will prompt debate as well as controversy and should lead to additional dialog about the intimate, and somewhat disturbing, interrelationship among television, politics, and cultural identity. Provocative yet thought-provoking, it should be an asset to communications, political, and academic collections.

—Library Journal
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Takacs examines a spectrum of program genres—talk shows, reality programs, sitcoms, police procedurals, male melodramas, war narratives—to uncover the recurrent cultural themes that helped convince Americans to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and compromise their own civil liberties. Spanning the past decade of the ongoing conflict, she reviews not only key touchstones of post-9/11 popular culture such as 24, Rescue Me, and Sleeper Cell, but also less remarked-upon but relevant series like JAG, Off to War, Six Feet Under, and Jericho. She also considers voices of dissent that have emerged through satirical offerings like The Daily Show and science fiction series such as Lost and Battlestar Galactica.

Takacs dissects how the War on Terror has been broadcast into our living rooms in programs that routinely offer simplistic answers to important questions—Who exactly are we fighting? Why do they hate us?—and she examines the climate of fear and paranoia they've created. Unlike cultural analyses that view the government's courting of Hollywood as a conspiracy to manipulate the masses, her book considers how economic and industry considerations complicate state-media relations throughout the era.

Terrorism TV offers fresh insight into how American television directly and indirectly reinforced the Bush administration's security agenda and argues for the continued importance of the medium as a tool of collective identity formation. It is an essential guide to the televisual landscape of American consciousness in the first decade of the twenty-first century.

About the Author

Stacy Takacs is professor of American Studies at Oklahoma State University and has published widely on the televisual mediation of war, economics, politics, and globalization.

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