Monday, July 11, 2005

I hate CSI

In the 7th grade, all the students in my English class were required to give a speech on some topic that interested them. I was at the time terrified by the idea of public speaking, which isn’t that odd: hormone-crazed and greasy as a wheel of cheese in the sun, I would have been more at home in a windowless cell than in any type of public display (this is why I think all middle schools should just be transformed into concentration camps).

But at least I didn’t have to wonder about the topic: I was going to speak about forensic science. This would have been around 1989, before DNA testing and advanced computers gave forensics the sheen they have now. I was into forensics when forensics wasn’t cool. This was between my Bigfoot & spies crazes of elementary school and my serial killers and Hunter S. Thompson phases, I guess.

I used as a primary source the one book that John J. Pershing Junior High’s library had on forensics. I couldn’t tell you the name today, but during my two years at Pershing I must have read the book ten times (then, as today, I was a inveterate re-reader). So I put together a few note cards on doctors who had identified robbers from bitten-off fingertips and detectives who caught a killer conman by using the acid levels of blood to determine the difference between an accidental and forced drowning. Good stuff. So good, in fact, that after a few minutes in front of the class my hands stopped shaking and I stopped looking at the cards and just talked to the class. And they stopped whispering about how my hands were shaking and they actually listened.

Forensic science is fascinating. Which is why I feel so bad about dissing the glut of fictional science shows clogging up valuable crime-time on TV. But I must. So, here is a list of reasons why CSI (and all of its ilk) sucks.

#1. Science with computers is boring.

A man stares at a screen. He types. He stares at a screen some more. He stares and types. Types and stares. Checks his email on the sly. More typing.

Yowie! Watch the ratings shoot up! But, no. The actual life of a forensic scientist would make for shitty, shitty TV. Not to mention the enormous backlog most crime labs have: a recent book on the LAPD estimates a six-month wait on lab results for murder cases.

I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with sexing up something for dramatic purposes. Don’t cast real scientists in these roles. But the lengths that these shows go to in order to add spice make them simply stupid. On one of the few episodes of CSI that I actually did watch involved two men drag racing in the desert, one of them ending up shot dead at the end of the race. Could the other racer have done the shooting?

Well, these can-do scientists just got a couple of Vipers, took ‘em to the same spot in the desert, and strapped on some laser tag gear and got to racing.

Riiiiight. Why not just have little robots travel back in time to solve the crime.

#2. Real police work makes better drama

80% of solved felonies were put to rest through confessions. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more important to crime fighting than police talking to people. And, what do you know, that’s drama, too! Compare a vastly superior show like The Shield, or Law & Order. Talking, talking, talking (okay, and sometimes burning a guy’s face off on a stove). Maybe that isn’t as tin-foil flashy as dueling Vipers, but it sure is a hell of a lot more interesting.

And yes, I know the amount of gun battles in The Shield is also way out of whack with reality. My response: fuck off, gun battles are way cooler than sci-fi, and you know it.

#3. We don’t need anything that makes jurors stupider

Jurors are idiots. As Henry Garfield often quotes to me in these discussions, “Juries are made up of people too stupid to get out of jury duty.” It’s true. Look at the people who let off Michael Jackson because they didn’t like the kid’s murder, or read the post-trial comments of jurors in any popular trial (most famously the OJ case’s “DNA, Schme N. A. Stupid people do not understand the idea of reasonable doubt, confusing it with “no doubt,” and cannot understand circumstantial evidence. And now we have the CSI effect letting the jurors be even dumber than they were before. Thanks, TV!

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