When Reality TV Rears Its Ugly Head

I really do love the show COPS. I’ve seen 99% of the episodes over 28 seasons, and there are ~ 25+ episodes per season. The show is absolutely real, but they certainly cherry pick the scenes, and the officers they follow. Further, the TV show is built on a premise of formula of one violent takedown, 1 drug bust, 1 family domestic (if memory serves, and is based on material that is heavily criticized). So tonight, watching the latest episode… cop in the car says: “There was an anonymous caller that just uh… told us there was a warrant suspect in the back yard… he’s known to run from us, he’s alluded capture before so.. we’re going to see if we can uh… take him into custody here…”

Yep, stop there. This is where the TV show, shows its hand so to speak, and demonstrates how it is not objective at all. Nothing about that one minute intro makes any logical sense. The responding officer wouldn’t say “anonymous caller”, as 911 dispatch takes the calls and knows who they are speaking to (even if anonymous, they know the address and name registered to a line with few exceptions). How many people stop to read the most-wanted posters that the local post office? You do? Great, they don’t show local warrant suspects. Those aren’t posted anywhere that I have seen, ever. Known to run from police? The cop knows exactly who they are dealing with then, which is a positive ID. Escaped before? Why… rare case the police stop pursuit during a chase… so, moving on!

The more compelling reason to watch this show? It is reality TV that demonstrates why no unarmed person should EVER be shot by a police officer, no exception. This show actually broadcasts cases where the officer screws up, does something that is against policy, or against training. But there is a struggle, and the outcome is beneficial to the public and police, so they air it. I generally don’t blame those officers one bit. They are a half-second too quick to use mace? Fine. But those are the scenes we see… the taser incidents we see, but rarely if ever in a position of dispute. So consider that police are a bit too eager to mace a suspect, or go hands-on (the real bit we should question), on national TV. Is it so wrong to consider that a police officer would step over the ethical line when no cameras around?

There is a movement to put body cameras on police, and I believe that should happen. If we had the budget, I’d want a COPS camera crew following every unit and publishing that material w/o police oversight. I think it would be very telling. Remember… this TV series shows us the BEST that police have to offer. It is filtered and approved at multiple levels, before it goes to TV.

Now, for your “meta” discussion… it’s 2015, and we’re still seeing violent take-downs of suspects over flakes of marijuana. They are offered deals in the field to admit to their crime, or arrested for having personal-use volumes (by Colorado law), which are illegal in other states. Why is the TV show COPS still showing us these ‘dramatic’ scenes where police officers use physical force over the presence of personal-use levels of marijuana, and someone that is nervous in the face of police, especially when they are minority?

This episode? The suspect says they won’t answer questions until they get an attorney. The cop keeps asking questions… ON NATIONAL TV. Was the officer not trained on Miranda? I’d say YES, since the same cop was reading the Miranda warning from a card they kept in their pocket. If a cop pulled a card to read me my rights? Part of me would appreciate it, as they are doing it to make sure they are read correctly. Part of me would be scared, because they are a professional LEO supposedly… and haven’t memorized the relatively short Miranda warning. If they can’t remember those few sentences, why are they enforcing the law?

Again, I am a fan of the show in many ways. It reminds our society that police activity is not safe, and that law enforcement puts themselves into situations that endangers their lives every single day. But when a heavily edited TV show that has served as propaganda since seasons one, shows police clearly stepping over the lines? The producers need to consider what the fuck they are broadcasting to the world. They are either proper journalists (no..), or sloppy (yes..), and need to quit their jobs.

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Shan Yu had a point.

BOOK: Have you ever read the works of Shan Yu?
SIMON: Shan Yu, the psychotic dictator?
BOOK: Yep. Fancied himself quite the warrior poet. Wrote volumes on war, torture… the limits of human endurance.
SIMON: That’s nice…
BOOK: He said “live with a man 40 years, share his house, his meals, speak on every subject. Then tie him up and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day you will finally meet the man.”
SIMON: What if you don’t live near a volcano?
BOOK: I expect he was being poetical.

