Episode 26 – Steven Seagal: Lawman

 

This episode: Steven Seagal: Lawman, Season 1, Eps. 1-8.  Watch it on Hulu.

Next episode: Foxy Ladies, Season 1.  Watch it on Amazon Prime Video.

This month your hosts go down to Jefferson Parish, Louisiana and watch as 80’s action ‘star’ Steven Seagal fearlessly stands around and watches Louisiana cops harass young black men hanging out around past their ‘curfew’ while he assists with his slo-mo ‘hyper-vision’ and monologues about the importance of ‘Zen’ and how criminals ‘prey upon the weak’ while his chauffeur…er, co-worker drives him around and (presumably) swallows his tongue.

After the usual breakdown of the show’s concept (which is strangely reminiscent of another, more popular television show), we discuss Seagal’s background and long history of criminal behavior (that he has gotten away with because he is rich and powerful, unlike the people he ‘busts’ on this show) and the irony thereof.   We also delve into the show’s ‘law-and-order’ worldview and its treatment of race, as well as comparing its appeal to other crime TV narratives that have become popular in the past 20-30 years and how the presence of the camera and the pressure of ratings affects the quality of police work portrayed on the screen in this show and others like it.  Finally, of course, there are the requisite potshots at Seagal’s bloated ego and his hypermasculine persona, as well as a brief treatment of how that egotism and hypermasculinity might nevertheless appeal to a certain demographic.

Show Notes and Links

1:23 / Our resolution for this podcasting episode to be more like our show’s “hero”

2:05 / JS’s longstanding fascination with Steven Seagal

2:38 / Introducing this month’s show

3:21 / Our varying levels of enjoyment for this show (and the varying number of episodes we watched)

4:18 / The concept and structure of the show

6:30 / JS loved the show’s ‘slo-mo’ rendition of Seagal’s ‘hyper-vision’

8:04 / Mike didn’t catch the more serious cases that JS saw in the later episodes, which coloured his view of the show

9:02 / Discussing Steven Seagal’s background as an Aikido martial artist and action movie star (we mention Under Siege and Above the Law)

10:14 / Steven Seagal’s long history of allegations regarding physical and sexual assault (a rundown of his antics, from the possibly questionably reliable Internet page Looper is here)

11:19 / Seagal’s Putin and Trump fanboy-ism

11:45 / Taking a Google Image break to laugh at Seagal’s recent photos

13:00 / Seagal’s ridiculous Southern ‘accent’ and colloquialisms

13:49 / A further clarification on Seagal’s ‘credentials’

14:35 / Segueing towards the derivative nature of this show and our prior experience with COPS (our first episode is here, the COPS theme song)

16:00 / Comparing this to other police-themed television shows (the aforementioned COPS and fictional shows like Law & Order)

17:22 / The curated nature of this style of show – JS was surprised to see some of the more severe crimes that were responded to in this show (Mike mentions the low clearance rates for murders)

19:15 / Moving into the show’s Hobbesian and authoritarian law-and-order worldview

20:42 / JS mentions some instances that go against the grain and show some ‘community policing

23:20 / Why Mike wasn’t buying the ‘softer’ human-interest segments

24:38 / Delving into how the Seagal-specific segments differentiate this from other police reality shows in its implied advocacy of ‘vigilante’ self-defense

26:35 / Talking about the elephant in the room – this show’s (and others like it) treatment of race

28:11 / The show’s contradictory views on carrying guns (often according to the race of the person carrying it)

29:01 / A lot of the crimes (particularly in the first half that Mike saw) really didn’t seem to matter all that much

30:30 / The demographics of the criminal suspects portrayed in the show

31:50 / Mike discusses the police response to the fight in the parking lot and how he thought it could have been handled better

33:17 / Discussing the choice between force and diplomacy in these shows

35:01 / Steven Seagal is not calling the shots on these police calls – in case it wasn’t clear

35:48 / The question of authenticity and how the presence of the camera affects the actions of the participants

36:49 / The propagandistic quality of these types of shows (Mike mentions the Charm City series done by the NYT’s Daily podcast)

38:25 / Segueing to the article we read for this month:  “Armed with the power of television: Reality crime programming and the reconstruction of law and order in the United States” from the book anthology “Entertaining Crime: Television Reality Programs” by Pamela Donovan.

39:07 / JS thought the article’s emphasis on the police’s ‘lack of control’ was interesting

40:09 / Mike thought this show stressed that aspect even more with the ‘vigilante’ self-defense message

40:52 / Talking about the article’s treatment of Foucault and spectacle in relation to these shows

42:16 / Article even (appropriately) mentions the 80’s action angle (Death Wish) and how popular fictional media also dovetails with the ‘law-and-order’ message

43:15 / Why does this narrative persist in its appeals even as violent crime levels have fallen over the past 20 years?  (Mike mentions Trump’s lies about crime levels, shows like Lockup, which used to run weekends on MSNBC)

45:12 / JS highlights the role of media narratives in stoking fears of crime

46:14 / The appeal of crime fiction narratives in modern Western culture – gives the world a sense of agency

47:35 / The ‘comfort’ of ‘law-and-order’ scapegoating – there is a readily identifiable source of disorder and an easy remedy (Our Monica the Medium episode is mentioned)

48:38 / This show also taps into the popularity of the ‘vigilante’ narrative in American society

49:55 / Is there a genuine appeal to Steven Seagal outside the unintentional comedy?

50:50 / Discussing Seagal’s persona and how it relates to a traditional idea of masculinity

52:47 / Our final thoughts and recommendations

53:19 / Announcing (officially this time) our listener’s choice poll (Mike mentions the various shows on the new – at least to him – TV app Nosey and our Blind Date episode)

55:02 / Don’t worry, Springer will happen eventually, but go vote on Maury or Geraldo

55:21 / Announcing our next episode (You can bone up on our Highway Thru Hell episode here)

57:04 / The usual stuff: contact us, rate/review us, and subscribe

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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