Probably out of morbid curiosity, I watched an episode of CSI: Miami last night and was struck by how far gone from reality TV is. In this episode of the popular series, a conman hatches a ludicrous scheme. First he murders a rich guy by rigging his Jaguar’s brake mechanism, sending him crashing into the wall near his office. Then he poses as a widower and befriends the rich man’s widow at grief counseling. He hires two younger con artists to pose as his kids and they become a new family. But the whole point (which we find out in reverse) was to get a connection to another rich person in the nearby yacht club who happens to keep $50M in gold bars in his bedroom. And this is where it gets really imaginative.
See, eventually the kids grab the gold, shoot the Dutch foreign exchange student housesitter there (the ex-boyfriend of the con girl), drag the gold and the dead body out to their yacht, and go on a pleasant family trip into the bay by the barges. But unbeknownst to them, the gold guy’s daughter (ex-girlfriend of the con boy) had walked in on the two siblings (not actually related) having sex (of course we get to see it, too). Then in a fury, she enacts her own elaborate revenge by emptying the water from con boy’s bong and filling it with lighter fluid. So when he goes to light up on the boat (with the gold) it blows up and the boat catches fire.
Meanwhile in another elaborate scheme, a local salvaging boat has pulled a sand bar buoy out of the way, causing the flaming con boat to get stuck in the mud. Wouldn’t you know it, but sharks are swarming (this is the opening scene) and the con girl freaks out about the fire, sees the sharks, jumps into the water with the sharks, and promptly gets eaten by sharks. The con boy jumps in after her but does not get eaten. Instead, he swims over to the salvage barge and works out a deal to split the take on the gold, since anything salvaged is legally owned by the salvager.
This doesn’t even touch the impossible guesswork made by the investigators, nor does it match the nonsensical interrogation scenes where the cops tell the crooks everything they know, the crooks act smug, and nothing is accomplished except for a dramatic showdown and funny faces. There are fancy computers and multi-million dollar crimelabs and the whole thing gives the unfortunate impression that the police are anything other than a bunch of inept traffic ticket writers. But what really strikes me about this thing is how distant from the reality of criminal violence the show is. In the real world, there are far fewer madcap plots than there are random acts prompted by morbid curiosity.
Take the case of Nicholas Minucci. The 20-year-old was sentenced to 15 years yesterday for beating a black man unconscious with a baseball bat in the predominantly white neighborhood of Howard Beach in Queens, New York. The attack, which resulted in a fractured skull and an existential revelation (“Although I was at first extremely bitter, I now have a different state of mind,” the victim said. “This situation has helped me to look at my life and appreciate it more. I could have easily not been here because of your stupidness”) was prosecuted as a hate crime because of a racial slur used during the attack (the defense argued that Minucci was simply speaking the way thousands of other young men do). Granted, the victim was heading into the neighborhood with intent to steal a car, but he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet.
On the flip side of the racial coin, I like the story of Kenny Alexis, a 20-year-old Haitian man in America on a student visa accused of stabbing two Canadian tourists walking in Manhattan's theater district. He was angry because they snubbed him when he tried to talk to them. “Yeah, those white girls ... They don't want to talk to anybody, so I went after them,” he told investigators. It all began one ill-omened day this past June when he noticed a man looking at him funny and sensed the man was “out to get him.” Alexis stabbed the man and hopped on a subway car. He stabbed another guy on a subway station platform hours later because he “felt threatened.” He then went to approach the aforementioned white women, who were walking away from him rather fast. Alexis “was upset that they wouldn't talk to him so he quickly followed behind them” and stabbed each in the back, reports indicate.
But closer to home is Matthew McCombs, the 18-year-old charged with killing 16-year-old high school student and FFA (Future Farmers of America) member Ashton Glover. He was captured in Michigan with his cohort Sean Brown trying to cross the US-Canada border into Ontario just minutes after his information was posted to the national criminal directory. The Sugar Land, Texas resident had stolen the murder weapon, “an old model replica, a frontier model … out of production for some time,” from a friend's grandmother's house in nearby Kerrville, Texas. When asked why he shot his friend in the head on July 7 in the muddy field that night, his response was “morbid curiosity.” The two boys came back to bury the body only after they went to IHOP for breakfast.