I am a sucker for a movie or TV show that presents a compelling scene or story, that conveys a complicated topic most humans will never experience, or likely never fully grasp with any bit of reality. I am a bigger sucker when such a scene or story starts taking on a small shred of reality, in a different context, that I can piece together.

While I can’t compare my point to being held over a volcano’s edge, I feel that slowly meeting and getting to know someone over 20 years and watching a variety of mental toils take effect, may come in a distant second. In addition to compassion fatigue, spending decades in an industry you believe in that keeps failing, no matter how hard you try to improve, wears a person down in many ways. Some of them often destructive to themselves and those around them.

We’ve reached a point in InfoSec where there are hundreds, maybe thousands of veterans that are reaching a critical mass. The number of disillusioned professionals that cannot tolerate their beloved industry is incredible. Some I know have sworn off the industry, vowing to work outside their niche market, and forsake the rest of the industry. This is great for them, bad for the industry who could desperately use their experience and knowledge, and absolutely fair to both. I won’t get into the debate of “oh but there is a next generation“, and just say that a community who loses a significant portion of their elders will suffer tremendously, even if they don’t realize it until many decades later.

if Shan Yu were on social media, I think he would be fascinated watching the story unfold, and amazed at how much he could learn about people during their industry-induced downward spirals.

My kind of reality TV…

Reality TV has become a staple for U.S. television. We all know that a majority of the shows are complete trash, and yet millions tune in religiously to watch them. In some cases, it is no different than watching a car wreck or a scene of utter amazement. Almost everyone who watches TV has at least one reality show they watch, even if it is a guilty pleasure. I certainly have a few.

Survivor used to be an entertaining show, but went downhill over the years as their attempts to inject a fresh angle were poorly executed and simply not creative. Hell’s Kitchen is entertaining, but primarily because Gordon Ramsay delivers a level of verbal abuse that would make some drill sergeants nod in respect. COPS has become routine, but I still enjoy it when a dumbass shows the textbook way to get tased. Ninja Warrior (Japan more than US) is entertaining, as it demonstrates a level of physical ability that few will ever know. I watch these shows because of the entertainment value, but also as background noise while working. They simply aren’t engaging enough on their own to warrant full attention.

There are two reality shows that stand out to me, as they went in a different direction. Instead of throwing people into a scripted and absurd situation before calling it ‘reality’ (e.g. Big Brother, Jersey Shore), some shows throw people into a very different situation for our entertainment, and education.

Solitary

From Wikipedia:

Solitary is a reality show on the Fox Reality Channel whose contestants were kept in round-the-clock solitary confinement for a number of weeks with the goal of being the last contestant remaining in solitary…

And that is the beauty of this show. For most competitions determining elimination, contestants were competing against themselves. Confined in their rooms, with only a robotic voice giving direction at times, they would keep doing a given task that got more difficult until they could take no more. At that point, they would hit a buzzer to indicate they were done. Each time they hit the buzzer, they had no knowledge of the other contestants so they never knew if they were the first to buzz out. As such, each contestant gave it their all. In addition to the eliminations via contests, some physical, some mental, they were participating in a larger contest every minute. When the pressure of being alone after having their identity stripped (they were only referred to as a number by the computer voice) was too much, they could buzz out of the entire contest.

No social game, just a test of self determination to see the extent a person can persevere.

The Colony

From Wikipedia:

The Colony is a reality television series that is produced by the Discovery Channel. The program follows a group of people who must survive in a simulated post-apocalyptic environment.

Season 1 is set in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles, with 10 people living in an abandoned warehouse. While food and water is a daily struggle for them, the group is well-stacked for creativity and ability. Handyman, carpenter, machinist, computer scientists, and more. By the end of the show they have solar power, lighting, a shower, working radio (transmitter and receiver), and a lot more in the way of living. The group is put through many tests, often in the form of raiders, or other survivors begging for food and water to test the group’s unity. After surviving for almost sixty days, and losing one group member to an unknown incident, they are given a chance of escape and do so. The simulation is pretty well done and gives a rough idea of what life might be like. It shows how each person copes, how the group bonds as well as fights, over the smallest things. Commentary from an engineer, psychologist, and disaster consultant give insight as to what they are building, their mental state, and what options they have given the landscape.

