Don’t worry, Penelope Garcia is a Good Guy

Like most police procedural shows, CBS’ Criminal Minds often takes a hostile view toward civil liberties. Due process and warrants and the Bill of Rights are frequently portrayed on such shows as troublesome obstacles that hamper law enforcement in their efforts to keep us safe from the monsters threatening us all.

This is particularly insidious on Criminal Minds for a couple of reasons. First because the heroes of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit never seem to face any difficulties after catching suspects due to illegal, warrantless searches — mainly because they tend to end up killing those suspects after catching them red-handed (often literally red-handed). The team’s leader, Agent Aaron Hotchner, is a former prosecutor, but I don’t remember ever hearing him express any desire to focus on evidence that would be legitimate in court. I suppose if you usually end up killing suspects without a trial, you don’t have to worry about what would or would not be admissible in court.

This is how the NSA’s PRISM program works.

But Criminal Minds’ casual disdain for civil liberties is also insidious because it’s embodied in the lovely, friendly person of Penelope Garcia. Garcia is the show’s magic hacker — or “Techno Wizard” — a character whose quirky fashion and personality serve as TV shorthand for her apparent ability to hack into any computer database quickly and without leaving any trace.

Let me say that I enjoy Criminal Minds and that I like Penelope Garcia. Kirsten Vangsness and the writers make it almost impossible not to like Penelope Garcia. She’s kind and loyal and emotionally vulnerable and unfailingly well-intentioned. But it’s exactly this — Garcia’s kindness and benevolence — that makes her routine disregard for civil liberties all the more pernicious. Because Penelope Garcia is the personification of the NSA’s PRISM program.

What happens on the show is that the BAU team is tracking a serial killer or a predatory sexual sadist — there’s a new one every week, suggesting that the world is filled with such dangerous people. And at some point in most episodes, the team asks or hints that Garcia should work her hacking magic — there’s no time for warrants or other legal measures — to help them locate the killer. She hacks into the databases of credit-card companies, cell-phone providers, ISPs, ATM networks, tax records, medical records, sealed court proceedings — you name it.

Note that Garcia does not, herself, create any of these files or databases. She’s not Big Brother, recording or compiling data by snooping on private citizens. She simply helps herself to all the data compiled by the perfectly legal snooping that has long been practiced by a variety of private, corporate entities. She’s not tapping anyone’s phone, but merely tapping into the records of the phone company. She’s not creating a surveillance state in which every individuals’ every movement and transaction is being tracked and recorded. The cell-phone companies and credit-/debit-card companies set all of that up on their own. She’s just borrowing their data and putting it to some other use.

A benevolent use, of course, because Garcia is good and kind and honest and she would only ever use her otherwise-unaccountable and unchecked power to protect the innocent and to punish the guilty.

That is essentially the same argument being offered to defend the otherwise-unaccountable and unchecked power of the NSA. And it’s a lousy argument. A presumption of benevolence is never a sufficient check on power.

Penelope Garcia is fictional, and in fiction we can agree to play along with the impossible notion of an unfailingly benevolent person. But we know real people are not like that. And real institutions are nothing at all like that.

The danger Criminal Minds portrays is not fictional. The monster-of-the-week format of a procedural series may serve to exaggerate the prevalence of lurid serial killers, but such dangerous people really do exist in the real world, where real FBI agents and real law enforcement agencies really do perform a heroic service in protecting public safety. But we quite sensibly do not cede law enforcement agencies unlimited and unchecked power to fulfill their necessary role, because power can always be abused and unchecked power is a license for unchecked abuse.

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  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    And mistakes. They always catch the bad guy at the end. They don’t show any damage they’ve done to the innocent. Law & Order used to show very good, very competent people who worked for the government and made mistakes all the time, but they stopped.

    Whenever there’s a cop show about some kind of sexual sadism, they always and invariably portray BDSM as scary and creepy and dangerous and horrible. They dig into the records of anyone who’s said she likes to tie people up or he likes to be spanked. Someone bought a dildo! Call 911! These shows are retrograde, but can we trust the government not to be?

    A few years ago, a teacher was fired for belonging to a sex club. That’s the government invading someone’s private life and deciding that, because of the completely legal and fully consensual things she did in it, she wasn’t allowed to keep her job. The administration was possibly evil — or they were possibly frightened and trying to cover their asses, not realizing they’d get backlash from what they did.

    Maybe Penelope Garcia is perfectly benevolent. I am sure that she is not perfectly perfect.

  • Carrie Looney

    Yes, there are so many levels on which I do not like many of these crime shows – it gets messy to go into them. The celebration of vigilante justice, the idea that Due Process is just a useless stumbling block in the way of Justice, the oversimplification of complex societal issues, the love of the gun – and, as you mention, the demonization of kink.

  • Carstonio

    Bob Altemeyer could write a book on the ideology that those shows represent. I remember crime shows becoming more popular in the ’80s after the ascendancy of Reagan, but I don’t know if there was a similar trend 20 years later.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I can anecdotally say that the “tone” of the Dirty Harry Movies of the 1970s is different than that of the 1980s.

    The 1970s movies take a dimmer view of vigilante action and insist that Harry operate within the confines of the law. The 1980s movies tacitly endorse such vigilante action because omgcrime.

  • Ben English

    To be fair, so does every Batman movie ever made. Who’s in the white house is largely immaterial.

  • Lori

    I don’t think the last couple of Batman movies exactly endorse vigilante action. It’s made very clear that Batman creates a sort of equal and opposite reaction in Gotham.

  • Ben English

    Gotham was still better off by the end than they would have been without Batman. Sure, the Joker is seen as escalation, but remember that Ra’s had planned to cover the city in Scarecrow toxin whether Bruce had done anything or not. And the city only got to its sorry state because a secret society of international terrorists dating back to Roman times was intentionally sabotaging its industry and politics.

  • Lori

    I think the presentation was still that it would have been better if the police had been effective and if Bruce hadn’t been, you know, a little over the edge.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    If the cops were effective, who needs Batman?

  • Lori

    Exactly. If the cops were effective Bruce Wayne could have just been Bruce Wayne and the end of the 3rd movie would seem to indicate that that’s a preferable state of affairs.

  • reynard61

    if you watched a lot of cop shows in the 1960s and ’70s (and I did), there would almost always be an episode with a scene where the Wise, Experienced Older Cop would take The Young, Inexperienced Rookie aside and take out his badge and explain how it was a symbol of their responsibility to The City and it’s citizens to Protect and Serve and not a hunting license. Unfortunately, with one or two exceptions*, the producers of today’s cop shows — and today’s Law Enforcement — seem to have forgotten the point behind that particular scene,

    *”The Closer’ seems to have made a point of not making the IA Investigator out to be a total villain. In fact, she (in the person of FID Captain Sharon Raydor) eventually took over the unit that she was investigating and has become the kick-/bad-ass Leader in “Major Crimes”.

  • Dain Q. Gore

    In fact, the Closer dealt directly with the consequences of foregoing due process, and how it nearly ended the career of most of those who were involved in it.

  • Carstonio

    I’ve only seen the first film, and one of the later ones whose name I don’t remember. The first one was fascist not necessarily for its take on vigilantism, but for its ideological context. The serial killer wore a peace symbol and his lawyer was a Berkeley intellectual, two aspects of the story that pandered to reactionary attitudes.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    True, but Magnum Force (1973) and The Enforcer (1976) show a more nuanced portrayal of Harry compared to the first. The Enforcer is particularly interesting, because it was made in the tail end of the era of Black Power militant groups which had become part of the popular consciousness in the 1970s, and it by no means presents the Black militant leader as an unreconstructed villain: he is willing to do a deal, and Harry in his turn is willing to abide by it.

    In fact, the person who screws the pooch on that one is an overeager superior officer who wants to make headlines rather than solve a case properly.

    EDIT: http://www.hometheaterforum.com/topic/176212-dirty-harry-fascist/

    The whole thread is an interesting discussion, but I think the first post about nails it.

  • David S.

    One of the CSI books (Body of Evidence, by Max Allan Collins) had someone using an office printer to print out child porn. When they searched the house of the obvious suspect, they found all sorts of videos of bondage with him and his ex-wife in the house, which was enough for Catherine Willows to be convinced of his guilt. Huge frame-up, of course, and she actually apologized for being too judgmental at the end.

  • Lori

    Wow. File that under “stuff you would never see on the actual show.” CSI’s approach to kink is so consistently incredibly offensive that it has lead me to wonder things about the people in charge.

  • David S.

    The furry episode wasn’t too bad. And they do have Lady Heather as a fairly positive recurring character.

  • Lori

    I remember being bugged about the furry episode, but I can’t remember any details so it’s possible that I was being unfairly cranky owing to all the FAIL that came before. I also stopped watching years ago so I’ll have to take your word for the positive nature of Lady Heather’s recurring appearances. The stuff I saw with her sort of bugged, but I don’t recall the details of that either. Blessedly, the episodes I watched have now become indistinct in my memory.

  • MarkTemporis

    Given that in her first appearance Lady Heather slept with Grissom, it’s not a huge leap to assume Grissom might not have been exclusively vanilla himself.

    You do have to read between the lines there — I only caught it on my third viewing or so: Grissom goes to Heather’s club to ask her something, cut to scene, then they’re having tea and talking. But Grissom went at night, and the tea scene is in the morning.

  • Lori

    I think we were meant to assume that Grissom did spend the night with Lady Heather, that he had done so before and would in all likelihood do so again. The thing about that is that Grissom was on in many ways a really odd guy and I think the show treated his kinkiness as part of that oddness. Like, of course the weirdo is into that. The Venn diagram of weird & kinky is not one circle and it felt to me as if CSI was presenting it as if it was. (I think it would have read quite differently if Stokes had been the kinkster.)

    I stopped watching before Grissom got into a relationship with one of his subordinates (so incredibly inappropriate) so I have no idea how they presented that.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    I know several furries, and what little I saw of “the furry episode” bugged me so much I couldn’t watch the rest of it.

    It wasn’t just that they thought “furry = fursuiter = furry fetishist”, though that was bad enough. What really made me headdesk was that they showed people insisting on doing everything while wearing a full fursuit.

    Not only is this offensive, it’s incredibly fucking stupid, because 1. they’re expensive to acquire, repair, and clean 2. they have no peripheral vision and are often difficult to move in and 3. you’d quickly overheat. Ask anyone who’s ever worn a mascot costume.

  • Ben English

    I’m torn between wanting to slap them for being really stupid, but also sympathize with not wanting to know any more about furries than they have to.

  • Lori

    The thing is, they didn’t have to show furries at all. If they don’t want to be realistic or honest about them then just don’t write about them. It’s not OK to essentially lie about a kink because it creeps you out or you can’t get it past the Standards people.

  • Ben English

    Well yeah, but that would be sensible. CSI is (IMO) already a big dumb bloated TV franchise whose existence is only justified by the memes and mockery it generates. Sensationalizing a weird internet subculture that most of the internet already regards with disgust is actually MORE effort than I’d expect from them. Usually in shows like that you’re lucky for them to get something as mainstream as video games right.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I can’t. For one thing, most furries are nowhere NEAR as creepy as people who know nothing about furries think they are.

    But the thing that offends me most is someone writing about something they don’t even try to understand. How dare they. Writers make mistakes all the time, but this — and how TV writers generally treat anything they don’t understand, especially if there is a sexual component to it — is abhorrent. It’s pissing all over real people you don’t have a clue about just because you can.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    Writers make mistakes all the time, but this — and how TV writers generally treat anything they don’t understand, especially if there is a sexual component to it — is abhorrent. It’s pissing all over real people you don’t have a clue about just because you can.

    The same idea behind Jerry Springer and all the Nuts-and-Sluts Reality Shows — LAUGH AT THE STUPID FREAKS. Give the Al Bundys in their trailers bragging about their high school football careers something they can feel Superior to. Like a trailer-trash Third Klan Ku Kluxer bragging about his white skin.

  • Mmm, irony

    I never get tired of the irony of people condemning others for allegedly revelling in feelings of superiority, while using classist rhetoric to do so.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    According to “Uncle Kage”, the writers went to a fur con he was at, asked a bunch of questions, nodded politely, and then proceeded to ignore everything they’d been told. So they don’t even have simple ignorance as an excuse.

