Episode 22 – Behind Bars: America’s Toughest Jail

 

This episode: Behind Bars, Season 1, Eps. 1-8 (or just Ep 9 if you want to save time – and your sanity).  Watch it on Tubi TV.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

Next episode: Highway Through Hell, Season 1, Eps. 1-5, 10.  Watch it on Netflix.

[Many apologies for the unannounced delay, which was 1/4 having to record late because JS had a cold and 3/4 Mike having a severe case of “procrastinitis” when it came to the editing.  As a heads up, the release schedule going forward might be a bit more variable than the strict ‘first Sunday of the month’ schedule we’ve been on, but we are definitely not going anywhere and will be back each month for an episode.  Now on to the episode recap…]

This month we took a field trip to Joe Arpaio’s infamous ‘Tent City’ for a ‘unique experiment’ (not really) featuring 10 British ‘punks’ who get whipped into shape by Sheriff Joe’s lackeys for 10 days to put them on the ‘straight and narrow’ (again, not really).  JS found the experience to be bearable enough as entertainment, whereas Mike was left feeling as miserable as one of Sheriff Joe’s inmates.

Other than the usual recaps of structure, concept, and cast, we discuss the show’s worldview and the stagecraft of the ‘scared straight’ experience.  We also situate this show both within the larger ‘scared straight’ phenomenon and the overall relationship between the justice system and reality TV, go over the cultural differences in penal practice between the US and Europe, talk about the appeal of punishment versus rehabilitation in spite of its ineffectiveness in reducing crime, and explore the ‘gonzo rhetoric’ of both Joe Arpaio himself and this show.

Show Links and Notes

1:11 / Mike opens with an apology and a correction

1:55 / Introducing this month’s show; JS mentions another Behind Bars show, Mike mentions Spike TV

3:24 / Our initial thoughts on the show’s enjoyment factor (Our Keys to the VIP episode)

4:23 / Why Mike picked this show, he mentions COPS

4:52 / Our background with ‘scared straight’ shows; Mike mentions Scared Straight ’99 (he thought it was 96) and Beyond Scared Straight

7:15 / The concept and structure of the show

9:24 / JS runs down the recap episode; Mike mentions Kitchen Nightmares

10:37 / Our main takeaway from the show

11:26 / JS goes on a brief tangent about Star Trek: The Next Generation

12:30 / Discussing Sheriff Joe Arpaio and his (infamous) record; Mike mentions Al Capone getting busted for tax evasion

15:27 / Talking about Sheriff Joe’s lack of presence in the show

16:31 / JS breaks down the difference between jails and prisons

18:01 / Mike just has to talk about Sheriff Joe’s dumb parade and the yokels that show up at it

18:57 / Transitioning to Sgt. Irby – the institutional center of the show

20:12 / The show didn’t do a good job of giving us differentiation between the ‘inmates’

21:23 / There are also American inmates featured in short, snippet interviews

22:23 / This narrator failed the UK version of the SAT Analogy section, but gives you a good idea of the show’s worldview

23:35 / Delving into the cultural differences between the UK and US – idea of ‘Tent City’ as being related to ‘frontier, Wild West justice’

25:14 / Talking about the stagecraft involved in the ‘scared straight’ experience

28:44 / The show emphasizes the controlling, totalizing nature of the prison regime but paradoxically also expects us to accept these events as authentic and spontaneous

29:23 / Mike was struck by how much the show emphasized common stereotypes about prisoners and prison life, even down to the way it was shot

31:25 / The mission statement of the show – is it accurate? (A: No.)

31:51 / Mike talks about the link between harsh prisons and recividism (the papers Mike mentions are here, here, and here)

33:00 / Comparing US prison practices to Norway

34:10 / The history of ‘Scared Straight’ and how it doesn’t work

35:45 / Talking about cultural questions of punishment vs. rehabilitation

37:02 / The appeal of punishment in American culture – is support for harsh punishment linked to belief in the ‘American Dream’? (the papers Mike mentions are here and here)

38:58 / A final coda – the ‘Bloody Code’ in the UK failed at deterrence

39:32 / Talking about Joe’s record in detail (lots of lawsuits and scandals)

41:10 / Segueing into the article: Crime Control as Mediated Spectacle: The Institutionalization of Gonzo Rhetoric in Modern Media and Politics, R.J. Maratea and Brian A. Monahan, Symbolic Interaction, Vol. 36, Issue 3, 2013

42:27 / The five-part definition of ‘gonzo rhetoric’ in the article

44:36 / Joe Arpaio as a symptom of broader media and political practices

45:45 / ‘Gonzo rhetoric’ is effective because it is simple and swims with the broader cultural tide

47:40 / Our ‘bonus’ article: Punishing images: Jail Cam and the changing penal enterprise, Mona Lynch, Punishment & Society, 2004

48:16 / Returning to the heart of the appeal of harsh punitive practices: despite the lack of evidence, they are a simple solution to a complex problem

49:26 / The idea of ‘willful nostalgia’ in penal practice – comparing ‘Tent City’ to ‘Make America Great Again’

50:32 / A brief aside on Sheriff Joe’s botched ‘Jail Cam’

50:58 / Criminal justice reality TV as commodity/spectacle; JS compares this to other reality shows (COPS, Dog the Bounty Hunter, and court TV shows like Judge Faith and Divorce Court)

53:52 / Mike recaps the fleeting instances where this show stops being propaganda and actually gets real

55:01 / How this show fits into the larger ‘scared straight’ genre

55:40 / JS’s theory of the show’s specific appeal to the UK audience

56:05 / Returning to the topic of our enjoyment (or, in Mike’s case, lack thereof)

57:41 / Mike actually would have liked this more if it was shot like Toddlers & Tiaras

58:08 / This show would have been better if it was shorter, less repetitive

1:00:14 / Our official endorsement: Don’t vote Joe Arpaio to the Senate

1:00:24 / Introducing the show and article for next month’s episode

1:01:54 / Our usual announcements: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe

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2 thoughts on “Episode 22 – Behind Bars: America’s Toughest Jail

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