Some of my gripes about season 1 are addressed early in season 2. Instead of attackers that push, shove, and menace, the colonists in season 2 are instantly pepper sprayed by the first large band of marauders. This forces them to use precious supplies like milk to neutralize the stinging. Season 2 also carries more dead weight; not everyone has life training in a discipline that has immediate use. A 22 year old model and a 70 year old man are in the group, giving a better spectrum of who may survive. Set on the edge of the bayou, this colony simulates a viral outbreak where every encounter with marauders must be done with masks and the threat of exposure. If possibly exposed during the struggles, they must self-quarantine themselves for 12 hours, and are only allowed to rejoin the colony if there are no signs of infection (e.g. fever, vomiting). In each case, while simulated, it gives a good glimpse into what a lack of society looks like. It shows how our minds work and how we can quickly descend into the types of people we looked down upon weeks earlier.

Know of any other reality shows along these lines? Let me know!

Listening in on a Wire

I’ve been a fan of the TV show ‘The Wire’ since i first saw it. Originally, it was just good police drama. a well done show that did not rely on gimmicks, wild chases or thousand bullet shoot outs. The show happens in Baltimore, not one of the staples TV rely on (LA and NY).

Re-watching the second season, i’m better understanding more of the appeal:

– It’s a smart show. If you don’t know what a DNR is in the first season, let alone the second, the show may not be for you (and make sure to know the difference between a DNR and wire). The show doesn’t have two or three main characters, it has a dozen or more. If you lose track of who’s who, the show will confuse you. It isn’t like most public tv shows, you don’t get every little event spelled out minutes later. For example, while i like CSI, it annoys me because of just that: [Nick collects evidence] [three minutes of commercials] [Sarah walks up “is that the evidence you collected from Jane Doe at the scene near that car lot on Broadway Blvd?”]. The show doesn’t treat you like a moron, and that is refreshing.

– It isn’t a procedural. Don’t get me wrong, procedurals have their place and many are good. However, there are too many and shows like Lost demonstrate that quality TV will keep viewers without the same formula every week.

– Every character, without exception, is deeply flawed. Not just some trite flaw that will be overcome by the end of a season. These characters are deeply flawed, and you know they will never get past their demons, never resolve their issues and continue to wade through a murky life as best they can. Despite this, you are guaranteed to find a character (or two) that you can easily related to. And that character may not be a police.

My MMA Wish-list…

I enjoy watching mixed martial arts (MMA). It is extremely demanding, compared to boxing for example. The multi-disciplinary style each fighter must learn or cope with keeps fights interesting. While I appreciate a good old brawl in the cage, I can also appreciate technical fighting and submissions. That said, there are some parts i’d love to see change, even once in a while.

  1. “I have to thank God..” as part of the winning speech. Ok fine, you got the power from God. Just once, one of these god-fearing religious types need to blame god when they lose. “Well, i guess God had it in for me this time..” or maybe “Wow, ya know, God really failed me here.”
  2. A fighter needs to enter the ring, and not have a single tattoo. No visible ink at all. No over-done tribal, no cursive names, no elaborate fiery demons.
  3. A fighter needs to enter the venue to an unconventional song, these ‘bad ass’ songs and lame rap songs are boring. Joe Blow entering to Portishead’s “Sour Times” would be great.
  4. Just one fighter, needs to use his name, and not a nickname. Joe Blow fighting this time. Not Joe “The Savage” Blow or Joe “Facemangler” Blow.
  5. If you talk shit for days before a match, don’t wuss out afterwards, even if you win. You spent hours calling the other guy a pussy, saying he can’t fight and that he chugs cock between matches. After you beat him, or he beats you, don’t wuss out with “yeah, just talking shit, he’s a great fighter blah blah wimp wimp”.