  • David S.

    I’ve never understood how people who can accept S&M and B&D, things really creep me out, and not accept that I’d like a woman with a tail and some fur. No tying her up, no beating her with a whip, no control issues, just some nice unviolent equal sex with a woman with fur and a tail. I’ll accept that people of their free will choose S&M and B&D and it’s really none of my business, but I really find the normalization of those while treating furries as so creepy a little inexplicable.

    (Again, I understand consenting adults, but that doesn’t stop me from finding those disturbing.)

  • Carrie Looney

    As someone who can appreciate kink that she’s not personally into, and has nothing but support for furries, I have to drive-by comment on “control issues” – unless it’s being Done Wrong, proper BDSM/bondage is the opposite of control issues. It’s power exchange with full consent. M’self, I don’t see it being ‘normalized’ on TV a lot, but I don’t watch much fictional TV these days, because it depresses me. :p

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Control issues? Er, you speak of that which you do not understand, David S. Someone who has “control issues” will never be an acceptable dom.

    BDSM is also not “violent”. Yes, there are things that cause pain within it, but it couldn’t be further from actual violence. And it is about what the sub wants. I know this is difficult for people who don’t do it to understand, but I wish they would at least accept this fact. For someone whose sexuality is submissive, being with the proper dominant is the most freeing, loving, healthy thing in the world. Besides being, you know, really hot sexually.

    There really isn’t normalization of BDSM, because every mainstream media thing about it gets it completely and totally wrong. I’d rather they never discussed it at all than act like 50 Shades of Grey is what it’s about. However, if there is more acceptance of it, I think it’s because there are more people who are of that sexuality than there are furries. Also, even people who don’t have a sexuality that is most at home in BDSM often do the occasional tying up/light spanking/roleplay stuff.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    I had a serious rage fit when someone I know described knowing someone who’s apparently into BDSM as “basing his techniques off of 50 Shades of Grey by having contracts he forces people to sign before they can do anything with him, which they then are not allowed to renege upon no matter what he wants to do to them.”

    That is not how it works. The only shades of grey in this are whether or not the poor girls are being raped, and given that he now has a conviction for rape, I imagine that was the case!

    “Oh no, they consented when they signed the contract and she was a slut anyway.”

    The worst thing is the person telling me this is a woman.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    I’ve seen women claim that the true victims of rape are the rapists. So I am not surprised it was a woman. Many women bend themselves into pretzels in order to avoid blaming men for anything ever.

    And yes, that “contract”? NO. There is in fact not enough NO in the world for it. And actually there is no “grey” over whether they were being raped. If you cannot retract consent, you are being raped.

  • FearlessSon

    As Lliira said, being unable to retract consent is rape, no bones about it. That said, contracts do have some value in power-exchange relationship, depending on the nature of the exchange. In such a case, they are mainly just a signed codification of the pre-negotiation that both partners have consented to. That way it can be referred back to by both parties to avoid “It’s not what it looks like!” scenarios in case someone sees or overhears, draws the wrong conclusions, and gets the authorities involved.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Yeah, that’s not the case here. We’re talking more like liability waivers. “I agree that whatever happens to me is totally my fault for signing this, God help me.”

  • Ben English

    In my experience:
    1) People perceive it to being creepy because it supposedly normalizes bestiality, and because clandestine fan-organized conventions that involve sex are ripe for abuse and predatory behavior.

    2) A lot of people see, from the outside, the furry subculture producing things like Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon porn, or hear about ‘yiffing’. There’s a perception (valid or not) that furries are particularly bad keeping their kink to themselves, shoving it into contexts where those who don’t share the kink will encounter it.

    3) There is the sense that furry-fetishists are disproportionately likely to have other terrible opinions or disturbing fetishes. There’s a sense that the furry fandom is welcoming to Nazi fetishists/Holocaust deniers, transhumanists, bestiality apologists, and extreme narcissism, and lack of perspective. Hence melodramatic coinages like ‘fursecution’.

    (Not saying any of these perceptions are fair, but the fact that you do run into such people discourages those outside the kink from further research.)

  • David S.

    So it’s creepy because it involves clandestine conventions that aren’t clandestine enough; and disturbing because people consider them Nazis and they lack the appropriate perspective on that? There’s also a pattern in life; the more marginalized a group is, the stronger the group bonds and the more they’re likely to tolerate the assholes among themselves.

    As for normalizing bestiality, I again compare it to things where people actually hit people with whips and actually handcuff people to beds. (And I don’t care how normal most people involved in this are, there are people who go dangerous places with it.) Being okay with the thin lines about the latter, and not see the huge separation in the first is not proportional.

  • Mark Z.

    (piling on; retracted)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    It wasn’t any less accurate than they’ve been on pretty much any subject, subculture, technology, industry, or what the word “organic” means, really.

    It may be more harmful when their trademark “T’hell with the facts, I want this glammed up!” attitude is aimed as an ostracised sexual subculture, but it’s a hard sell to say they went out of their way to do wrong by folks who like a bit of fur.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    FURRY EPISODE?

  • Launcifer

    Yeah. I think it was called Fur and Loathing.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Really? It seems like it’s been years since they did a story where a n uncommon fetish appeared in any light other than “Object lesson for one of the regulars about why you shouldn’t be so judgmental”. Seems like the plot is always “Character who is normally nonjudgmental picks up the idiot ball and jumps to reckless conclusions about the kinksters, only for it to turn out that the kinky folks are actually pretty okay people, and the murderer was actually someone vanilla and respectable, and everyone learns an important lesson and is better off for it. Except for the wrongly-accused first suspect whose life is ruined, but they do that to at least one person in every episode entirely independent of whether or not they’re into something taboo.”

  • Lori

    I gave up on the show many seasons back, so it’s entirely possible that they’ve changed their approach since then. I certainly wasn’t the only one to notice the offensive approach they took to kink in the early going and I imagine they got push back on it.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    Speaking of data mining… gmail is now offering me ads for bandages as I read these posts. This amuses me very, very much.

  • Ben English

    A lot of people still honestly think that belonging to a sex club or generally being sexually atypical is a portend of bad things to come. They may simply have thought, misguidedly, that they were doing the right thing. That sort of goes back to the point about real authorities: even if they have the best of intentions, they can still fuck up.

  • mhelbert

    Let’s add NCIS, (all flavors), and Person of Interest. People with the skill to access Pandora’s digital box with impunity.

  • Lori

    I think Person of Interest is more honest about the problems inherent in this kind of use of big data. It’s built into the premise and the heroes have been wrong/misinterpreted the data.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I agree. The series even has the protagonist and his business partner explicitly avowing never to let the system be used for BIg Brother type surveillance by sharply limiting its output and obfuscating how it operates.

  • fraser

    It’s also to some extent an SF situation. Having the Machine pick the numbers is like getting guidance from a precog.

  • mhelbert

    I was thinking more along the lines of the “the Machine” that was developed for the government’s use.

  • Lori

    There’s only one Machine. The government gets the output about possible terrorism and the main characters of the show are looking at all the other “useless’ data that the Machine generates & the government ignores.

  • FearlessSon

    The phrase “Person of Interest” always reminds me of Overwatch in Half-life 2, as it progresses from “Person of Interest” to “Anti-citizen One.”

  • WingedBeast

    Gibbs always bugs me, in NCIS. He’s murdered one person, he’s threatened a scientist with a gun (not even a guilty one, just someone who happened to have information), he’s tampered with evidence, he’s basically broken all the rules in the book.
    And, because he’s both good and nigh-infallible in the show shouldn’t be excuses. That causes problems even without it being a good, nigh-infallible guy that the show just doesn’t explore.
    You don’t have to hate Gibbs to go after him. You just have to have any respect for the rule of law.

  • Lori

    One of the things that bugs the crap out of me about the character of Abby on NCIS is her adoration of Gibbs. The whole crew is way too impressed with him, but Abby is especially ridiculous. That makes her annoying to me as a character, but I’m also annoyed by the fact that I think the show uses her to tell the audience how to feel about Gibbs and IMO that is not how the audience ought to feel about Gibbs.

  • Asha

    I hate Gibbs. Just needed to say it. I don’t root for any of the characters on NCIS save Ziva but Gibbs just hurts me. The episode where he was shown to have lived a totes awful and miserable existence for not killing the man who killed his family was ridiculous. If he was truly a good person, he would have actually found a way to bring the guy in. I wish he wasn’t so popular.

  • Lori

    ITA. The whole bunch of them are annoying as crap (I don’t even like Ziva), but Gibbs is just terrible and it irritates me to be told to admire him.

  • Ben English

    Honestly I thought we were supposed to dislike Gibbs and see Abby as an enabling hero worshiper who needed to grow up.

  • WingedBeast

    That would be the case, except Gibbs never faces any consequences for the things that he does… ever… at all.
    I’m not aware of any episode where he has to face that something he did within the show (not backstory) was wrong.

  • Ben English

    I should have asterisked that post with the fact that I almost never actually watch NCIS and my main exposure to it is on my occasional visits to my dad’s house. Seeing one or two episodes at a time (and never having been that fond of the procedural sub-genre to begin with) probably skewed my take on it.

  • Lori

    I think that’s you seeing behind the BS, not what the show wants you to think. So, good on you, but still bad on the show.

  • JustoneK

    Worth noting is that Gibbs, played by Mark Harmon, produces the show.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    And suddenly so much is explained…

  • Lori

    It also may be worth noting that Mark Harmon is personally sort of an ass, even by the standards of fairly well-known actors*. I know people who have worked with him and independently of each other more than one of them has commented about what a total PITA he is.

    *ETA: The stereotypes about entitled actors are stereotypes for a reason, but plenty of actors are actually really nice people who go out of their way to be pleasant and to treat those they work with well and to not get all up themselves. Mark Harmon is just not one of them.

    As a balance to that not so nice gossip I offer Lou Diamond Phillips and Charlie Hunnam. People I know well and whose judgment I trust have commented on how nice they both are. I know someone who worked on a film with LDP and said that not only did he not expect people to fetch and carry for him on the set, if he was going to craft services he would offer to bring back coffee for other people. Not just other actors, or the director, but the crew.

  • fraser

    I have a relative who worked in some capacity on Who’s the Boss and said Tony Danza is just incredibly sweet.

  • zmayhem

    I’ve heard the same good things, repeatedly, about Keanu Reeves — sweet, unassuming, endlessly patient with the hurry-up-and-wait that is a film set, unfailingly kind to everyone. The folks I know who’ve worked with him have speculated that this may be part of why he works so much despite being kind of mediocre as an actor: a film set is so intense and stressful that if a director’s got a choice between two box-office Names for the lead, one who will turn in an indelible performance but make dozens of people’s every waking moment for 6-12 weeks a living hell, or one who will turn in a merely adequate performance but make those 6-12 weeks a pleasure for everyone involved, zie’s gonna go for adequate+pleasure a damn lot of the time.

  • Lori

    I used to know a casting director and she said much the same thing. Below a certain level of box office draw* there are a lot of factors other than talent and looks that play into getting hired. Being realistic in contract negotiations is a big one, and so is being reliable and pleasant to work with. I always found that sort of comforting. Hollywood is often as much of a shark tank as people say, but nice guys don’t always finish last.

    *Sadly, if you’re a big enough star the rules really don’t apply to you.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross
  • zmayhem

    Bless his Endless self. You’d think being around for so long would have made him less willing to tolerate the foolishness of us mortals, but instead it seems to have exponentially intensified his Zen.

  • AnonaMiss

    …Is Keanu Reeves the Doctor?

  • Elizabeth Coleman

    John Malkovich just saved a guy’s life. The guy being saved didn’t know who Malkovich was, which may be for the best. If I woke up covered in blood and being looked down on by John Malkovich, I’d go, “Goddamit, I’ve watched Being John Malkovich too many times.” My brain can only handle so much surrealism at once.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    One of the things that bugs the crap out of me about the character of Abby on NCIS is her adoration of Gibbs.

    Is Gibbs some sort of writer’s self-insert like Raymond and Buck?

  • Lori

    I think he started out as a fairly standard hero with secret pain. As time has gone by the popularity of the show and character and the actor’s ego and increasing control over the show (Harmon became first a producer and then an executive producer after the show had been on for quite a few years) have combined to create a ridiculous level of Gibbs hero worship.

