Monday, December 9, 2013

Addicts, Stereotypes, and a Bait Car

A shadowy figure walks past an unattended automobile. It's unlocked. The engine's running. No owner insight. Without hesitation, the perp climbs into the driver's seat and speeds off, thinking he has evaded punishment. Unfortunately for him, a hidden video camera has been installed on the dashboard and a nearby police force has been watching his every move. The suspect has been caught. With the press of a button, the officers shut down the vehicle. The suspect is arrested on the spot and led away in handcuffs. He has been snared with a Bait Car (CableNation).

At first glance this show seems entertaining enough.  I happen to catch an episode this weekend and after about the first 5 minutes my laughter turned to sorrow, my sorrow into concern, and finally my concern into these words.  All in all this show targets and marginalizes a very focused demographic, African-American* Males.  Watch the show for long enough and you see the trend without even looking into Cable Television Advertising Bureau statistics that the “criminals” are all young African-American males.  As the camera pans from scene to scene it capture street names that make it very obvious what areas of town they are setting this operation up in.  Sadly ironic any street that bears the great name of Martin Luther King Jr. is synonymous with crime and poverty.  Seeing that sign alone tells the viewer something, or else why would it be a detail offered at all?  Now a vehicle unoccupied and running is set in a high crime area as police officers with cameras and fancy electronics lie in wait for what they call perps, but let’s be honest are more like prey or victims.  Is stealing a car ever ok? The answer is simply no, however, nothing exists within a vacuum and several variables must be considered when viewing this show or even considering following me down this cognitive path. 

 Here is my disclaimer and asterisk that should be considered when reading this.  I’m a Caucasian male, who would be considered upper-middle class.  I fit snuggly into the average viewer TruTV is targeting with their programming (I’ll mention numbers later).  I did grow up in a bad area of town riddled with crime.  I also grew up as a minority with my community, meaning I grew up in a mostly African-American populated area.  All this to paint a picture that at best I can be is moderate regarding the issue of race relations at face value.  Just past the surface is this though, in college my favorite courses were regarding racial reconciliation and today’s culture.  My hope in this is others will consider more than just being entertained when viewing programs and events in life. 

 Here are some figures to consider regarding TruTV’s demographic statistics:
  • Median age: 43 (CableNation)
  • Median income: $43,000 (CableNation)
  • 67% of cable network viewers are male (Media Matters for America)
  • 84% of that viewership is Caucasian (Media Matters for America)

Great, a bunch of numbers and some obvious observations, so what?  What kind of message is this show sending?  What does this program teach the viewers about the perps and how does this mold their perception of the general population outside of television?  The majority of folks who view this program are middle class Caucasian men.  Middle class Caucasian men laughing at the dumb decisions of criminals.  Criminals who are all African-American.  What kind of depths do these seemingly simple observations by a viewer reach when it comes to how they live their everyday lives?  What happens when they go into a predominantly African-American area of town, do their assumptions change, do those doors get locked at stop lights, and do they treat others well?  Do those others deserve to be treated well if those others are just what they are taught to be by the shiny tv screen? 

I have a great idea for TruTV, set up hidden cameras in  AA meeting.  Introduce an onslaught of tasty alcoholic beverages and see what happens.  Eventually when the participants of this sick social experiment succumb to the pressure of that weakness or cultural bent they have let’s chastise them, all on national television. Is this sick?  Isn’t it just offering an opportunity to someone and recording the results?  Of course not!  The same is true of Bait Car. Placing an unoccupied vehicle in a high crime area of town is the same thing.  Unpacking the variables behind what causes the high crime is where people get lazy and just start buying into stereotypes though.  High crime areas are typically products of their past, simple predictable outcomes of a cyclical socio-economic environment. 

 Maybe you’re entertained by this show.  I was too, and then I paid attention to that little feeling of discomfort my idle mind typically rejects and opened this can of worms, a can I’m very uncomfortable with.  Do I find this show entertaining? No.  I’m not saying view the world from my perspective, different experiences and perspectives are what the world beautiful, I’m just prescribing considering other views and look deeper than the surface of things like this.

*You won’t see me often use the terms Black or White as I’ve never met someone actually the color Black, I find it more appropriate to reference heritage over colors that actually aren’t accurate.

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