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. 1-6.  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


Episode 12 – Keys to the VIP


This week’s discussion: Keys to the VIP, Season 2, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

Next week’s discussion: Alaskan Bush People, Season 1.  Watch it on Hulu.

This week Mike and JS put on ten pounds of hair gel and don their fedoras and indoor-only sunglasses for some special VIP treatment, but Mike in particular is having regrets about what might have seemed like a good idea at the time (much like the women who gave these guys their numbers).

Nevertheless, there was much of interest to discuss.  We cover our usual topics: the show’s concept and our general impresssions, it’s authenticity (or lack thereof), and we revisit our beloved success/failure dichotomy to try and put our fingers on the show’s appeal.  However, we also discuss the show’s worldview about the relations between the sexes as well as its relation to the broader culture of pick-up artistry in general.  We particularly pay attention to some of the pick-up culture’s shaky intellectual arguments grounded in bogus notions of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ and faux evolutionary psychology.  (WARNING: Foucault and chimpanzee sex both get mentioned prominently.)

[Also, as a postscript, Mike apologizes for the quality of a few of the sound clips.  One of the many terrible things about this show (and one that did not become apparent until post-production) was how fucking shitty the sound mixing was.  It’s almost as if even the producers of this trainwreck didn’t even care about it.]

Show Notes and Links

1:40 / Introducing this week’s show

2:20 / The concept of the show

5:08 / JS observes how mundane the intros were

8:09 / Discussing the four hosts – ‘the four corners of the male psyche’ (LOL)

10:02 / Sheldon did not seem to have a defined persona (the article Mike mentions is here)

11:20 / Mike criticizes the show for not having enough differentiation between the hosts

12:50 / Comparing the relative badness of this show to Monica the Medium

13:46 / Returning to the topic of differentiation and the show’s relation to pick-up artist culture

15:30 / Talking about the interludes and how the hosts’ ‘differences’ faded away

16:37 / The contestants for the show are also very similar (and all have dumb nicknames)

18:03 / JS talks about the episode with Mike the Magician and Hot Body Jason – ‘brains’ vs. ‘brawn’

21:00 / Mike agrees that this episode was more interesting, but thinks it still fits into the overall worldview of the show

21:33 / Mike talks about an episode that left a sour taste – ‘nice guy’ vs. ‘asshole’

23:18 / Segueing into the worldview of the show (and pick-up artistry in general)

24:31 / Talking about the idea of ‘negging

25:30 / JS did like the challenges that put the guys in a bind

26:02 / The perennial question – How real is all this?

26:33 / Mike kept seeing unsourced allegations of fakery, but no smoking gun (Wikipedia, IMDB)

27:18 / How did they get the audio to pick up so clearly?

28:10 / Not very many blurred faces in this show

29:07 / JS noticed the guys seem to be aware of the ‘hidden’ cameras

29:38 / Lots of women show up more than once – what are the odds?

31:05 / Mike was unconvinced by the kissing

32:08 / Talking about the evidence for some level of ‘authenticity’ (AMA, interview with Alen)

32:58 / Women may not be out-and-out confederates, but if they know the show is going on beforehand, how authentic are the actual reactions?

33:42 / Talking about how the multiple takes give the producers an opportunity to basically tell whatever story they want

36:40 / Mike’s theory of the week: Keys to the VIP as a Foucauldian educational institution (To be more clear, Mike was referring to Discipline and Punish, but Foucault also studied other things)

39:25 / Talking about the dated nature of pick-up culture and how this show was very much of its time; Mike mentions The Game

41:13 / Segueing into a discussion of pick-up artist culture more broadly

41:45 / Mike was talking about something like this    (He also mentions the vintage hosting service Geocities)  (the dumb website is here)

42:14 / Talking about all the dumb terms and acronyms (yes, they are all real) from the different ‘schools’ of pick-up artistry, such as Speed Seduction and the Mystery Method (Mike mentions the Konami Code)

43:59 / Discussing the influence of ‘neuro-linguistic programming’ (aka ‘the Force’)

45:53 / The Adorno quote is from aphorism 70 of Minima Moralia

46:19 / Why can’t horny women ‘Jedi Mind Trick’ hot guys into sleeping with them? (Discussing the assumptions of pick-up artist ideology)

47:44 / Mike makes a brief comparison between pick-up artistry and female-oriented cottage dating advice

48:21 / Even if this stuff worked 10 years ago, don’t you think women would have caught on to the dumb hats and canned lines?

49:04 / JS makes a ‘Devil’s Advocate’ argument for the value of pick-up artistry

50:05 / Talking about the ‘numbers game’ aspect of pick-up artistry, with a brief aside into the emergence of dating apps like Tinder and how they’ve changed dating culture

51:56 / What Mike thinks is actually behind pick-up artist philosophy (power not pleasure)

53:18 / Mike debunks the pop evolutionary psychology arguments underlying the philosophy (aka humans and other primates are not the same)

54:38 / Chimps and bonobos have entirely different social structures, despite being more genetically similar than either one is to humans

55:07 / A digression into chimp mating and the relation of sex to status in chimp society (Mike refers to the book The Origins of AIDS)

56:27 / Talking about the evolution of pick-up artistry over the last decade to its nastier current-day incarnations like The Red Pill and Gamergate

57:42 / Segueing into the appeal of the show

58:03 / Mike reads a quote from Alen on the show’s creation and JS responds

59:08 / Mike mentions another podcast that reviewed this show, Flight School Podcast (The specific episode is here)

59:40 / The show is not really about teaching people ‘what women want’, but is about reaffirming traditionally masculine worldviews

1:00:50 / Is this show about success or failure?  (We both come to the conclusion that it is ultimately about the latter)

1:02:57 / We never rooted for the contestants

1:03:25 / The educational emphasis of the show centers the narrative around failure

1:03:52 / Mike talks about how this show could maybe have been better (it takes a lot)

1:04:55 / A novel concept – have actual women on a show about impressing women

1:05:24 / The women in the show are always ‘targets’ and stereotypes

1:06:30 / Our final thoughts – Mike recommends only watching the goofy intros, JS puts in a word for Mike the Magician

1:07:46 / Introducing the next show (It can only go up from here)

1:08:38 / The usual announcements – Like our Facebook page and visit the website (Good job – you are here!) – Also: contact us, rate/review, and subscribe!