  • Brittany

    The new Hawaii Five-0 is insidious in the same way, too. One of the conceits of the show is that Five-0 is a task force that’s been given “full immunity and means,” which is repeated on the show often, and which allows the main characters to get away with pretty much everything.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    Wow, that’s… pretty extreme.

  • Mark Z.

    It is by far the most insultingly stupid show on television.

  • Dan

    A ridiculous and wicked show that panders to our worst instincts. Mandy Patinkin left for reasons I support. what kind of nation thinks rape torture multilation and murder is entertaining?

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Every kind of nation that’s ever existed?

    There’s nothing wrong with being entertained by dramatic stuff happening in fiction, and with wanting to see the bad guys caught. It’s the way in which it’s done that’s problematic.

  • P J Evans

    And people thinking that that’s the way it really works, or should work.

  • general_apathy

    Definitely. I like murder mysteries, but Criminal Minds bugs me to no end. There’s usually some reason why the detective(s) do their job: to protect people, or to give the victim justice, etc.

    In Criminal Minds it’s “punish the bad guys because they are Bad Guys, and Bad Guys deserve to be punished.” And being a Bad Guy is always an inherent and incurable personal flaw. Even if you’re mentally ill. (Especially if you’re mentally ill.)

  • Lori

    This and the way the show handles the relentless torture of women are the reasons I stopped watching it really early on. It gave me the creeps and made me angry.

  • general_apathy

    Argh, yes. The episode where I rage-quit had a villain who drugs women, then kidnaps and tortures them.* BAU determines that this is because he is too weak to overpower them. Female Guest Character recognizes her attacker and abducts him. What happens?

    Well obviously he manages to overpower her, take her gun, and torture her again, all while his extremities are tied with piano wire. Because there’s only one type of criminal mind, I guess.

    (*His motivation is to prevent them from enjoying power ballads, which makes the whole episode a little surreal.)

  • BaseDeltaZero

    (*His motivation is to prevent them from enjoying power ballads, which makes the whole episode a little surreal.)

    What? No, seriously, what?

  • general_apathy
  • Ben English

    The cool think about Monk is the mentally ill guy is the hero.

  • Daniel Björkman

    Homeland has a mentally ill female lead, for that matter. And while it is a agents-versus-terrorists show, it does seem to be trying to show that terrorists are still human beings with human reasons for the things they do, and that the people fighting them can be equally monstrous.

  • ohiolibrarian

    Given the popularity of mysteries in general, most people in most nations think it entertaining. See also: Illiad and many folk tales and songs. Etc.

  • Adrienne

    I love Criminal Minds and the cast/ characters are the main reason. But yeah, I have thought about this. It seems pretty ridiculous to me that even the NSA/PRISM would collect the kinds of data that Garcia uses on the show, or that, if they did, they would know how to use it. I’m not saying that it’s okay, I’m just saying that I seriously, seriously doubt the speed and accuracy with which Garcia finds and cross-references information is coming anytime soon to a government agency near you.

  • MarkTemporis

    All the time factors in crime dramas are way, way off. Your average CSI episode should take about six months to a year, but that would be exceptionally boring.

  • fraser

    Not necessarily. Wiseguy, in the 1980s, had two investigations its first year and it was great.

  • Lori

    Wiseguy was really good. Smart and intense and weird in ways that couldn’t get made on network TV any more.

  • BaseDeltaZero

    I note that if you actually pay attention to the date stamps on say, Law & Order, often times several months will pass. Which is kind of… interesting.

  • Mark Z.

    The original Law & Order tried very hard to be realistic. The police mostly knocked on doors and talked to people, and the lawyers spent a lot of time in bail hearings and evidence hearings and case management conferences and all the other not trial activities that make up the criminal court system. All the case law they cited was real. And there were quite a lot of cases that ended in an unsatisfying or inconclusive way, because that’s what happens.

    Then CSI came along and we found that the American TV audience mostly wants to see lurid crimes solved by a team of sexy quirky geniuses, and that’s what we’ve gotten ever since.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    This is kind of a thing with crime shows nowadays, I’ve noticed. Abby Scuito in NCIS, Angela in Bones…

  • stardreamer42

    Bones, somewhere back around second season, had Booth making an impassioned speech about how torture is something our government STOPS from happening. Something only the bad guys do.

    Yes, I know that’s blindly naive, but I still think it’s a lot better than 24 or Zero Dark Thirty portraying torture as something we do as a matter of course because it works. And I don’t think you’d see Booth making the same speech now.

  • Ben English

    The torture in Zero Dark Thirty was at least meant to be an uncomfortable scene of moral ambiguity. And, well, actually happened. What’s 24’s excuse?

  • Lori

    I think Zero Dark Thirty was a really interesting case. I ended up thinking that it was a Rorschach blot as much as a film in that people seemed to take from it exactly what they brought to it.

    I read reviews and essays that I’m not sure I would have recognized as being about the same movie if the references to the name and stars had been stripped out.

  • http://www.joshbarkey.com/ Joshua Lawrence

    Good points, yes. But it’s also useful to wonder why We the People have such a voracious appetite for this sort of thing — why it’s so prevalent in writing done for film and television.

    I tend to think of it as a misguided impulse. Our (I would say) in-built yearning for a world where justice is done to evildoers gets somehow all mixed up with a misguided belief that the world ought to be simple, and suddenly we start to need the world to be comprised of black-hatted villains who can do no right, and white-hatted heroes who can do no wrong.

    The protagonists in these shows are stand-ins for what we most want to believe about ourselves — that we are the sorts of people who are fully capable of always distinguishing right from wrong, and then always choosing the right.

    This is obviously not the case, because — as we have learned from Master Tolkien — you absolutely CANNOT take up the ring of power without being in a way owned and re-created by it.

    Everybody thinks that if THEY were the ones who had access to the database (or the influential blog, the gun, or the nuclear-effin’-weapon), they would only ever use it for good. That they would (obviously) only ever wear the white hats.

    I wonder if perhaps this is a particularly American sentiment — an outgrowth of our ridiculous American Exceptionalism. Whatever it is, the only antidote I can think of is humility, coupled with empathetic love.

  • Lori

    I wonder if perhaps this is a particularly American sentiment — an outgrowth of our ridiculous American Exceptionalism.

    No. I’ve seen it in plenty of stories produced in other countries. As you said, people want the good guys to be good and right.

  • arcseconds

    It’s not particular to the USA, and even when they’re American films or TV, people outside America lap it up.

    The idea that the good guys don’t need to obey the rules is also quite old. It’s there in the Western genre. It’s even there to some extent in Sherlock Holmes, although there’s usually a bit of hand-wringing, even when it’s a non-threatening person allowed to go free.

    However, something has changed in the past few years. Torture was never (or almost never) something the ‘white hats’ did. Occasionally, say, Dirty Harry might put the boot in, but the whole point is that he’s an anti-hero: it’s not something that normal without-modifier heroes do. Now it’s almost taken for granted that good people might occasionally find a need to torture bad people.

    That’s extremely worrying.

    And it seems to me it’s USA productions that are leading the charge on this, and there’s an obvious reason why that would be.

    (I don’t think it’s just torture, either, that’s just the most obvious example where there’s been a complete moral slippage)

  • SisterCoyote

    One of the weirdest things for me in getting into Supernatural has been how quick the “good guys” are to get into torture, how quick they are to shoot, and how easily their misdeeds are brushed off, as long as they didn’t hurt a main character. It’s so… alien. I don’t think I’ve seen a show with that much blatant protagonist-centered-morality since I stopped watching Law and Order.

    And there is definitely an American self-righteous feel to it.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    Augh, yes. At one point I was yelling at the screen, “Torture doesn’t even work, you morons!”

  • EllieMurasaki

    And even supposing it did, you’d think demons would have built up a resistance…

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    If demons are anything like human beings, lots of pain means a lowering of resistance to pain. I used to be pretty good about tolerating pain, before I threw out my back. Now — well, I had to tell my husband he was kissing me too hard the other day.

  • David S.

    I’m not so blase about Dirty Harry. There was a whole host of vigilante cops starting with Dirty Harry, and all feel more strongly with the bad guys getting cleaned up by Dirty Harry then any concerns with being an anti-hero. Same thing with a whole era of nitty-gritty superheros; any handwringing is overwhelmed by the Punisher and look-alikes shooting all the bad guys.

  • fraser

    The handwringing reminds me of John LeCarre’s comment about George Smiley (his character): His conscience may trouble him about what he does, but when push comes to shove, he’ll leave his conscience at the door and get the job done.

  • http://www.joshbarkey.com/ Joshua Lawrence

    Sure, but…

    Film and television are one of U.S.of America’s largest exports — not just in terms of money, but also in terms of cultural force. They are (and have been), I think, the primary way we export our culture to the world (hooray for homogeneity!).

    While I’m not saying Americans invented film and television, or that we’re anywhere near the best at it (I do love me a good subtitle), it’s fairly undeniable that the rest of the world takes its filmic cues from the U.S.

    Which is to say that if this theme occurs in stories produced in other countries, it’s possible that this is merely because the artists in those countries have osmosified it from all the American stories they’ve watched.

  • Lori

    I think it’s both overly guilty and overly arrogant to assume that people in other countries only produce these kinds of stories because the US does. Also, film & TV aren’t the only mediums where these themes appear and they’re not modern inventions. It’s a human thing, not a USian thing. It just looks like a USian things because of where we’re currently sitting.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Some Canadian TV productions are starting to take their cues from US productions, though. The series “Continuum” is one example. By the nature of the way it presents the story, you’re almost forced to identify with the protagonist police officer, even though she is nominally defending n shgher gur nhqvrapr jbhyq svaq fbzrjung hanccrgvmvat.

  • Lori

    The only reason for Canadian TV to take it’s cues from US productions is that Canadians will watch the resulting product and I’m uncomfortable with laying that all at the feet of US media. It denies agency to Canadian viewers and I also don’t think US media ought to carry all that weight.

    Basically, if US viewers have to take responsibility for making 24 a hit, and I think they do then Canadian viewers have to own whatever success Continuum enjoys.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That said, the “branch plant” concept holds true culturally as well as economically. We face tremendous influences from the USA to the point where sometimes it’s hard to remember that there are fundamental legal differences between our nations (as one example) due to the sheer weight of police-procedurals set in the USA.

    So while a domestic production should be “owned” domestically, the salient fact remains that the creators of such a production can be influenced by outside forces.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    My wife watches that show. I find it hard to imagine how exactly the pitch went here. Time travelling cop has to stop evil terrorists (so far so good) who are an obvious and specific expy for the Occupy movement (Hey wait a minute) in order ot ensure that the future will be a corporate-controlled (Uh oh) plutocracy.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    One way to rationalize it is that judging from the snippets of the 2077 reality we see, Kiera Cameron actually had it pretty good compared to the dispossessed who were faced with arbitrary withholding and/or price increases of basic foodstuffs, drug addiction as an escape from present-day problems, and a complete lack of anything like today’s legislative / judicial structure.

    To put it in TVTropes terms, the Liber8 Strawman Has A Point.

    PS. Their portrayal of 2077 is actually quite eerily good. Just like pictures of Vancouver in the 1930s are almost unrecognizable except for the basic network of streets, I can barely recognize the geography of 2077 Vancouver and environs.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    She certainly did, but the show just keeps going out of its way to assert that the boy who will grow up to be the corporate overlord who runs the world is heroic and noble and a good person who will rule world benevolently, while OccupyLiber8 are a bunch of murderous thugs most of whom don’t really have an agenda beyond sociopathy.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    That said, it’s hinted that just maybe said corporate overlord is planning to subvert the entire basis of his power. He left a very very long note for his younger self, and his younger self seems to still be working through the ramifications of that note.

    (Incidentally, is it just me or was there a very nice symmetry in the scenes of old and young Julian being taken from jail and brought to trial?)

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    This is one of the reasons I enjoyed Death Note: the series makes it clear that even if you’re trying to use it for good, using the Death Note is almost certainly going to turn you into a monster.

