While actual crime rates continue their multi-decade plummet (the most recent FBI violent crime statistics show a year-to-year drop of 6.2 percent in the first 6 months of 2010), the urge to fight crime through any means necessary is only getting more intense on America's television screens.
The libertarian novelist and screenwriter J. Neil Schulman, who for reasons we probably shouldn't think about is hanging out at the Internet Movie Database message boards, shows how. When I was a kid, Hawaii Five-0 was the awesomest thing on TV. Now that I'm old, the awesomest thing on TV is Hawaii Five-O. But in a post titled "Hawaii Five-0 Fosters Official Lawlessness," Schulman points out a fairly disturbing difference between the overcaffeinated reboot and Leonard Freeman's relatively staid (though well caffeinated for its time) original:
My heroes are not Gestapo.
On last night's episode—Powa Maka Moana #1.18—Steve McGarrett demands to be let into a pawn shop for a search. The owner refuses, citing his 4th amendment rights: no search without a warrant. McGarrett then attaches a hand grenade to the anti-theft door and blows it down, committing felonies that Law & Order's prosecutor Jack McCoy would have charged to include assault and battery, attempted murder, reckless endangerment, and violation of civil rights. Hell, I'd charge him with terrorism and use of a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Is a hand grenade less powerful than the shoe bomb that sent Richard Reid to a supermax prison for life?
I want to see Steve McGarrett fired, doing a perp walk, hiring an attorney with his own money, losing his pension, and doing hard time.
For years we've been told that violence on TV creates imitation in real life. What, are police exempt from this theory? If a TV network makes felonies committed by a cop under color of authority entertainment, network standards and practices is complicit in fostering an atmosphere of lawlessness and disrespect for the Bill of Rights that can only encourage more official lawlessness.
While I have in the past applauded the new Five-O for its tacit encouragement of proper diet and exercise, the real reason to put McGarrett through the perp walk is that Alex O'Loughlin, who plays the part, is a charisma vacuum and the only weak point of the show. The Egyptian Mukhabarat-style tactics Schulman discusses are a world apart from the by-the-book methods employed by the original McGarrett—the rock-ribbed, dispassionate Jack Lord, who remained mindful of proper procedure and courteous toward all but the most felonious members of society. I'm not the first person to point out that the littler the dog the bigger the bark. Would a McGarrett as resolutely confident as Lord's have to break the rules like this?
Homer Simpson might point out here, "He gets results, you stupid chief!" And in fact the original Five-0 was sort of a throwback in a context of rightwing policiers that celebrated rogue cops. (Lucky for you I don't have time to uncork my thesis that the original Dirty Harry is more nuanced than its reputation suggests.) But if this McGarrett is already breaking the law before he's even had to take on Wo-Fat, what hope is there for the 50th (or is it the 51st?) state?