This Machine Kills Creates Fascists

|

Bret McCabe pens an interesting essay in the Baltimore City Paper about the contemporary success of a series of crime shows—Cops, the Law and Orders, and 24.

I'm not saying there's a cabal of political and television suits who decide how to spin news-cycle talking points into TV drama (Fox News would have to be the subject of a completely different examination). I'm just saying you can draw parallels between a culture and how it chooses to represent itself. I'm just saying that there's something to consider in the fact that, although obviously developed in a Sept. 10th world, 24 premiered after contemporary American domestic and foreign policy on terrorism was irrevocably and cataclysmic forever changed. I'm just saying that surely it's not incidental that a show about the most competent and effective U.S. military personnel ever appears in the fall of the third year of one of the modern military's most incompetent, disorganized, and stalled occupations of the modern era. I'm just saying that when Jack Bauer sticks a knife into the knee of a potential subject and momentarily loses his cool and turns to his unlikely Arab accomplice and confesses that he doesn't know if can he do it anymore and the guy replies, "You'll remember," maybe I shouldn't chortle as hard as I did.

The torture-solves-problems and terrorists-are-under-my bed narratives of 24 are pretty well-trod territory, which paleocon Michael Brendan Dougherty ran his tractor over back in March. The most interesting show of the decade, though, from a policy- and public mood-altering perspective is probably To Catch a Predator. I remember voting in Virginia's Fairfax County in 2005, a little bit after the first episode of Chris Hansen's show debuted with a sting in… Fairfax County. Not long before the election Republican attorney general candidate Bob McDonnell started running ads and sending mail declaring he was "tough on sexual predators" (the TV ad had a nice Kubrickian long shot of a sad, creepy criminal bowing his head as jail doors clanged). McDonnell, who'd been down in the polls occasionally, won by less than 1000 votes. I don't know how many campaigns or legislative sessions the show and its induced hysteria have affected since then. I'm guessing "lots."

NEXT: More on the Vang Khang Raid

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Why don’t you have a seat right over there for me ….

  2. I cannot watch CSI, Law & Order, Numbers, or any of the cop shows any more. The endless smug sanctimony from the various characters, and their portrayal as morally superior scum-hunters who virtually never do any wrong is so far off base that I feel my gorge rising if I see one.

    Do you even think a show like The Equalizer would be created today?

  3. Where’s joe to tell us how these corporate TV shows are controlling us too…

    Life imitates art, right?

  4. I cannot watch CSI, Law & Order, Numbers, or any of the cop shows any more. The endless smug sanctimony from the various characters, and their portrayal as morally superior scum-hunters who virtually never do any wrong is so far off base that I feel my gorge rising if I see one.

    On the other hand, that’s exactly what makes Boston Legal totally hilarious!

  5. I love plain ol’ Law and Order. The spin-offs are just a bit too much though, especially Law & Order: Squick Factor…err…SVU.

    I dunno, Jack McCoy is great as a law-as-bludgeon ADA. My favorite shows are ones where he does something shady.

  6. CSI has as much science fiction as Star Trek.

  7. I’m just eager for dateline’s next series of stings once the public loses interest in pedophiles. Shoot, who wouldn’t watch “Dateline: To Catch a Pothead”?

  8. I occasionally watch To Catch a Predator when I flip through the channels and it can be one of the most unintentionally funny shows on TV.

  9. Does Mr. McCabe view these shows as being accurate depictions of life as a spy or member of the military? I assume he is referencing The Unit when he says “a show about the most competent and effective U.S. military personnel ever.” I have never seen The Unit but I have seen its adverts. It is absolute bull shit and trash. I hope he was being sarcastic. I will not even touch the comment “…one of the modern military’s most incompetent, disorganized, and stalled occupations of the modern era.” As it comes from someone, who I assume, is fundamentally unqualified to comment on any military operation.

  10. To Catch a Predator is about the trashiest show on. I won’t judge those that watch it, but they are trashy losers too, trying to make their pathetic lives seem a little better by watching people worse off. It’s a sad commentary that so many people are so sleazy that simple Cops isn’t enough anymore (“that racist, welfare-hating crack hunt” – Bruce McCulloch). Society has dropped to making itself feel better by saying, “at least I’m not a child raper”. Sad. That’s why I won’t judge people who watch those shows….well, sometimes I do. And I’m not even right most of the time.

  11. I was hoping the post
    would be a tale of Sylvester McMonkey McBean
    and his wonderful instant fascist machine.

  12. I think these shows are all part of the Foxnewsification of society…the plot to turn civilized people into man-imals, making the Isle of Dr. Moreau a reality. Man-imals are easy to rule, you just keep feeding them.

  13. I went through a phase where I was hooked on Law and Order reruns, but quit cold turkey because I got sick and tired of being hammered with the message “Curse those stupid constitutional rights for making it so darn hard for us hero-cops to protect the citizenry from those vile murderers!” Learning about modern American justice by watching Law and Order is like learning about old American slavery by reading Gone With The Wind.