    I have to confess, if I stumbled upon a Death Note, I’d be tempted by visions of headlines saying things like, “17 anti-gay pundits die in midst of recording themselves having big gay orgy”…

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    This angel of death wants to show the shinigami how it’s done. Rule number one, not every good deed needs recognition, much less widespread publication…

  • Daniel Björkman

    Something I wish that Death Note had acknowledged is that Light is only as good as the mundane law enforcement’s ability to find and arrest the guilty and only the guilty. All he actually does, after all, is kill the people who are already in jail. Anything he achieves, mundane society could achieve by instituting some sort of Judge Dread policy where the police was allowed to execute anyone they thought deserved it on the spot.

    Which, admittedly, is what USian cop shows usually implies would be the best thing. Perhaps Light is just a fan of them? :P

  • Tofu_Killer

    Ever notice how rarely the guys in the white hats hit innocent bystanders while blazing away at the bad guys? Same thing.
    People want the good guys to be smarter/better/faster than the opposition.

  • Ben English

    They also want the good guys to be gooder than the opposition, which isn’t always the case.

  • http://accidental-historian.typepad.com/ Geds

    So, wait. Penelope Garcia is just a direct rip-off of Abby from NCIS?

    Also, I’ve been saying things like this for years. My big problem is that eventually the shows get to the plotline of “person from Internal Affairs who has a beef against [big damn hero/main unit] and will do anything to take them down.” The IA person is inevitably a pest, a bad guy, a nuisance, or a misguided good guy who’s always underfoot. The important thing is that IA is never right and will either come around to the big damn hero’s way of thinking or be removed by outside forces.

    Several years ago I realized one simple thing: In real life Internal Affairs are the good guys. Or, if they’re not the good guys, per se, they’re often the best line of defense against the bad guys parading around as good guys. We should like Internal Affairs. Instead they’re shorthand for “guys who keep the real police work from getting done.” It’s pretty sick and wrong.

  • hidden_urchin

    Now I really want to see a show from the perspective of an IA team investigating the behavior of these cowboy cops.

  • Lori

    Didn’t The Shield sort of do that? The cops were the main characters, but they were dirty cops and IA was right about them, yes?

  • Vermic

    Yes, Forrest Whitaker’s IA antagonist on The Shield was absolutely right about our protagonists, though his efforts to prove it led him into some unprofessional and illegal waters himself. Of course, The Shield is very morally gray and we’re not meant to support a lot of the things Vic Mackey & company get away with.

    Whitaker’s character, IIRC, was disliked by everyone at the station, including the honest cops who would’ve loved to see Mackey behind bars. It was implied that that’s the general attitude toward IA — they do an important and necessary service, but they also snoop and pry and get coworkers to rat on one another and nobody likes that.

  • Lori

    So, wait. Penelope Garcia is just a direct rip-off of Abby from NCIS?

    I think it’s more accurate to say that Abby and Garcia are both examples of a particular trope.

  • Carrie Looney

    See also, David Strathairn’s character in Sneakers…

  • MarkTemporis

    Not more or less ALL the characters in Sneakers?

  • fraser

    I see a similar rationale in the push against videotaping police officers or prosecuting CIA agents for torture. We don’t want them to hesitate do we? We don’t want them to worry about whether they’re going to be hauled up on charges for trying to protect America, do we?
    When it comes to tasering people for not obediently complying with orders, or using torture yes, actually I do.

  • hidden_urchin

    Speaking as a US citizen, I think that every outgoing president should stand trial (symbolically, at least) and justify hir actions while in office. I suspect the objections people would have to that would be the same.

  • GuestPoster

    I actually rather liked Woolsey in Stargate SG1 for that: he did a pretty good job as an IA person who legitimately tried to do the right thing.

  • AnonaMiss

    Fuck yes seconded on Woolsey. My favorite character in the Stargate ‘verse.

  • reynard61

    “So, wait. Penelope Garcia is just a direct rip-off of Abby from NCIS?”

    Well, yes and no. Her personality is pretty close to Abby’s (although with a bit less Twilight Sparkle and a bit more Pinkie Pie, if you get what I mean), but her computer skills are more equivalent to those of Agent Tim McGee. (I’m not sure that Garcia could operate Major Mass Spec if her life depended on it.)

  • GDwarf

    In real life IA often aren’t the good guys, but that’s not because their job isn’t vitally important, it’s because it is and they don’t do it. It’s common knowledge that, in some cities, cops can get away with literal murder, and it’s incredibly common for even cops that have been fired (which is ludicrously rare to start with) to be immediately hired by another police department.

    In many cases IA is either entirely sympathetic to the accused or is toothless. Quite frankly, I think all IA departments should be majority staffed by civilians and should have to make all investigations public.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    On the flip side I wonder how much of the fictional portrayal of IA is accurate, and to what extent the “IA are a bunch of scumsucking turds” attitude informs police officers who stonewall IA officers who actually want to act in the interests of all parties, not just the blue line.

  • Daniel Björkman

    I always find it frustratingly ironic how fictional cops, whose job it is to make people follow the rules, always resent (and are shown as justified in resenting) the people whose job it is to make *them* follow the rules.

  • storiteller

    More reasons to love The Wire. Not only are the cops often not the Good Guys, but even when they are trying to be, they screw up. And the one time they try to do something without a warrant, they literally lose a very expensive camera and have to pay for it out of pocket.

    In terms of Internal Affairs being the Good Guys, I think a show like that would be interesting. I work in government and while the Investigator General can be annoying, I’m glad they exist.

  • Kubricks_Rube

    Poor Fuzzy Dunlop.

  • LL

    Just a few examples of the kinds of stuff you might not want people to know:
    * You’re homosexual and you work in a state where you could be fired for being homosexual (or where, at least, an employer could fire you and if you suspect it has anything to do with your sexual orientation, you’d have no legal recourse)
    * You’re pregnant, but you don’t want your employer to know it yet
    * You’ve had an abortion (or your wife has had an abortion) and you don’t want others to know

    * You have a medical condition that you don’t want known publicly, esp. by your employer
    * One of your kids (or your spouse) has a substance abuse problem
    * You are being sued (or are a witness in a lawsuit) and the opposition would like to have any info about you that might suggest you are not a reliable witness, even if it’s not really relevant
    * You are on a jury in a criminal case and one of the attorneys involved would like to know more about you so they can know what “buttons” to push during their arguments to get you to decide in their favor

    That’s just the stuff I could come up with off the top of my head. There are lots of ways any of this info could become public, either accidentally or “accidentally”

    Apparently, there are almost 500,000 contractors with security clearance in the U.S. government. So almost 500,000 people with access to your info. 500,000 to bribe or otherwise induce to get pertinent info on anyone in the U.S. Info they’d normally have to go to some trouble to get to and/or would be illegal for them to obtain.

    One of the few things that can still flummox me is how people think privacy isn’t important. How it’s no big deal if people know stuff about you. I always thought something being nobody’s goddam business was reason enough for them not to know.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    * You’re in a dominant/submissive relationship, especially if you’re the dominant, especially (in an interesting reversal) if you’re a man and your sub is a woman.
    * You have a parent with a substance abuse problem.
    * You have any kind of “psych history”, like being depressed in your 20s.

    * You made a complete ass of yourself online at some point.

  • stardreamer42

    And who among us has NOT been guilty of that last? I sure as hell have.

    Also:

    * You’re a member of certain types of hobby club — this is not limited to sex clubs; for a while the SCA was on the FBI’s “suspicious organization” list.

  • LC

    Why especially if you’re the man? (I’m guessing it is easier to make the case that this is actually abuse and not consensual since it overlaps with the primary abuse narrative?)

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    Your guess is correct.

  • WingedBeast

    * You are a member of any fully legal but otherwise unpopular political organization. In certain areas, this can include the ACLU. But, this could also include anybody who has legitimate reason to believe that the government (either systematically, party in power, or individuals in power) are engaged in either despotic or illegal behavior.

  • Dragoness Eclectic

    Apparently, there are almost 500,000 contractors with security clearance
    in the U.S. government. So almost 500,000 people with access to your
    info. 500,000 to bribe or otherwise induce to get pertinent info on
    anyone in the U.S. Info they’d normally have to go to some trouble to
    get to and/or would be illegal for them to obtain.

    Nitpick: having a security clearance does not mean you are free to go on a fishing expedition through every classified document held by the U.S. government. Indeed, if you were to try, your local security officer would be looking at you very oddly, because that is extremely suspicious behavior.

    I am a contractor with a security clearance. I do NOT have access to your personal info. Nobody I work with does, either. All we have access to are classified data, documents and systems that are part of our work.

    I would narrow that list of people to bribe or suborn down to “those attached to a federal law enforcement or intelligence agency.”

  • David S.

    I don’t know why, but Manning certainly seemed to be able to go through a fishing expedition through a huge number of documents.

  • Lori

    Manning was able to access documents that he should not have been able to because folks weren’t following proper procedures, but TTBOMK they were all tied to his actual job and involved what the government was doing, not personal information collected from citizens.

    Having a security clearance really isn’t a license to wander through any and all classified documents. A security clearance is sort of like the card keys I had when I had office jobs. Mine would get me in the front door of my building, the door to my floor, other buildings during work hours and the gym. It wouldn’t let me into other buildings after hours and certainly not onto the executive floors. If I had tried to use the card to go somewhere I wasn’t authorized to go the system would have had a record of that and I would have been asked about it and possibly disciplined or even fired, depending on my answers. I had a card key, but it didn’t allow me to roam at will.

  • GuestPoster

    Interestingly, this is exactly the problem Lex Luthor has with Superman in the comics. I mean, sure, he’s also bad for business but, really… Superman SAYS he’s there to help. He SAYS he’s the good guy. What if he’s lying? What if he changes his mind?

    Not to say that the government is playing the role of Superman particularly well, but that’s always been the funny thing about ol’ Supes in particular: the most powerful force on earth, and all we can do is sit back and watch. And hate Lex Luthor for trying to find ways to stop it.

  • Lori

    Superman SAYS he’s there to help. He SAYS he’s the good guy. What if he’s lying? What if he changes his mind?

    There’s a line in the trailer for the new Superman movie that makes this point. I suspect it’s inadvertent, but still.

    Jor-El and Lara are discussing sending baby Kal-El to earth and they have this exchange:

    Lara: He’ll be an outcast. They’ll kill him.

    Jor-El: How?

    It struck me as both funny and a nice encapsulation of the problem of Superman.

  • WingedBeast

    The problem with Superman is that, even within the fictional DC universe, nobody can strive to be Superman. You are born Superman, and not only with the powers but also with the moral superiority and certainty that makes your every punch and eyelazer use a just and right one.

    Heck, translate it over to German and his name means Ubermench.

    Lex Luthor, for all that he is evil, at least strives to be as powerful, as scientifically knowledgable, and as wealthy as he is.

    “They can be a good people. They only need a light to show them the way.” But, that light cannot be an invulnerable being who was invulnerable just for having the good sense to be born, while the rest of us are mortal because we made the mistake of being born.

  • Lori

    Well, had the good sense to be born and the good luck to be sent to Earth when his home planet destroyed itself. He’s only nigh invulnerable and perfect here.

  • WingedBeast

    While that’s true enough, in terms of now that he is here, he’s not really a symbol of what can be accomplished. He’s a symbol of what blind luck (he’s not the one that sent himself to Earth, for instance) can give one.

    Superman may have the motives that make a good hero.

    But, Lex Luthor has the story (and, in some continuities, he fully a self made man) to make a good icon.
    Combine the two and you have Batman.

  • Lori

    Doesn’t that depend on how you look at it? Superman’s powers are luck, but what he does with them and refrains from doing with them are accomplishments.

    Also, while Lex is self-made* in some continuities in most of them isn’t he the son of a wealthy industrialist? If Lex grew up rich then the fundamental conflict of Superman vs Lex is not so much about accomplishment vs luck as it is about different ways of dealing with unearned privilege. (It’s also an exploration of American class issues, but that’s a somewhat separate issue.)

    *For the sake of argument setting aside the fact that no one is ever fully self-made.