Episode 11 – Monica the Medium


This week’s discussion: Monica the Medium, Season 1, Eps. 1-4.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next week’s discussion: Keys to the VIP, Season 2, Eps. 1-5.  Watch it on Tubi TV.

This week your intrepid hosts descend into the Ninth Circle of Reality TV Hell for Season One of the ‘millennial’ oriented ‘Freeform’ network’s ‘medium’ show (so many airquotes): Monica the Medium.  After venting their suffering via overwrought similes and mocking skits, Mike and JS discuss the show’s hybrid concept, production values, and cast of characters while asking themselves the question that is always foremost on their minds – Doesn’t anybody realize that there is a camera crew following these people all over the place?

They then discuss millennial stereotypes and the branding strategies of the network this show aired on as well as delving into the various techniques of so-called ‘psychics’ and ‘mediums.’  Finally, they finish on the appeal of medium shows and this particular show’s outlier emphasis on wholesome depictions and the promotion of a narrative of emotional uplift.

Show Notes and Links

1:05 / We commiserate about our love for this show (our TOWIE episode is here)

2:48 / Introducing the show

3:28 / Mike crafted an overwrought simile to describe the experience of watching this show (References here, here, and here)

4:16 / The concept of the show

6:10 / 42 Minutes of Reality Masterpiece Theater

10:32 / These ‘spontaneous’ readings happen everywhere

11:02 / Talking about the ‘eerie’ FX

12:00 / The cast of characters

12:50 / Monica’s best friend, Krista

14:23 / How authentic are these conflicts?

15:27 / Ann and the role of the ‘skeptic’

17:08 / Discussing the different roles of Monica’s parents

18:27 / Why doesn’t anyone seem to notice the cameras?

19:27 / A questionable blind date

20:44 / Some producer magic at the ‘necktie party’

21:38 / Does her mediumship really scare off the guys?

22:34 / Even Monica’s friends get in on the camera obliviousness

23:19 / Monica’s reading in the clothing store

24:14 / Did Monica actually need a job or was she doing this for the show?

25:06 / Two pillars of the show: readings and college life

26:05 / The readings are so repetitive and make the show a chore to watch

26:43 / Mike’s strategies for making it through

27:37 / The college life aspects were a little bit more bearable (and more ethical)

29:00 / The strongest segments of the show

30:21 / Discussing the network and its target demographic

30:52 / The Wikipedia page for the network where Mike got the quotes

32:45 / JS goes on a rant about inane marketing speak

33:45 / The ‘wholesome’ nature of the show’s depiction of college life

35:50 / Are millennial stereotypes gendered?  (The Emoji Movie, the AFLAC ad that Mike mentioned)

37:30 / The avocado toast reference is explained here

38:02 / Show plays on both the extraordinary and the familiar (It’s ‘relatable’)

40:42 / The unsung hero of this show

42:30 / Transitioning from college life to the medium aspect

43:33 / We thought readings were cold, but arranged in advance

46:15 / The two different types of readings

47:17 / The idea of ‘cold reading

48:55 / Pondering what it would really be like if this stuff was real (Where Mike stole his Jimmy Hoffa thing from)

50:10 / Motivated reasoning (Mike couldn’t find the dark room study he referenced, but here is a report of a similar study about fake séances and table levitation)

52:40 / ‘Shotgunning’ and other common cold reading techniques

55:05 / Discussing ‘hot reading’ (although we didn’t use the term) – JS mentions John Edward and televangelist Peter Popoff (aka the earpiece guy whose name we couldn’t remember)

56:43 / Talking about the role of TV editing and how it emphasizes the ‘hits’ of cold reading while culling out the ‘misses’

58:47 / The caveats of Monica’s medium mentor aka ‘You don’t want to be the next Sylvia Browne

59:53 / Transitioning to the appeal of this show and of mediums in general

1:01:24 / Mike discusses the tragic stories of many of the clients and his conflicted feelings

1:02:06 / The difficulties of processing sudden and/or premature death

1:03:08 / Comparing to religion – a desire for rationality and order (‘People aren’t suffering for no reason’)

1:04:32 / Mike talks about the role of emotion in belief (Mike mentions the ontological argument for God)

1:05:27 / The quote is here (second one down)

1:06:26 / The ethics of mediumship (or lack thereof)

1:09:10 / Discussing Monica’s motives and our take on her – delusional or duplicitous?

1:10:22 / Talking about the hybrid format of the show

1:11:30 / How much did the particularity of the college milieu contribute to the show’s success (and ultimate failure)?

1:13:00 / The show’s extreme emphasis on uplift was interesting and distinct for reality TV (although we didn’t like it)

1:14:50 / Is there a dichotomy in reality TV between uplift and humiliation?

1:15:36 / Introducing the next episode

1:17:12 / Last call for our Jersey Shore spin-off Facebook poll (Also, do us a solid and like the page so that Mike can feel better about himself)

1:18:17 / You can contact us, rate us, or subscribe