  14. You mean, Mammy wasn’t really happy?

  15. You’re right about Law & Order pounding the “He got off on a technicality!” concept. I think CSI has given people unrealistic expectations of the quality of forensics work.

    What I find to be the most realistic aspect of these shows is that the heroes never feel the slightest guilt about the abuse and accusations they level at the original suspects(the ones from the first 2/3 thirds of an episode who turn out not to have done anything). The message seems to be that they’re all scumbags guilty of something anyway.

  16. Hey, President Bush labeled them enemy combatants…they must be guilty so its fine to torture them…oh wait, that wasn’t fiction.

  17. Some of these cop shows show corrupt cops, but very rarely (I am of course not talking about the excellent The Shield, which is about how corrupt Mackey and crew actually are), but they almost never show any failing or corruption on the part of the prosecutors. Which, after Nifong and the stories Radley has revealed, is beyond laughable.

  18. Nothing could possibly go wrong when local police, a quasi-vigilante organization and a media giant hungry for ratings team up.

    http://www.esquire.com/search/fast_search?search_term=to+catch+a+predator&x=15&y=8

  19. I cannot watch CSI, Law & Order, Numbers, or any of the cop shows any more.

    Try getting The Shield and The Wire on DVD, then. Lots and lots of ambiguity in those shows, which are generally very well done.

  20. It’s very hard to have a villain as a hero on a network TV show. See Firefly for example. They only want white hats.

  21. Oh, I know about The Shield and The Wire (see earlier comment). The Shield is fantastic, but I could not get into The Wire’s directorial and narrative style. I just didn’t like it, and don’t have the time to give it more of a chance.

  22. I’m just saying that surely it’s not incidental that a show about the most competent and effective U.S. military personnel ever appears in the fall of the third year of one of the modern military’s most incompetent, disorganized, and stalled occupations of the modern era.

    So what does it mean that 24’s CTU must be the world’s most incompetent, disorganized counter-terrorism agency? They are forever getting infiltrated and invaded.

  23. The politics of 24 is complicated, however. For instance, in season 5 the President was a total doofus who looked like Nixon, he was being controlled by evil advisors, and the story was about a WMD hoax being perpetrated as a pretext for war in an oil-rich region.

    Jack Bauer even got to torture a few neocons!

  24. IMO, Cops deserves some serious hate. I stopped watching after realizing that a huge percentage of those arrested were on drug or prostitution stings.

    I still remember the last episode I saw – a poor junkie was being hassled, she got scared and gave up her bag of heroin. The cop then busted her, and she started to cry. I thought “poor woman, this is the last damn thing she needs. Who knows what kind of trauma she’s had in her life, and now she gets to go through the legal system for no good reason.” I wanted to scream at all the asshole drug warriors “what f**king good do you think this will do?”

  25. I won’t judge people who watch those [predator] shows

    I will. They’re pathetic, voyeuristic scum.

  26. So what does it mean that 24’s CTU must be the world’s most incompetent, disorganized counter-terrorism agency? They are forever getting infiltrated and invaded.

    I second that motion.

    CTU needs to create a new security protocol: As soon as a terrorist crisis begins, begin searching for the mole(s) inside CTU.

    There is always at least 1.

  27. Where’s joe to tell us how these corporate TV shows are controlling us too…

    He seems to be curiously absent.

  28. CTU needs to create a new security protocol: As soon as a terrorist crisis begins, begin searching for the mole(s) inside CTU.

    Jack should just kill everyone in CTU, leaving himself as the only CTU agent. Then he would have to kill himself to make sure he’s not the mole. Crisis averted.

    Considering the current writers’ strike, maybe that’s a good option.

  29. I actually think ‘Cops’ is a sort of class hatred show, there are no corporate criminals being thrown to the ground and cuffed.

  30. Jack should just kill everyone in CTU, leaving himself as the only CTU agent. Then he would have to kill himself to make sure he’s not the mole. Crisis averted.

    That could be possible.

    One time, Jack Bauer couldn’t find his car keys so he tortured himself for 24 hours before he gave up their location.

  31. Episiarch | December 18, 2007, 11:38am | #
    I cannot watch CSI, Law & Order, Numbers, or any of the cop shows any more. The endless smug sanctimony from the various characters, and their portrayal as morally superior scum-hunters who virtually never do any wrong is so far off base that I feel my gorge rising if I see one.

    I have to disagree with your list on one show only. Law & Order:Criminal Intent…The Vincent D’nofrio episodes; particularly those of late. They have covered corruption inside the police department, the fallibility of informants, torture of “hidden” prisoners (none to subtle slam against Gitmo), and most recently the plight of the mentally ill at the hands of sadistic po-po. That is the one show of the lot that isn’t afraid to show cops, even the main characters, as less than “perfect angels”.

    COPS however deserves a place in the ‘special level of hell’. Though to be honest, in FL we used to have a local knock off called “Blue Light Special”. I used to watch it on a semi-regular basis to see which of my acquaintances would show up handcuffed and spread eagle on the hood of a cop-car.