  • Jon Maki

    Additionally, Lex had the good sense to be born with a pretty much superhuman level of intelligence.
    As far as being self-made, even setting aside the advantage his intellect gave him, I wouldn’t say that’s true in any continuity.
    Prior to the 1986 reboot, he was the son of your standard middle class Midwestern parents….at least once he was given an actual backstory and characterization beyond just being a generic mad scientist.
    In that continuity, he never actually made anything of himself – he became a wanted criminal as a teenager. (His parents subsequently disowned him, changed their name, moved away, and eventually died in a car accident)
    Post-reboot, he grew up in the “Suicide Slum” section of Metropolis, and his father was an abusive drunk. Lex really got his start after his father died in a fire and he collected on the life insurance policy. It was strongly indicated that Lex actually took out the policy and then deliberately set the fire. (On Smallville they made this the basis for Lionel Luthor’s fortune.)
    I don’t really know what his backstory is currently – nothing I’ve read so far has delved into it. He just popped up in Action Comics as a consultant to the US government.

  • Ben English

    Batman had the blind luck to be born with unimaginably wealthy parents and a lucrative international corporate empire. Granted, his parents got dead, but so did Kal-El’s.

    The conflict between Superman and Lex Luthor is about how power is wielded, not about luck versus bootstraps. Luthor is an incomparable genius with as much money as Batman. He’s a powerful person, but spends the first thirty odd years of his life helping only himself. Then Superman shows up and insists that he just wants to help people, begins helping people, and in the process uncovers some of Luthor’s dirty secrets.

    Luthor hates Superman because Superman demonstrates that his pretense of benevolence and his supposed aspirations to be savior of the world are hollow self-aggrandizing fantasies.

    Come to think of it, Luthor would make a great Antichrist in a Left Behind-style story.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    …nobody can strive to be Superman.

    Technically true, but people can be inspired by Superman. Perhaps the best in-universe example is John Henry Irons, a.k.a. Steel.

  • Jon Maki

    Also, his existence alone serves as proof that people live in a world where wondrous, miraculous things are possible.

    Sure, all of your striving might not make you invulnerable or able to fly, but just knowing that you live in a world where such a thing is possible is pretty fucking amazing, I think.

    Besides, the real inspiration comes from the fact that with all his powers he only seeks to do good.

    Superman or no Superman, it’s unlikely that the same could ever be said of Lex. If it hadn’t been Superman, it would have been some other excuse.

    The problem with Lex is that he is fundamentally incapable of believing in – or even understanding – goodness.

    And there have been plenty of stories in which Superman lost his powers, or faced off against even more powerful forces, and it didn’t matter. He still jumped right in and did everything he could.

  • EllieMurasaki

    I don’t know. Horatio Alger stories always strike me as less ‘wonderful things happen’ and more ‘wonderful things happen–if wonderful things don’t happen to you, it’s your own fault for not being special enough’.

  • Jon Maki

    That’s a valid and understandable response, but it’s never been my takeaway from any Superman story I’ve ever read.
    So I suppose that, as with pretty much anything, YMMV.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    As TVTropes said, “without his powers, Superman is batman with better social skills:.

    This seems relevant. Cracked.com: The Five Ugly Lessons Hiding In Every Superhero Movie.

  • http://flickr.com/photos/sedary_raymaker/ Naked Bunny with a Whip

    We hate Luthor for it because we’re aware of his ulterior motives and the harm he causes to advance his agenda. Batman also has ways of neutralizing Superman, but we don’t hate him for it.

  • Jon Maki

    Yeah, one of the things that gets brought up in a lot of interpretations of Luthor – often by Luthor himself – is how much good he might have done for the world with his staggering intellect if only that meddling, messianic alien hadn’t come along and prevented that by….umm…well, that’s where the argument kind of breaks down, and it’s why no matter what he does, or how he views himself, Lex is a villain.
    Because honestly, there’s nothing preventing Lex from putting his intellect to good use except Lex himself.
    At a minimum the man should be able to multitask – there’s no reason he can’t cure cancer while simultaneously looking for a way to kill Superman. Hell, there’s probably some way he could actually combine the two efforts.
    Which, again, makes the point that Lex doesn’t help people because he doesn’t really want to, not because of Superman.

  • GDwarf

    All this is shown brilliantly in 52. Superman has vanished, presumed dead, and what does Luthor do? Tries to replace him. He’s still just as self-absorbed and downright evil as before, murdering, abducting, all that good stuff. Indeed, he perpetually spies on everyone he can, trying to be in control of everything.

    That’s maybe the thing about Superman: He could be the NSA, but he chooses not to be. He can’t help that he has super-senses, but he doesn’t interfere with governments, he doesn’t spy on people, he has all this power and he goes out of his way to not use it. The few stories where he decides to “fix” the world show that he could conquer the whole thing and run a perfectly efficient police state with minimal trouble.

    Really, in this example the NSA are Luthor: They claim that they’re just trying to protect us from this alien threat, but they’re so obsessed with growing their power for its own sake that they’re more of a threat than the one they’re supposedly saving us from.

  • arcseconds

    Isn’t it even explored at some point that Luthor does, on the odd occasion, do good things for the human race, like invent useful stuff, occasionally is generous to people, etc?

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    In Superman: Doomsday, Lex Luthor invents a cure for muscular dystrophy, then gives it to his assistant and orders her to water down the effect and turn it into an expensive, livelong treatment.

  • fraser

    There’s a moment in All-Star Superman where after lecturing Clark on Why I Must Battle Superman, Lex ends up admitting he wants him gone because he gets in Lex’s way, and that’s all the reason he needs.

  • Kenneth Raymond

    Even without envy, Superman must be existentially terrifying to some people in his universe. So much human pride is wrapped up in being top of the food chain and here comes one single person who can make mockery of that. And what about the rest of the galaxy? How many more Supermen are out there – Kryptonian or otherwise? What if humanity’s just a bunch of weak, graceless, idiotic apes in comparison to literally everyone else out there?

    To some people, Superman must seem like the negation of human achievement.

    But some people try harder. Make an even greater human achievement. Do everything to show your worth. It’s a challenge, but one to live up to. Luthor’s tragedy is that he instead sees it as a challenge to fight. He’s so concerned with winning that challenge that Superman represents that he doesn’t understand what he’s actually being challenged to do.

    Lex Luthor is one of my favorite villains. He’s such a horrible person because he’s afraid of being anything else – because to him, anything else is anything less. I have a lot of empathy for such incredible existential terror I can’t help but read into him (or his better-written interpretations, anyway). I still condemn how he acts on such terror, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t interesting and human as all get out to me.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “At a minimum the man should be able to multitask – there’s no reason he can’t cure cancer while simultaneously looking for a way to kill Superman. Hell, there’s probably some way he could actually combine the two efforts.”

    He did just that in a story from the early ’60s. And since it was an “Imaginary Story” (i.e., out of normal continuity), it *worked*.

  • Jon Maki

    Any idea which story that was? It sounds vaguely familiar, and would most likely be something that I read years ago in a DC Digest that collected a bunch of Superman vs. Lex Luthor stories.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “The Death of Superman.” Not the ’92 one, obviously. I don’t recall which issue it originally appeared in; I, too, read it in trade.
    Lex’s overall plan was:
    1) Convince the world I’ve reformed
    2) Become Superman’s best pal
    3) Murder him with a Kryptonite Death Ray
    And he did. (Supergirl beats him later on. Shoulda held onto that Death Ray, Lex…)

  • Jon Maki

    Hm, yeah, I’m pretty sure I have read that one.

  • Daniel Björkman

    The problem with the Superman/Luthor thing is that it all depends on what perspective you are looking at it from.

    If you look at it realistically, with the assumption that things in the DC Universe does or should act like they do in the real world, Lex is completely right. Even if Superman genuinely wants to do the right thing, he’s not capable of making the right choice in the heat of the moment every single time, and when he does the wrong thing there is no way to punish or restrict him. There is simply no human way to have that much power and that little accountability without… not necessarily “going bad,” per se, but becoming a force of nature that made everyone else slaves to your goodwill.

    On the other hand, if you look at it as a metaphor, suitably exaggerated as befits the larger-than-life-ness of a superhero story, Lex is the kind of libertarian who hates the government on general principle and firmly believes that anyone who claims to be driven by altruism is trying to sell you something. The only kind of benefit to society he’ll accept or trust is the kind that is a byproduct of personal greed – anything else is at best a lie, at worst a ploy to steal your freedom. In that perspective, Superman is a rebuttal to Lex’s entire cynical worldview – yes, it *is* actually possible to be good and to wield power responsibly, and if Lex thinks otherwise, it’s only because *he* isn’t capable of it. And that last part is what really ticks Lex off, because it implies that he’s not everything that a human being should be, which is a thought he absolutely can not stand.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    …if you look at it as a metaphor, suitably exaggerated as befits the larger-than-life-ness of a superhero story, Lex is the kind of libertarian who hates the government on general principle and firmly believes that anyone who claims to be driven by altruism is trying to sell you something.

    Love this. “Welfare exists not to ameliorate poverty but to bribe lazy people into voting” is definitely Lex Luthor thinking.

  • GuestPoster

    I tend to use the first view, in part I suppose because I prefer the Marvel universe, where so many of the comics DO seem to be meant to be taken more realistically, and to be directly tackling reality, rather than super-reality.

    But even then, when they bother to give Lex a personality beyond ‘evil madman’, he tends to become very sympathetic. Probably best done in “Lex Luthor: Man of Steel”, but even in, say, the planet Lexor arc, we see him work almost exclusively for the good of *a* people, with just those occasional forays to destroy Superman (which, sadly, eventually lead to the destruction of the planet, but still).

    But look at Luthor in, say, Smallville, arguably one of the best (ie: most developed) backgrounds he’s been given. Coming from a VERY broken home (which we know in reality really screws people up), he may have lots of rich kid toys, but he has to earn every scrap of power himself. Facing regular discrimination, ESPECIALLY from Mr. Kent (whom he idolizes as a down to earth ‘good man’), he befriends Clark, and doesn’t get REALLY dark until Clark gives up upon him (in no small part because of Lex’ insatiable curiosity about kryptonite, etc.). But even then, Lex basically watched everything he wanted drift towards Clark, even the love of his own father, and was utterly powerless to do anything about it. Yes, he gets very dark in the later seasons, and starts doing some horrific things, but you can see why.

    Then, look at the Luthor as President story arcs. He does a lot of good! Just about all the evil he does is directly tied to heroes – he has to do things to them because otherwise there’s no story. But when not forced by literary necessity towards evil, he tends towards some of the better things we see come out of real politicians.

    Similarly, folks talk about Luthor vs. Batman and the good they do, but legally speaking, who has actually done more harm in modern incarnations? Most of Luthor’s criminal activities (in recent adaptations, at least) are white collar crimes – shady business dealings and the like. Batman, on the other hand, is a vigilante who has directly led to the escalation of crime in Gotham, and, because he operates outside the law, catches villains who then must be sent to the asylum, rather than jail.

    Similarly, sure Luthor doesn’t do much directly ‘good’ with his money… but what mega zillionaire does? Wayne doesn’t, really – he’s got just as much cash as Luthor, and granted Waynetech doesn’t build weapons, but what DOES it make? Giant phone spying systems that make the NSA surveillance measures look like they’re made of play-doh?

    And finally, even in continuity, who does the world go to when Superman needs to be put down? Look at the old Superman cartoon: when Darkseid brainwashed Superman, and sent him to attack Earth, the army didn’t go to Batman, they went to Luthor, and asked him to help solve the problem. Granted Luthor was happy for numerous dishonorable reasons, but still… even in continuity, there are not a few people who like what Luthor is doing, and are very happy he’s around.

    I know he’s the villain, and I know he’s evil, but I find that in most of the recent interpretations, he’s only a villain because Luthor has to be a villain. Much of what he does outside of harming Superman/Batman/Justice League members is honestly often on the better side of human nature. Compared to Superman, who is nigh invincible, causes more property damage than Luthor while ‘helping’ us, and just needs a sliver of red rock to turn into a force of destruction, if I had to get one of them in the real world, I’d go Luthor every time. At least he can be stopped by good old fashioned human works if he gets out of hand.

  • dpolicar

    If we’re going to ignore the stuff that only happens because of narrative constraints (like the evil they do because the story requires them to be villains) it’s probably worth adding to this equation that Superman can be killed by a “sliver of [green] rock”. Generally, he only survives because the story requires him to survive.

    In realistic terms, Superman (ultranaive, ultrapowerful, ultraconfident, and easy to kill with the right tools) is much easier to stop than Luthor.

