Saturday, July 15, 2006

Amplifying Rebecca Wigod's Fine Review

Keywords: blame; criminal justice; restorative justice; recidivism; television dramas.

Rebecca Wigod did a swell job reviewing my book, Two Aspirins and a Comedy, in today’s (Saturday’s) Vancouver Sun. Not only was it a pleasant review, but also it was fair and accurate. Bless her.

Of course, there are always ideas that an author would like to add, even to the best of reviews, and this morning I have an opportunity to do so – at least here on my blog. Joy Kogawa and I returned to Toronto yesterday, and I’ve had a good sleep after my delightful one-month-long . Now I can begin to catch up with my blogging.

The main point I’d like to add to Rebecca’s account of my book is the importance of television in shaping our culture. To be sure, it also reflects the culture, and can hardly be changed radically in directions that viewers are not ready to go. However, I do believe there are certain changes that could be introduced and accepted readily. In particular, I think audiences would be glad to shift away from this and the habit of constantly . People want to be engrossed in stories, and the cheapest, simplest, and least intelligent way of holding their attention is to get them involved in the pursuit of wrongdoers. A bad guy commits a crime (usually a violent one) and must be captured and or even exterminated. This repetitive formula evidently works as a theme of entertainment, for the most popular TV shows today rely on it consistently. But the public could become engaged in a different game just as readily — the apprehension of a wrongdoer, followed by an exploration, not just of the unfortunate history that led him into crime (we get quite a few of those stories already), but also the search for ways of to his victims and to himself, by inducing him to fulfill his appropriate role in society.

There have been whole periods of history and whole societies that lacked any formal system of criminal justice. Instead, the wise members of the community conferred among themselves and with the , and then confronted the face-to-face, demanding that he acknowledge and make amends for the harm he had done. They meted out punishment, which might include restitution, and they held their ground until the wrongdoer was finally re-integrated into society as a reputable member. Native Canadian groups today have the legal right to use their traditional methods of , which seems to be more effective in than the usual formal legal approach. I know a woman lawyer who runs for youth in a Toronto district known for its roughness (see photo), and she swears that it helps the participants by giving them an opportunity to talk about their offences and their unmet needs. Similar processes could be demonstrated in television stories, pointing out possible solutions instead of simply glorifying the process of incarcerating wrongdoers, as if there were no further problems still awaiting society after their release from jail.

The whole focus on is misplaced, or at least over-emphasized. There are more ways of getting thrills and excitement than just by assigning for mistakes. The search for constructive solutions is plenty challenging, too, and it will benefit us all by making us recognize the humanity of those who make harmful mistakes. After all, we belong in that category ourselves, whether or not we have ever lost our jobs or custody of our children or our public reputation because of the dumb things we have all done. Not only more mercy is required in this society, but more wisdom too. And television can contribute to that wisdom. I hope to see a new social movement arise that will recognize the and call on scriptwriters and producers to stimulate a finer world by writing gripping, challenging, that suggest new to old problems.


Blogger Rex said...

While we're waiting for those TV script writers to follow your excellent advice. we can take some hope from a new documentary called RIZE. It's about a new dance phenomenon (remember Break Dancing?) that has ignited the participation of marginalized youth (mainly) in LA. Their energy is contageous!

4:06 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Hmmm... I doubt that CBS would be willing to change the CSI franchise to convert to your thoughtful format: "CSI - What they're doing now!"

Society always position themselves to balance the safety and security of their society (making sure that the criminals are put away, or dead) versus resolving the problem (correcting the person's problem so that they are not likely to recommit their crime).

Depending on the mood of society and what crimes are being committed, society shifts to harsher punishments or to more correctional patterns. Take Canada's (and in particular, Toronto) stance on gun control and the penalties for possessing an illegal firearm.

CSI and the crime shows focus on heinous crimes: rape, murder, assualt. They paint the criminal out to be true evil and makes you empathatic towards the main characters in the show. Therefore, the concern of the criminal is not there; the viewer does not care about the background of the offender, and what he can do to be become a better person, typically because to explain this would create compassion for the criminal and would take a great deal longer than the 46 minutes alloted to tell the story.

The stories are not just about solving crimes either. They're also very much about the characters in the show (and emphasizing or despising them) and the relationships between them. We won't watch a show where the characters are uninteresting. The shows are also about the sexy technology used to solve the crimes, whether it's the math in Numbers or the DNA machines and ingenuity in CSI.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

I agree with your description of these shows. I just don't agree that they are the only possibilities. Not every society is hung up on catching wrongdoers. The American Indians, for example, had no jails. Anthropologists and archaeologists have never found evidence for one. So what did they do instead? Could we learn from them? I think maybe so.

8:38 PM  

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