  32. I still watch the original Law and Order (the spinoffs suck). It’s one of the better-written shows on TV, even though the DAs view the constitution as an inconvenient device to be evaded on a technicality. The characters there are often portrayed as stepping over the line, unlike other cop shows where the cops step over the line and no one ever questions their right to do so.

    I also must confess to a guilty pleasure in watching 24, despite (or perhaps because of) their glossing over incredibly implausible events by just moving the plot along so quickly that by the time you’ve said WTF, they’ve already moved along to the next scene.

    I guess the writer in me is so repulsed by the shoddy writing in virtually TV series that I’m willing to overlook stuff to see writing down by someone who knows their craft.

  33. On the other hand, that’s exactly what makes Boston Legal totally hilarious!

    True, if you can get pass some of the windy courtroom speeches and David Kelly putting his anachronistic boomer opinions in the mouths of teen agers, it is a fun show to watch. Seriously, you could not possibly be as sanctimonious as the girl they had on last week who ripped up the equivalence exams her class took without first reading Catcher in the Rye and it being the year 1962.

  34. Speaking of shoddy writing, last sentence should read: “… in virtually EVERY TV series that I’m willing to overlook stuff to see writing DONE by …”

  35. It’s very hard to have a villain as a hero on a network TV show. See Firefly for example.

    Or Dexter.

  36. On the other hand, the antidote for this is a good session of Mythbusters then Penn&Teller’s Bulls Hit. 🙂

    on a recent CSI, the really bitchy one was claiming, in a typical should-have-been-thrown- out-of-court-cuz-her-conflict-of-interest episode, she was calling for mandatory drug testing of all persons of interest in a crime scene! Catherine, IIRC.

    Penn&Teller. James Randi. phew.

  37. Hey! Check out Matt Drudge taking Ron Paul out of context…

  38. IMO, Cops deserves some serious hate. I stopped watching after realizing that a huge percentage of those arrested were on drug or prostitution stings.

    i feel like bill hicks, though…i can’t look away. the horror, the horror…

  39. Rhywun-

    good call.

  40. As far as the examining the moral and ethical dilemas that go with in a civilization’s military and political required choices, I think this decade’s version of Battlestar Galactica does it as good or better than just about any show ever made.

    *SPOILER*

    Although they got pretty heavy handed in the occupied new caprica episodes with their parallels with Iraq, and some of the post exodus episodes made rather vacuous points – but the last half of the last season was pretty weak all around.

    *END SPOILER

  41. haven’t seen razor though. worth seeing?

  42. VW,

    At least it was coming from the bitchy one…

  43. Taktix –

    it would be better coming from the horseshoe chin one.

    Then we could send them to Miami!!!!! woo hoo!

    und for zee last time. do not konufze mee vit zee kar i drive.

  44. haven’t seen razor though. worth seeing?

    In my opinion, yes. It started off a little slow, but generally did a good job of making Admiral Kain (or however it’s spelled) appear sympathetic. Not that I actually like her or the Pegasus crew overall, but at least it becomes understandable how they could do such (generally monstrous) things as they did.

  45. ADDENDUM: except for the very last nit of “Razor;” I won’t discuss it here for fear of being a spoiler, but the last few minutes felt tacked-on. They were definitely trying to shove some metaplot in where it wasn’t really needed.

  46. “nit” = “bit.” Damn.

  47. That’s enough! I still have Razor on the DVR and am trying to find time to watch it.

  48. That’s enough! I still have Razor on the DVR and am trying to find time to watch it.

    Seconded! I already yelled at somebody (J sub D?) about this in another thread.

  49. “They were definitely trying to shove some metaplot in where it wasn’t really needed.”

    oh – that was billy’s idea. The other metaplot kept slipping out of the viewers’ teeth

    [did not just go there. oh yes i did!!!]

    *whimpers please don’t beat me*

  50. I enjoyed the title reference. Woody Guthrie would be proud (and likely singing songs about the crappy entertainment choices we have).

  51. “nit” = “bit.” Damn.

    Don’t sweat it, a nit is a unit of information like bit, just with a different base. IIRC, a bit is when you use base 2, and a nit (or nat) when you use the irrational number e as your base.

    [/super geekiness]

  52. Lost is the antidote to all this. However, it’ll replace the smugness with paranoia.

  53. When I watch Cops I’m horrified by the people who once stopped by the cops freely give permission for the search of their vehicles. We need a serious effort to educate the public that you don’t have to let nosy cops rummage through your shit. The crime on Cops doesn’t offend me. The endless trampling of Liberty does.

    When it comes to the most vile of the vile “SWAT” shows that ride around with jackbooted thugs as they rip the sides off of homes and brutalize people under the guise of warrant searches I have one feeling. I hope beyond hope that the person inside the house being invaded kills the entire entry team. Every. Damned. One. Of. Them. Dead. I have this hope as they all bust into the house there will be a hail of gunfire that kills all of the invaders. As a bonus I imagine the homeowner then running outside with a molitov cocktail and setting the the SWAT tanks on fire and burning them to the ground.

    When you have the most law abiding and peaceful citizens hoping you are killed you need to rethink what you’re doing. You’re perpetrating evil.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.