  • Daniel Björkman

    Yes, that’s one point that gets missed a lot when discussing Superman. He’s not actually unbeatable except in the same way Batman is unbeatable. Sure, ordinary weapons don’t hurt him, but the DC universe is filled to the brim with alien technology and mystical spells and cosmical weirdness that’s perfectly capable of laying Supes down for the count. In our world he’d be unstoppable, but in his own world, there’s plenty of things to balance him out.

  • Daniel Björkman

    While there is something in what you say, I have read Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, and I thought that while it very successfully showed where Luthor is coming from, it didn’t really change who he was. In fact, the view of Luthor I expressed above comes in large part from LL:MoS.

    Here is the point Luthor is trying to prove in that story: Superman is completely good. You, random human being, are not completely good. Therefore, Superman is enforcing a moral standard that is not yours, and therefore he is a tyrant who needs to be overthrown.

    Which makes perfect sense if you want to believe that you are exactly as you ought to be, warts and all – that being in tune with your inner nature, for better and worse, is more important than being good. If you believe that we should aspire to get rid of the bad in us, on the other hand, Luthor’s love of his own vices becomes obscene.

  • WingedBeast

    The current NSA scandal keeps on reminding me of a short bit of a scene from The West Wing. One of the main characters was having a conversation with some Russians who were negotiating some laws. They were talking about how much power to give the President.

    Russian guy made a point about how the current President is an honorable man.

    American guy responds that you don’t make the laws just for the current President, but for the next one that might not be so honorable.

    That was my point with regards to the warrentless wiretapping of the last administration and is my point about all this now. Sure, let’s assume that the NSA is completely ethical and above board in how it responds to all its information and access.

    What do we know about the world fifty years from now? How about twenty five? How about five?

    Things are going to change. The potential for this kind of access to be used to find networks of terrorists is also the potential for this kind of access to be used to find networks of activists interested in an agenda that runs counter to person X in the NSA or with authority over same.

    Much like with the sociological theory, there seems to be a political magic line theory that says that, because something is illegal or not being done now it won’t be done.

    This may seem like slippery slope territory, but it is exactly what the founding fathers had in mind with the Bill of Rights. These are things that the government will not do, even though these handicap law enforcement even in the cases of persons trying to overthrow or destroy the nation, because to do otherwise would be denying people their civil liberties.

    It wasn’t just to increaset he difficulty level and see if we could sitll win with a handicap. It was because without that handicap, we’ve already lost.

  • stardreamer42

    That was exactly the argument a lot of people made during the Bush II era — often phrased (to his supporters) as, “Do you REALLY want to see that kind of power in the hands of a Democratic President?” And it bounced, because those people had honestly convinced themselves that they would never be out of power again.

    The current foofaraw is largely the chickens coming home to roost, and while I’m not any happier about it than they are, I do find it hard to muster much in the way of sympathy for outraged right-wingers. They could have stopped this, and chose not to do so.

  • fraser

    Unfortunately many of them also subscribe to the conviction that it’s totally different if a Democrat has these powers (and now I see some Democrats arguing the obverse, that as long as it’s a Good President like Obama we’re safe). Just as it would be totally different if the filthy evil Islamofascists imposed Sharia from if they imposed Christian Bible-Based Law.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    This is why I want to try to get people to stop looking at it in terms of good and evil. It doesn’t matter how good someone with this power is. What matters is how *human* someone like this is. The government consists mostly of basically good, basically competent people trying to do the best they can. And just like everyone else, they make mistakes all the time.

    This is why we cannot trust anyone to have this much power. Not because they’re evil, but because they’re not completely perfect. Anyone should be able to see that point no matter what their politics are.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    I remember the scene in ‘Dirty Harry’ where the hero describes with great satisfaction killing a man who was in the very act of raping a victim. I was only a child but still knew that the odds of ever coming across such obvious proof of evil guilt were virtually nil.

    I suppose it could be basically harmless to fantisize of a world where good people and evil people are strictly easily and obviously distinguished from each other. But if you refuse to accept this as the fantasy it is, if you insist that the worlds ills can only be explained by other people’s cowardly failure to adequately punish the evildoers, this conceit causes far more harm in the world as any mustache-twirling evil for its own sake.

    What are you going to do when a person similar to yourself commits some foul deed? Someone with a similar culture, lifestyle and/or belief system to yourself? Blame the media? Indulgent modern morals? Rince and repeat as neccessary? No one questions the general principle of needing a government to protect us from malevolent intentions. It’s why people accept the authority of government of any form or philosophy over themselves. But the authorities can never possibly be less human than the sketchy neighbor down the block or the black sheep in our own family. There is no such thing as living or being in such a way as to be obviously law-abiding and righteous and nothing about my or yourself to give such an impression.

  • Eric the Red

    Seven years ago, “the Bush administration did this.”

    Five years ago, “the Bush administration did that.”

    Today it’s “the NSA, IRS and DOJ scandals.”
    You’re completely incapable of seeing Obama as anything but a good guy, aren’t you?

  • Lori

    This is indeed a red letter day. Eric the Red posted something that has some truth to it and is not blatantly offensive. It’s a case of being somewhat right for the wrong reasons, but there’s some fairness to the point.

  • Ben English

    I think liberals are generally cutting Obama some relative slack because the nonstop barrage of obstructionist bull shit and non-scandals they’ve been throwing at Obama since day one. Like, really, the NSA surveilance program, the IRS targeting scandal? They’re small potatoes when you consider that Obama is a Kenyan Muslim Atheist Communist who may or may not be the Antichrist, threw Israel under the bus, apologized for America’s very existence, and let a terrorist attack kill three Americans and pretend a video made them do it as a safeguard to his election changes (which were obtained by voter fraud and Black Panther Intimidation.)

  • LoneWolf343

    I would cut him that slack, but he did sign the renewel, and has defended this current program, so he’s an accomplice at this point.

  • Ben English

    Not arguing that point. It’s just the rage of the Right Wing is kind of hilarious to me because of how much worse they’ve claimed Obama is in the past. It’s certainly worthy of criticizing him over, but the relentless obsession Fox News (as just one example) has with it is so clearly politically motivated I just have to point and laugh at them.

  • Lori

    Fox still cares far more about the fake scandals they’ve been working to gin up than they do about the real scandal. I assume that’s because they’re basically in favor of limitless spying. I also assume they know they don’t have a leg to stand on complaining about it anyway and attempting to do so would just invite folks to take another look at how our current security state got rolling. W’s approval ratings are in the black for the first time in years (because people are stupid & forgetful). It’s not in the best interests of GOP hacks to remind everyone why decent people all used to hate him & still should.

  • Ben English

    I’ve heard plenty of blasting the NSA ‘scandal’ over on Fox. (I put it in quotes because it isn’t a secret illegal action hidden from Congress and the courts. It’s dangerous policy, but not a scandal.) But yeah, they really want the Benghazi attack to be a scandal of some sort. I guess they want to thwart his election chances in 2016.

    Wait…

    And, really, I never hated Bush and think the idea that we ‘should’ hate people is ridiculous. He was president, he had some really bad policies. Now he’s a painter living in Texas. It’s no surprise that people remember him more fondly now than they did when he was in office. There’s few Presidents that’s not true of.

    The hatred of Bush we heard when he was President is one of the things that pushed me away from paying attention to the legitimate criticisms of his policies and decisions. And the frothing hatred the right has shown Obama is, conversely one of the reasons I’ve shifted to the left over the past four years. (I actually voted for McCain in 2008.)

    There’s too much anger and hatred in politics as it is.

  • Lori

    All presidents do things they shouldn’t/with which I do not agree, but that doesn’t mean they’re all the same. W was, without doubt, one of the worst presidents this country has ever had. Among other things, he, his administration and people put in place by them and answering to them turned us into a full-on torture nation. If I’m going to hate anyone I think that’s a good reason. I know that not everyone agrees, but I’m not philosophically opposed to hating people as long as it’s for things they’ve done and not who they are.

    I understand the tendency to side with people who are being widely and vigorously criticized, but sometimes they deserve it and the standard for support has to be whether they’re deserving of support.

  • Ben English

    Support is the operative word there for me. Nobody is supporting W. because he’s not running for office or making public policy anymore. Nearly every president is remembered more fondly than they deserve, but I personally don’t see what hate accomplishes.

  • Lori

    No one is supporting W, but they are supporting his policies and what he stood for.

    People are supporting Obama. To the extent that they’re doing so purely because people are attacking him I think that’s wrong.

    As for what hate accomplishes, to each their own.

  • Consumer Unit 5012

    but I personally don’t see what hate accomplishes.

    Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

  • http://lliira.dreamwidth.org/ Lliira

    There’s not enough anger in politics as it is.

    Look, when there are people who are trying to make it so I cannot survive because I had the bad luck to be disabled; trying to take away my control of my own reproductive capabilities because I am a woman; and a black teenager was recently shot in the state I live because he was black. Oh, and right-wingers are happy to see the world burn, because doing otherwise would acknowledge global climate change as a fact, and that would make disgustingly rich people just a tad less disgustingly rich. Those things, and way more, I am fucking angry about. If someone isn’t angry about them, I question not only their heart, but their judgment.

    You wanna tune that out? Whatever, that’s your right. It’s my right to think it’s incredibly shallow to ignore an argument for human rights or the environment because it’s not “nice” enough for you. But here’s the deal: you want to ignore me, do me a favor and actually ignore me. Don’t bring the bloody tone argument into it. Don’t lecture me about how I shouldn’t be angry. Don’t weasel around whining about why can’t we all get along.

  • Ben English

    I’m not making a tone argument. Indignation at injustice is something we need more of. But it needs to be directed in a way that makes positive change, and it can’t be tainted with hatred. Look at your average Tea Partier: they’re a bunch of disaffected working class people who have been screwed the fuck over by the GOP. But between the propaganda machine of the right wing and the racism buttons pressed by having a black president (and by said propaganda machine with its conspiracy theories). The disaffection of the white working class could have been a powerful force for change. Hate turned it into a corrupting influence that gave the right the house back.

    And that sort of toxic hatred is spewed every day into my house when my family wathces Fox News and my brother tells me about Alex Jones’ latest revelation, and I’m goddamn sick of it.

    So yeah. We need indignation, absolutely. That wasn’t what I was talking about.I just don’t see what hating the former president accomplishes, and at this point my stomach is turned by the suggestion I should hate people. I’m sorry that I came across as lecturing you.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    YMMV, but for me hate is useful to remind me, “Never put up with that kind of bullshit again”.

  • http://jesustheram.blogspot.com/ Mr. Heartland

    Fair enough, a Democratic president has indeed betrayed not just liberal but basic American ideals. It happens. We liberals are at least theoretically supposed to be less inclined to cults of leadership and ‘Fatherhood’ and so be better able to handle such disappointments without denial. Take the Social Security; leave the internment camps.

    But anyway I hope you don’t expect Fred myself or anyone here to meet your standards of avoiding hypocrisy in order to legitimize being liberal. I’m not going to buy a notebook to keep track of complaints I make about Republican presidents so that I can dutifully and fairly make the same attacks on Democratic ones who do something similar. Life is just too damned short for that. Sorry.

  • aunursa

    your standards of avoiding hypocrisy in order to legitimize being liberal

    Nitpicky clarification: I believe double-standard is the relevant sin.

    Hypocrisy is advocating rules or a standard of conduct for others that the person does not himself follow.

    Double-standard is applying rules or a standard of conduct for one group that the person does not apply to another (more favored) group.

  • Carstonio

    The Bush Administration openly advocated the abuse of power, not just to aggrandize the US versus other nations but also to further enrich the very wealthy. The Patriot Act was just more of the same in that context. Similar to how Nixon’s abuses of power were of little surprise, since he had been an unabashed demagogue for decades.

    With Obama it’s more disappointment than outrage, because he has pushed against power inequalities in the realms of worker protection, health care and rights for women and sexual minorities. Despite his drone warfare, overall he has avoided the swinging-dick approach to foreign policy that characterized both Bush and Reagan. Preventing majorities from abusing minorities and preventing government from abusing the privacy of individuals involve the same principle, or at least they should.

    Bush didn’t know any better. Obama did.

  • SisterCoyote

    Bush didn’t know any better. Obama did.

    That makes it worse, not better, IMHO.

  • Ben English

    I think it’s more likely that having the weight of national security on your shoulders makes it easier to rationalize the use of extreme measures whether you’re a Republican or Democrat.

