When Characters Cross: Extradiegetic Imbrication

Monday August 03, 18.25.31

Jack Bauer as interpreted. Seen in a local art supply shop.

First off, I’m being tongue-in-cheek with the blog post title, so lower your weapons. And I’ll be brief. There are two things going on here.

First, a curious, perhaps pathological contemporary media consumption practices: For the last several years at least, the rituals of, well — watching shows on the old cathode ray tube (haven’t stepped up to the flatness, with apologies to the consumer confidence index) means that I basically consume a season of programming in anywhere from three to ten days, depending.

Second, a symptom exhibited by this ravenous media consumption practice: characters on these shows become “my friends” in an unsettling but, well — immersive way. Whether empathetic friends of friends that, you know — are closer to antagonists, they become deeper parts of the conscious mind in a way that sometimes I’m okay with, but sometimes I am entirely thrown off by.

I first noticed this kind of extradiegetic muddle when I had gone through a real immersion into the addictive and wonderfully preposterous show “24” which everyone and their hairdresser knows about so I won’t get into it except to say — I had JUST moved to Los Angeles where the show mostly takes place. Sure, I had watched episodes before while living in New York City, but this was different. After watching probably five or six hours into the morning dawn during one bender session, I had to get up to go teach a class or something and was still muddle-headed and POV day-dreaming about whatever CTU was chasing down.

First thing, a stop at the bank ATM on the way downtown. I pulled into a spot and began my egress from the driver’s seat and I instinctively looked in my door side rearview mirror to see if I was going to take off someone’s hip before opening the door — and:


CUT TO: A thick black Land Rover SUV with Jack Fracking Bauer jumping out of it.

I swear to god. There he was, jeans and fitted white t-shirt. I froze. Surely he’d see me and mercilessly slam my head into the dash after crushing it like a melon in the door jamb and demand to know where “he/she/it/they” were — or whatever MacGuffin that would lead to the next inevitable plot turn. But, whatever — Bauer was jumping out and I was busted. I’m sure I caught a glimpse of CTU backup dudes lurking around a corner. And his SUV was black, for chrissake. And that’s never a good sign.

Do you — stay in the car or draw and step-to.

Of course I snapped out of my muddle-headedness to realize that it wasn’t Jack Bauer, but Kiefer Sutherland, which it was and he was blocking my car for a moment as he got dropped off.  And we chatted for a moment as I told him that I “enjoyed his work” which is what you say in Los Angeles — you say, “hey, I enjoy your work” which makes you casual and perhaps even in the industry, which I am totally not, but I wasn’t going to shadow box at him or mock being cuffed or aim a finger-gun and do the old trigger-squeeze-and-wink or ask plot minutae or something buffoonish like that.

He must’ve confused me with a grip or focus puller or catering guy or something because he came up to me like he knew me as we both exited the bank, leaned into my car window and was, like — “hey man, take it easy”, like I mattered or something. Or, maybe he’s a nice guy, which I’ve heard from locals who see him doing judo chops in the air at the local “Ye Rustic Inn” over there on Hillhurst, which he’s been known to frequent.

So, that’s a long way of saying — media consumption practices do funny things. You’re watching one show with one character who’s a really bad guy and then in the next show — he’s an empathetic guy, which makes today’s ravenous media consumption a tricky, tight-rope-walking bit of mental gymnastics.

For example, immersed in “Brotherhood” — Showtime’s Providence Rhode Island based answer to “The Wire” which is mostly enjoyable after a few episodes, but definitely not “The Wire” — the bad brother (I’m not spoiling a thing here, I mean…its called “Brotherhood” and its a political-crime drama) is pretty sadistic and bad. I took a break a few episode-days into watching this and switched to season five of Aaron Sorkin’s Bush-era proto-historical fiction “The West Wing” and — blam! there was the bad brother in a sequence of episodes, only as a kind, empathetic, caring photographer — a character prop to entice an important subplot to the show.

It sort of threw me off for a moment. And then I watched “Eagle Eye” and the crooked, felonious Rhode Island State Trooper from “Brotherhood” was now a straight-laced, stand-up-guy FBI agent. And immediately after that I dessert-watched “The Final Cut” (2004, with Robin Williams, not the 1998 one with Jude Law) and the evil computer voice from “Eagle Eye” was the same as the computer voice from the cutter’s wooden “rememory” editing computer used by Robin Williams’ character in “The Final Cut.”

I mean…


Well, what I really wanted to say is I noticed this in a series of two science-y fiction films I watched in one evening in which one character crossed from one film to the other in the fashion described above, only the character is the AI-like computer voice.

That’s right. I swear the voice was the same, you know — computer.

Why do I blog this? As a reflection on some peculiar symptoms of ravenous media consumption and, also, as a long-winded lead-in to some reflections on a couple of recent low-tier science fiction films with some design fiction implications: Design Fiction Chronicles: Modes of Surveillance in Eagle Eye and The Final Cut.

2 thoughts on “When Characters Cross: Extradiegetic Imbrication”

  1. i should write a longer entry that thoughtfully responds to your commentary and insights, but right now, all i have time for is to say that i enjoy your writing style and your sense of humor and i look forward to these kinds of postings.

    i’ll work on finding proper time to generate a better response. hope that this small piece of positive feedback will suffice for now.

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