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
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)
11:45 / Taking a Google Image break to laugh at Seagal’s recent photos
13:00 / Seagal’s ridiculous Southern ‘accent’ and colloquialisms
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)
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
55:21 / Announcing our next episode (You can bone up on our Highway Thru Hell episode here)