  • Carstonio

    True. I was explaining the different reactions to the two. If a famous athlete was found to be spying on neighbors, fans might react one way if it was Ken Griffey and another if it was LeBron James – there would probably be more cognitive dissonance with the former.

  • Michael Pullmann

    “With Obama it’s more disappointment than outrage”
    Oh, I’m quite capable of both.

  • arcseconds

    Not completely incapable, no.

    Obama is constantly being criticised for lots of things here, drone strikes being a prime example.

    The point of who gets attributed blame is a good one, though.

  • Barry_D

    Eric, you’re not replying to any actual comments in this thread, but rather to voices in your head. Get help.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Unless you are a health care professional who has personally examined Eric, kindly do not attempt to diagnose Eric.

  • Mark Z.

    Especially because “egregious asshole” is not a medical diagnosis.

  • David S.

    I was actually watching Criminal Minds recently, and thinking about this. They actually told someone “Just give us your IP address; we don’t need the actual computer” (to see what their son was up to before he killed himself.) Heck, even if Penelope Garcia is a good guy, is there no disturbance over the fact that all this data is open to hackers?

  • GDwarf

    “Just give us your IP address; we don’t need the actual computer”

    Technology fail! That might’ve been true a decade ago, and might be true a decade from now, but right now an IP address is woefully insufficient to identify the vast majority of computers in the world, due to NAT and other such technologies that let multiple computers use the same IP and the fact that we’re officially out of IP addresses.

  • David S.

    I was as worried about the fact that most Windows computers don’t have any open ports that could be hacked. Oh, I guess they said that the system had no OS because it had been wiped so it took a little longer. The NAT was far from the top of my concern as technology fail.

  • emjb

    Really, almost all..maybe all..cop shows are pernicious like this. If the cops are the protagonists, then the audience is seduced to their POV. We know all about their anguish and nobility and so don’t mind when they occasionally plant evidence or get a warrant through dubious means. CSI and all the “Magic Pixie Dream Forensic Scientist” shows are so over the top about not only the evilness of the criminals but also the technological abilities of a crime lab that they blew right past the parody marker long ago. In this case, the NSA might be able to get this data, but not by going clickety-click and frowning at the screen, and they wouldn’t be doing it for any piddly little crime squad, more than likely.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Yeah, at least on Supernatural we know that when the heroes do stuff like that, it’s only some of their many illegal activities.

  • Touchdown Al

    One of the reasons I really like Southland. They’re pretty explicit that cops are not always the good guys, even when they try to be.

  • Lori

    That may explain why it’s been canceled. Again.

  • Touchdown Al

    Really? Man. I hadn’t heard that. I’m really bummed now, especially with the way last season ended.

  • Lori
  • DannyBoyJr

    I stopped watching Criminal Minds last season because of this. I’ve always been wary of the show’s portrayal of a weird techno wizard, which I find stereotypical and offensive. But my consciousness was raised last year concerning the true meaning of the 4th amendment and I suddenly started getting uneasy watching CM. Every episode Penelope nonchalantly mines disparate data, without oversight or warrant. It made me sick.

    And it’s not just CM. I’ve seen episodes of CSI, Castle, and other police procedurals where the LEO fakes probable cause to get into a house without a warrant. Even though I enjoy the genre, I am starting to wean off police procedurals and watch something else, like Game of Thrones.

    The TV production companies are complicit to the government overreach since they subconsciously plant in the viewers’ mind that infringing the 4th is no big deal and the government has our best interests in mind. Hogwash!

  • Carstonio

    I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan for decades, and from my reading Doyle mostly rejected this Manichean nonsense. For every Moriarty or Milverton, there were a dozen miscreants whose motives were simple greed or jealousy or revenge. A few times Holmes would let a lawbreaker go free when he felt that turning the person over to the law would compound the injustice.

  • Jen K

    Sherlock had a line in an episode of Elementary that a particular robbery was very well done, and that he’d let them go if they hadn’t murdered someone while doing it.

  • Carstonio

    Haven’t seen Elementary or the Robert Downey movies, but I liked both seasons of Sherlock.

  • arcseconds

    I’ve seen the first season of Sherlock and the first Robery Downey movie, and I’ve the same thing to say about both.

    Great portrayals of Holmes and Watson from the actors and the writers.

    Weak plotting and scripts otherwise, which veer too far towards sensationalism.

    (The Downey film in particular draws too heavily from James Bond and Dan Brown)

  • Carstonio

    I like Sherlock and I feel the plotting was better in the second season. I haven’t tried watching Elementary, partly because 45 minutes seems too short for this type of story, and partly because I’m less willing to trust US writers and producers with a British icon. From what I’ve read about the Downey movies, these make Holmes more of an action hero.

    I should also give a plug for Granada’s series starring Jeremy Brett. These set such a high standard for according-to-Doyle that I don’t expect any new adaptations of the stories for at least a couple of generations.

  • arcseconds

    Well, he is portrayed as an action hero in the sense that the film has a great deal of the action-film nature.

    But how the character is portrayed beyond what one might mention in a plot synopsis, in terms of how he dresses and behaves, and the nuances of Downey’s performance, is very much that of a Romantic artist.

    And this is a perfectly defensible interpretation of the figure that appears in the books: his late-night violin playing, his messiness, his moodiness, the odd hours he keeps, his drug habit, and in general his eccentricities and non-conformist nature, and especially the way he talks about his ‘art’ all speak to this interpretation. It’s not at all hard to draw this figure out of the books, and it’s quite a different figure from the more cerebral, clean-cut Holmes of Brett, and even more classically, Rathbone.

    The man-of-action is also well attested to in the canon: as you know he’s described as being an expert pugilist, single-stick and ‘baritsu’ practicitioner, and well as being a pretty good shot with a pistol. It seems to me that this is an aspect of Holmes that could be explored more in adaptations, and I was actually glad to see it done in Ritchie’s movie. He is shown participating in a bare-knuckled match in some seedy dive. Holmes is definitely described as doing this sort of thing (possibly in his younger days) by Doyle, so again this is basically canonical, and again, quite different to how he is normally portrayed (even by Doyle, for the most part).

    (Ritchie, the director, is a brit, by the way, if that helps at all. It didn’t prevent the film from suffering from a bad case of hollywood blockbusteritis)

    It’s also clear from the books he’s well acquianted with the seedier side of life, although normally it’s portrayed as being in the service of a case. Violent passtimes and slumming are of course also part of the Romantic hero thing (think Byron).

    So I think all of this works very well.

    I also rather like the portrayal of Holmes in Sherlock as a ‘high-functioning sociopath’, which can also be drawn from the books. Moffat dresses like a bit of an ‘anorak’, in keeping with that interpretation, while Downey is more of a dandy, in keeping with his.

    The fact that Holmes is capable of supporting such differing interpretations is one of the things I like about the character, and the fact we’re seeing these differing interpretations now is a good thing.

    Ritchie’s movie has obvious flaws, but it has some really good stuff in it, too. What’s especially irksome is that it wouldn’t have been difficult to fix them: the overall plot, while not really what Doyle would have come up with, is not a bad idea at all, it just needed to drop the James Bond death trap, and the Dan Brown/symbolic serial killer stuff.

    Oh, and do something better with Irene Alder. A fantastic character from the books, turning her into a cat-burglar for hire was a travesty.

  • arcseconds

    OK somehow got confused between Moffat and Cumberbatch there.

  • arcseconds

    I find Jeremy Brett to fairly often show a degree of affectation and over-dramatic delivery that irks me somewhat. Sometimes it manifests itself as a kind of hyperactive staccato delivery punctuated by weird pauses.

    This kind of verbal eccentricity we might expect from a ‘maths nerd’ type, maybe, and perhaps that’s a valid way of interpreting Holmes too, but it’s not my favourite, I must confess.

    You can see it on display to some extent here:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdH_6qJu-FU

    at around the four minute mark. It’s not the worst example, but I’m not spending all night looking for the most annoying Brett clips.

    Matt Frewer, of course, turns this sort of thing up to 11:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAZ3g5skShI

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Man, young Matt Frewer there really looks the part. Possibly better than anyone has in decades. I never noticed that before. He’s like a Paget illustration made flesh.

    But his performance adds exactly nothing to the sum total of the cinematic experience of sherlock holmes portrayed

  • arcseconds

    should probably note that for the most part I like Brett’s performance. I just don’t see it as being the be-all and end-all.

    I wonder whether the affectation is a way of making his Holmes distinct from Rathbone’s? Rathbone’s Holmes seems like an obvious way to go, which is probably part of why he’s remembered as being the Sherlock Holmes (and of course he does it well).

  • arcseconds

    As far as the Sherlock plots go, in the first series the first episode was by far and away the best. For the most part I really liked it, but it was spoiled a tiny bit for me because I worked out who the perpetrator was a long time before Holmes himself did. That’s a bit of a blunder, as I shouldn’t be smarter than the World’s Greatest Detective. I worked it out based on something Holmes said, even, so it’s not as if I picked up something he didn’t: I just thought about it for five seconds, while i was distracted by watching the show.

    The second episode was somewhat mediocre (not bad, just mediocre). I can barely remember what happened in it, but I do remember the watch being set back 2 days, which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    The third episode was just silly. It’s as though the writers thought they had to top every detective story ever by having Holmes solve a superlative number of crimes in a single day, and many of them were really stretching credibility an awful lot. The last one was particularly unsatisfactory as (*Spoiler*) it entirely depended on knowledge he just happened to pick up earlier in the show.

  • David S.

    I’m not a huge fan of that, either; what made Holmes judge and jury?

    In any case, it’s something you sometimes see in these type of shows, too. The cops will let the “good guy” criminals escape, or turn a blind eye to certain criminal acts done for the good. It’s not unproblematic in itself, especially as the cops have more of an obligation to uphold the law then Holmes does.

  • arcseconds

    On the other hand, who made the judges judges, and who wrote the laws?

    Victorian England wasn’t exactly a paragon of equal opportunity, you know, and hardly free of social biases. Only 60% of men had the right to vote from 1884 (of course it was the richest 60%).

    It’s worth thinking about how just any current system is, too.

    I would have a great deal of difficulty turning over someone for stealing a bag of crisps in a three strikes and you’re out jurisdiction. No-one should get a life sentence for petty theft.

  • alix

    I guess it works because Holmes is just a private citizen who solved a crime on his own. As he would say, he isn’t actually retained by the police to remedy their deficiencies, so him playing ‘judge and jury’ is not the same level of problematic as a law enforcement official stepping beyond their role to do that.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    SPOILERS

    In “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange”, Holmes discovers that the murderer not only acted in self-defense, but was also rescuing a woman from her abusive husband. Because of this, he refuses to turn the killer in.

    Due to the fact that the murder victim was an aristocrat and his killer wasn’t, and that spousal abuse wasn’t considered a serious crime, Holmes’ and Watson’s justice trumped that of the Victorian courts.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    ISTR Holmes took a pretty dim view of men who would manipulate or harm women. He holds little remorse for Dr. Roylott (The Speckled Band) or for Mr. Windibank (A Case of Identity), both of whom were implicated in crimes against their daughters, even if technically the crimes weren’t actionable.

  • arcseconds

    that story, if memory serves, also answers David’s question as to who made Holmes judge and jury.

    Holmes ‘convenes’ what might be described as a kangaroo court to (it turns out) acquit the sailor, appoints himself judge, and Watson as the jury ‘and no better man to represent one’, or words to that effect.

  • http://shiftercat.livejournal.com/ ShifterCat

    That’s the one. Which is one of the reasons I said “Holmes’ and Watson’s justice” above, rather than just “Holmes’ justice”. :)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Indeed. Also, I’ve read the books and Holmes, for his time, shows some remarkably nuanced views about the way men treat women, and he does not dispute the women who castigate the then-extant divorce laws in the UK.

  • arcseconds

    (1) Even if the person is utterly good and completely trustworthy, there’s no guarantee they’ll remain good.

    (2) Even if the person is completely morally incorruptible, if they have the power (or the blind eye) to do this, then other people will too. Their colleagues or successors. There’s no guarantee that they will be good people – repeat from (1).

    (3) Even if the institution is utterly good and completely trustworthy, with checks and balances to ensure no misuse, there’s no guarantee it will remain like this.

