18 January 2010

Jack Bauer's Hour of Power*

*Title recklessly stolen from friends.

I have a confession to make: For the past few months, I've been going to the gym approximately every other day. I intend to continue to do so for...well, the rest of my life, I suppose, or until I move someplace where I can buy and keep my own treadmill like a caged tiger. I just hope that after admitting my routine to my audience of four and a half regular readers, I don't casually discard it and allow myself to blow up like a puffer fish with a carton of Colombian Coffee ice cream (the one currently in my freezer).

As a result of my exercise, I'm exposed to segments of pop culture I wouldn't normally seek out. I am the last person in the contiguous United States to own any sort of iPod or listening device, and I keep forgetting to buy a good pair of headphones to plug myself into the television machines they have attached to most of the exercise equipment. And so I watch whatever's playing on the widescreen televisions overhead, reading the words in closed captioning, and listening to the same Top 40 Execrable Pop Songs that play on what feels like an infinite loop. More often than not, I just end up focusing on the calories ticking slowly upward, cursing them to move faster, for the love of God, Montresor.

Sidenote #1 - I want to devote a small portion of hate for a couple of pop songs in particular. Someone with more knowledge in terms of music can set me right if I'm wrong, but it seems as if these days, all of the emphasis is placed on making the chorus catchy, and the hell with everything else. Back in the day, when you liked a song, you liked the whole damn thing, and sang along to every word. The chorus was just the frosting on the cake. These days, the chorus is the dew on the rock, with the audience desperately licking it for some sense of satisfaction and telling themselves it's delicious, really it is. Case in Point: Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance." I like the chorus part just fine, but the rest of it is phoned in. A considerable portion of the lyrics are plain nonsense, and not even the good type of nonsense Michael Jackson specialized in. It's still better than The Offspring's "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" That song feels so lazy I'm pretty sure it doesn't even qualify as music. On a scale of Not Music to Music, it goes: Silence - White Noise - "Kristy, Are You Doing Okay?" - Random Nature Noises - Street Ambiance - Music.

Anyway, at the gym the televisions are usually turned on to one of the ESPN channels. I have zero interest in sports, and the only times I saw anything worth watching was a 30 for 30 documentary on the Baltimore Colts and a replay of Jimmy V's 1993 Espy speech. If they're not turned to ESPN, they're turned to CNN, which I can only tolerate so much of.

Sidenote #2 - Here's a question I've been pondering a lot lately. Is television - with its emphasis on the visual over the written - an inherently poor medium for news and information, or have the 24-hour news networks just allowed it to devolve into a bunch of blathering nonsense? As many wiser people before me have pointed out, televised news segments typically consists of about two-to-three minutes of actual information, followed by Asshole #1 and Asshole #2 disguised as "Experts" yelling talking points at each other about what it means (both are usually incorrect), followed by anchors trying to sound thoughtful and important and failing miserably. C'mon Internet, bring back real journalism! (If it ever existed - a valid debate to have.)

If I get lucky and am there late enough on a weekday, they'll have a television program for me to watch and read the dialogue to. These vary in quality, and I've found if a series is too good - like "Modern Family" or "Glee" - it's difficult for me to follow along. They require me to actually pay attention - the utter gall! On the flip side, if the shows are too bad, then I get bored and end up focusing on my shitty calorie count again. Here we have most programs that air on The CW. Listen, Network, just because people are beautiful doesn't mean I care about them...alright, Michael gets by, but only because he was on "The Wire."

Tonight, however, I found my perfect program. "24" fit all my hour-at-the-gym needs and left me with a big grin on my face. I've never seen an episode before now, but given its prominence in the cultural conversation, I've read a lot about it, and a lot of my friends are in love with it. Based on the 55 minutes of one episode and five minutes of another I watched, I've developed a theory on why the show works so well. If anyone has brought this argument up before - I imagine someone must have, but don't feel like doing the required reading - or if I haven't seen near enough to form an opinion - a likely scenario - dedicated fans of the show can tell me to cram it up my ass. I'll happily shut up.


For me, it's all about the pacing. In the hour I watched, the show threw out one hoary cliche after another: Young black guys playing basketball step up to Jack Bauer! Officer Fuzzy Dunlop beats up Jack Bauer because of mistaken identity! An old boyfriend comes back to threateningly charm a CTU techie (a holdover from last season? Ah, who gives a shit?)! Chloe can't get Mykelti Williamson to see the reasoning behind her arguments! A head of state is having an affair! His brother is behind the murder scheme! The assassin is one of the cops! Jack Bauer has to get there in time! A car blows up! Jack Bauer's sidekick miraculously survives! The guy about to pull the trigger is actually shot from behind! All set to a ticking timer that is counting down the minutes until disaster! What made it work for me is that the show did all with a straight face and nary a sign of shame. The full-on embrace of Whatever-We-Need-to-Do-to-Keep-Asses-in-Seats made me grin like a six-year-old and actually feel excitement.

Granted, I didn't care what the hell happened to any of the characters. This was more of a meta-watching experience. What are the producers going to do now to keep the momentum going? What will they pull out of their ass next? How will the writers delay CTU from piecing it all together before the assassins put their plan into play? What will be the ticking clock scenario in the next episode? How ridiculous can it get? It reached a point where I kind of wanted to keep going on the treadmill just to watch the second hour of the show.

That kind of viewing experience isn't one that will keep me hooked. Hell, after I got home I preferred to type this up rather than turn on the TV and resume watching. But I know that if I go back to the gym after missing however-many episodes, I'll be able to follow along without any trouble, smiling like a big ol' eejit. And if I look down at the timer (the treadmill's, that is), or zone out while praying for the calories to move faster, dammit!, or try to awkwardly check out the woman in my peripheral vision, I know I can look back up and immediately get lost in whatever they're throwing at me. The pace at which it moves is a great inspiration for anyone in the midst of exercising. After all, if Jack Bauer can keep up that hellish momentum, then I should be able to survive an hour of jogging.


  1. I only read the first half of this entry because I haven't watched 24 yet (Lorin is currently watching it). It's funny that you bring up Lady Gaga. I actually downloaded 3 of her songs to listen to specifically at the gym. Since I don't listen to the radio, I'm really not that familiar with her songs. I downloaded "Bad Romance", "Poker Face" and "Paparazzi" because I had heard of those titles. Generally I find that pop songs are pretty good for working out to because they are mindless and usually have a consistent beat to keep my pace up. My previous guilty pleasure was Katy Perry -" Hot N Cold". I agree with you about "Bad Romance" but "Paparazzi" is THE WORST. I couldn't even listen to the whole thing and I immediately took it off my iPod.

    I could not workout without my iPod. I forgot my iPod once. I immediately left.

  2. the gym...good boy!

  3. "Poker Face" is alright, but that "Paparazzi" song is CA-RAP. It used to be ubiquitous here back in the fall, and every time I heard it I wanted to kick Lady Gaga in the dick.

  4. alls i can say is kudos to pop music and pop music listeners for allowing a transvestite like lady gaga to be so readily available to the public...