Now that football season is over (cry cry, weep weep) my wife has total and unrestricted access to the remote control. Which is, in principle, fine by me. Besides football, the only thing television has to offer that I'm even mildly interested in is NYPD Blue, because they say naughty words. They also show bare butts, but for some reason they're always MEN'S butts.
I asked my wife about this, and she explained that it's a locker room kinda thing-- the female characters in the show simply don't get involved in situations in which it would be natural for them to trapise around naked. Well, I don't know. But my wife is becoming an authority of sorts on what's natural and what's contrived in the strange world of the Idiot Box.
She's acquired this peculiar talent by watching hours of "reality television" every day. She gets started in the morning with Montel and Jenny and that sort of stuff. This is where "ordinary people" agree to appear on nationwide TV (for a reasonable fee, I'm sure), air out all their pathetic shortcomings, mistakes, and perversions, and expose themselves to howls of derision from a vicious and quaintly moralistic studio audience.
I can't figure out why this stuff is so popular. Whenever I check in with my wife to make sure she's still breathing, I catch little fragments of each show. It embarasses me. It's almost physically painful for me to watch these poor schmucks humiliate themselves in public.
My wife explains that the appeal of these shows rests largely in the element of surprise, which produces spontaneous emotional outbursts from the "guests." A typical scenario is to bring out some loser who knocked up a casual date five or ten years ago and confront him unexpectedly with the mother and the child he has never seen. Or (this is the "Geraldo strategy") gather together a panel of Jewish Defense League activists to talk about anti-Semitism and then bring out a gaggle of Klansmen. Mix together these basic ingredients, and-- voila!-- you get yelling, weeping, cursing, gnashing of teeth, and an occasional fistfight.
Now, I'm a guy. Being a guy, I don't really go for emotional spontaneity of any kind. I blame it on my biological makeup. My wife says, "All men are pigs," and I just go along with it. Why stir up trouble? Maybe she's right. Oink oink.
So I guess these shows are a "woman thing." But in the evenings, my wife gets all wrapped up in these real-life cop shows. She loves them! One network runs four of them, one right after another. You get to see law enforcement types from all over the country chasing people (usually black people), tackling them, sitting on them, cuffing them, and throwing them into cop cars.
Okay. Seems simple enough. But I can't figure out why cop agencies would want people to see this. Do they really think it's good PR? Here's a black kid, for example, who had the poor judgment to be walking down an alley. And if this weren't bad enough, he stopped, bent down, and started tying his shoes. The cops pulled up, frisked him, cuffed him, and then ran his name through their computers to see if he was wanted for anything, like maybe unpaid parking tickets.
Turns out that this kid didn't do anything except bend down to tie his shoes. He didn't have a criminal record. He wasn't a "deadbeat dad" or the Green River Killer. Just a kid walking down an alley. So the cops graciously set him free. Sorry about that, kid. You may resume your existence.
The cops, of course, provided an explanation of why they harassed this kid. This was a bad neighborhood, full of drug dealers, and they thought the kid was trying to hide drugs in his shoe. Hmm. It must be common street wisdom that when cops hassle you, they make you empty your pockets but usually don't ask you to take off your shoes. So stick the dope in your shoes, and you'll be home free. Not only are these "real-life" cops giving themselves a bad civil-liberties image, but they're also tipping off actual criminals to their methods. I can hear drug dealers telling each other, "Don't do the shoe thing anymore, they're on to that."
I have to admit that I like the car chases. There's nothing like a good car chase (the all-time best is in a movie called "To Live and Die in L.A."). It's fun to watch, but I sure wouldn't want to get involved in one first-hand. And what's the deal with engaging someone in a high-speed chase through densely populated areas because the dude ran a stop sign? I don't get it. I suppose there are good reasons for endangering the lives of scores of innocent people, but I don't think the prospect of busting someone for possession of cocaine and carrying a concealed weapon ranks high on my list. But it sure makes for exciting television.
I have a great idea for a new real-life cop show. Let's call it "True Stories of White Collar Crime." We can follow Securities and Exchange Commission investigators as they bust corporate executives for insider trading, or EPA lawyers as they prosecute a plastics corporation for dumping toxic waste in a river. Then we can visit a minimum-security federal prison and watch as stockbrokers, accountants, and savings-and-loan vice presidents receive their just desserts by being forced to negotiate 500-yard par-four holes with lots of water hazards and sand traps.
On second thought, maybe it's not such a great idea. Doesn't sound like much of a ratings-grabber, does it? Maybe it's best not to inject too much reality into "reality television."