    (4) Even if the institution is completely incorruptible over time, if they can be granted the power (or the blind eye) to do this, then other institutions can be to.

    etc.

    (and I’m far, far less inclined to believe in the incorruptibility of institutions than of particular individuals. I could imagine being convinced of someone’s utter incorruptibility (although even then, there’s always the chance of brain trauma or something changing this). It would take a lot more to convince me that an institution was like this, particularly if there’s no scrutiny. )

  • David S.

    Honestly, I think the corruptibility of organizations is a lot more bounded then that of particular individuals. You’ll find cops in the pay of drug lords, but rarely entire police departments. Police departments will rarely, at least in modern days, be freely racist or anti-gay even if individual members are. Businesses may not be very nice at heart, since the pursuit of money is not a pretty goal, but they do balance pure profit and short and long-term reputation to a pretty grey effect most times. Most fast food places in the US wouldn’t get near Chick-Fil-A’s positions because they don’t want that trouble; only the individual at the top of Chick-Fil-A put them there.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Police departments will rarely, at least in modern days, be freely racist

    ahaha

    hahaha

    hahahahaaaaa

  • Lori

    You’ll find cops in the pay of drug lords, but rarely entire police
    departments. Police departments will rarely, at least in modern days, be
    freely racist or anti-gay even if individual members are.

    I think it is fairly rare for police departments to be engaged in wholesale corruption, but it happens. For example, the reputation of the New Orleans PD was sadly earned.

    As for open racism & homophobia, I take it that you haven’t been following the stories about the NYPD’s stop & frisk policy? Open, obvious racism as a matter of department policy.

  • http://anonsam.wordpress.com/ AnonymousSam

    For that matter, the NYPD seems to have a running tradition where once every decade, twenty or thirty cops get caught selling drugs or guns as part of a big smuggling ring.

  • Lori

    That is bad, but given that the NYPD has over 30k officers* I don’t think that’s really evidence of departmental corruption. No matter what safeguards you put in place there’s no reasonable way to prevent knowledgeable insiders from circumventing them periodically.

    *I sometimes forget how huge the NYPD is and that’s not just in absolute terms, it’s also in officers per capita. One of the reasons that the policing styles of the NYPD and LAPD are so different is that NYC has almost twice as many cops per capita as LA does.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

    Now that is just not true. The NYPD is very careful to pretend their stop & frisk policy isn’t obviously racist.

  • Lori

    The commissioner and other assorted mouthpieces are very careful to deny that it’s racist now that people are scrutinizing it, but that’s not quite the same thing.

  • Mark Z.

    You’re thinking of “corruption” in very limited terms. It’s rare for an entire police department to be in the pay of a drug lord. It’s extremely common for an entire police department to be funded by the drug trade, by a combination of asset seizures and federal drug enforcement grants. This doesn’t result in the police directly protecting drug dealers–the real damage is how it screws with their priorities. An exceptionally stark example here (warning: sexual assault).

    And this has been going on for a while. You have drug trafficking on Interstate 40. The drugs mostly flow east, the cash flows west. So the police patrol the westbound side of the road and leave the eastbound side alone. The drug task force that’s making these stops is, at this point, funded entirely by seizures of cash and cars. This got so sophisticated that the drug task force was negotiating with sheriffs for specific days and times on which they’d be allowed to make stops. The police as a system are largely cooperating with the drug trade as a system, without any collusion between individual cops and drug dealers.

    And they’ll protect their revenue stream, even if they don’t know that’s what they’re doing. Look at any of the states that have decriminalized marijuana, and you see that much of the opposition came from the police union. Because the police as a system know who pays the bills.

  • Carstonio

    Too bad Pauline Kael’s excellent review of Dirty Harry isn’t online, because it says everything that needs to be said about the crime genre.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    Been Googling all over, and all I can find are bits and pieces. I has a sad.

  • Carstonio

    It’s in her book Deeper Into Movies.

  • MaryKaye

    on As a scientist I need to be able to review papers and, especially, grants anonymously, because otherwise there may be retaliation (I wish that weren’t true, but it is).

    If I discover wrongdoing at my place of work or among my colleagues, I may need to complain anonymously in order to keep my job/promotion chances.

    If someone is stalking me I won’t want them to know where I am. (This came up in my workplace a few years back.)

    You don’t have to be in the wrong to need privacy. Sometimes you need privacy precisely because you are in the right. If the person who blew the whistle on my employer’s abuse of Medicaid funds had been detected before he had an iron-clad case, he’d have been fired and the evidence would have vanished, and justice would never have been done.

  • Hexep

    This is one regard in which I consider China to have an unambiguous leg up on the United States – we do not have exploitation police procedural shows. If police show up in popular media, they’re either earnest young beat cops (male or female) who never use violence and are usually romantic leads, or wise elderly men who solve crimes and disputes with the power of productive mediation. The only time I’ve ever seen a police officer on television hit somebody is to tackle them at the end of a long foot chase.

    One of my friends wanted me to check out the Shield. I watched the first episode and almost had to vomit; I find this whole cowboy cop thing to be disgusting.

    (We’re chock-a-block with exploitation war movies, but that’s a different kettle of fish.)

  • Ben English

    The Shield is an especially… intense example. You might try, say, Monk instead.

  • LoneWolf343

    Not to mention that in The Shield, the cops in question aren’t exactly supposed to be paragons of virtue.

  • arcseconds

    It does, however, sound like it’s still a fantasy, just a completely saccharine one.

    In a world where police actually do have to employ force, make difficult moral decisions, and aren’t actually complete angels (even if they’re not actually out-and-out corrupt, there’s still the temptation to do things that aren’t exactly right or just or even according to regulations due to team loyalty or career, or even just laziness), is it a good idea to portray them as always good and beyond reproach?

  • Hexep

    I wrote this awesome long thing but deleted it because it was totally incoherent. I’ll cut to the actual chase.

    Law and law enforcement in China are divided among two bodies, the Ministry of Public Security and the Ministry of Justice. (There is also the M. State Security, but we don’t discuss those folks if we want to keep our nails). The M.PS controls the ‘blue police,’ who are responsible for ordinary maintenance of law and order and are ordinary folks’ primary point of contact with the law. The M.J controls the PAP, the armed ‘green police’ that strike fear into the hearts of everyone. The M.J also controls the Procuratorate, which is the agency that runs the court systems. (Judges don’t decide if you’re guilty; procurators decide if you’re guilty. Judges decide what should be done with you.)

    The whole point of this, nowadays, is that they play good-cop-bad-cop. The blue police are the good cops, socially conscious, helpful, and gentle. They’re the ones that you’re supposed to trust, and people tell their kids, ‘if you’re lost, go find a police officer, they wear blue.’ They can do their jobs with a minimum of fuss and a minimum of tears because the ugly part of law enforcement is handled by a different agency with a different media presence. It works like this:

    http://dalje.com/slike/slike_3/r1/g2008/m07/y175709728517419.jpg

    Nice Blue Police who will keep you safe and will never, ever hurt you.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:People%27s_Armed_Police_squad_1.JPG

    Scary Green Police who do bad things to bad people.

  • arcseconds

    Thanks for this, it was very interesting.

    So am I to understand that all the cop shows are about blue police?

    Who goes after rapists and murderers?

  • Hexep

    My first answer was to reply with a breezy ‘pshhh, nobody,’ but that’s doing a disservice. Detective work belongs to the Procuratorate, which very rarely appears in media – to my mind, they don’t even wear uniforms. So that’s the M.J.

  • arcseconds

    It seems to me, given that Western cop shows tend to be all about tracking down rapists and murderers (some like The Bill and an australian show I saw snatches of a couple of times provide a bit more of a complete picture, but there’s still plenty of chasing down fairly major crime) Chinese cop shows must basically be a completely different genre. Soap opera, maybe.

    What are the blue police portrayed as doing in these shows?

  • Hexep

    That’s the big difference. There are very few ‘police procedurals’ in the western sense, and the few that there are tend to shy away from showing any real human depravity.

    At this point, we’re shying away from my expertise, because as much as I like to study the idea of Chinese television, I spend as little time as possible watching it – and when I do get around to watching it, I usually watch the costume stories because I’m getting a foot massage and that’s what the massueses like.

    But the last time I caught a cop show on TV, the villain was a kidnapper who was very explicit about the fact that he was only in it for money. He kidnapped women and played cards with them until their husbands or fathers paid for their return. When overt evil appears on TV in China, it’s the demense of WW2-era historical dramas with Japanese villains, who are allowed to be cartoonishly, laughably evil.

    Blue Police appear more often in domestic comedies or slice-of-life soap opera dramas, where they are forthright, honest, and helpful people – like Leifeng.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I think this is why I liked Breakout Kings. It portrayed three criminals (plus a US marshal who was on srs probation) sympathetically and, I thought, three-dimensionally. :)

  • arcseconds

    Fred’s remarks (and many of the comments, including my own) notwithstanding, it’s worth pointing out that there is also the opposite trope in movies (presumably in TV shows too, but I can’t actually think of any offhand) – that the government/secret agency/evil corporation actually can’t be trusted with information and power, and the action is all about the protagonists trying to get away from them.

    The Bourne series of movies is a reasonable example.

  • Carstonio

    That’s not as dissimilar to the crime genre as one might think. Dirty Harry pioneered the trope of cops being emasculated by the bureaucracy, meaning their superiors, the judges, politicians and defense attorneys. Fred already mentioned due process being an inconvenience at best for the TV cops.

    The Old West genre arose when the frontier disappeared for good, romanticizing an era that was ending, and it was in many ways an update of Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. (Colman McCarthy once said that both men were thugs.) The modern police procedural perpetuates that frontier ideology and seems even more out of place.

  • P J Evans

    Fortunately, not all police procedurals are like that. Try some of the British ones. (I liked Dorothy Simpson’s police officers.)

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    There’s also Enemy of the State.

  • Daniel

    I generally agree on that point, but those films tend to have a “one bad apple” attitude- someone else (other than the hero) in the shadowy agency will have a redemptive epiphany where they explain “this isn’t what I signed up for” and the power corrupted head will defend his or her shameless disregard of civil liberties. It’s always one bad person who leads others astray, or one sub-division of a governmental body that’s scary and omnipresent. The message is normally that the institution as a whole is good, and because of the freedoms that institution defends there will inevitably be someone who goes too far. But they can be fixed- usually by killing them. So the message is both “be grateful the freedoms you have allow you to confront this” and “because of the freedoms you have some sort of corruption is inevitable”. It’s quite an insidious way of reaffirming the status quo- be grateful you have a government that can both enable and destroy this sort of thing.

  • James Simmons

    I would add Castle to the list of shows that portray the police as having access to unlimited amounts of information and suggest that this is a good thing. If a business has a surveillance camera set up for their own use the police can get the tapes. Phone records, bank records, they can get all of that without a warrant. It seems like every five minutes Ryan or Esposito walks in with some piece of evidence that no police department should be able to get so easily. It’s like that is their function on the show.

    And don’t get me started on Walker, Texas Ranger.

  • David S.

    Can’t the police get surveillance camera footage pretty easy? I can’t see why a business would have a reason to fight them about it–it doesn’t hurt them–and most business would want to keep on their good side.

  • JohnK

    Well, that is true. The tapes of a surveillance camera of a business belong to that business and they don’t need a seizure warrant unless the business refuses to give it to them (which rarely happens for obvious reasons). As far as phone records go, it depends on what you mean by that.

    The superficial level, which contains only the record of incoming and outgoing phone calls for a specific phone number, can be obtained with a subpoena (in less restrictive states) or a search warrant fairly easily; USAPATRIOT notwithstanding, the restrictions really clamp down (at least on the local/state level) when you go beyond that and start looking.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The Drug Warriors have allowed recording phone numbers from pay phones since at least the mid 1990s, incidentally.

    EDIT: Also, speaking of surveillance, one thing I’ve noticed even back in ’96, ’97 is the sheer pervasiveness of *private* surveillance on Americans. I remember going into a 7-11 because I needed to call a buddy of mine and I didn’t want to keep wasting quarters on a pay phone trying to get his pager.

    Well, I was a little zinged to find out the guy at the counter couldn’t let me use the phone because all calls were recorded, and he could lose his job if he let me use that phone.


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