We live in a society that is infatuated with crime. We see it in the news, watch shows about it on television, and much of todays music is themed around crime of some sort. As a culture, we view crime in many different contexts. We laugh at shows like “Worlds Dumbest” on True TV that features criminals royally botching attempts at robbery and other potentially harmful, violent activities. We watch wildly successful shows like CSI and Law & Order that give us fictional accounts of crime, the justice system and forensic methodology. It is important to wade through the sludge that is the media glorification and sensationalization of crime. That being said, shows like the afore mentioned don’t exactly “do it” for me. Watching Law & Order makes me feel as if all criminals are villains with a witty script and Worlds Dumbest attempts to get laughs out of situations that in reality, depict desperate people making detrimental decisions, furthering their already bleak lives. It just doesn’t feel right. This brings me to my guiltiest of all guilty pleasures: The First 48.
I love reality and I’m not talking Flavor of Love or American Idol. I need things as cold, hard and undiluted as possible. This is why I can’t get enough of The First 48. If you’re one of those people who can’t make it through Adam Sandler’s “Click” without using a whole box of kleenex then you should probably skip this show.
If your a person who wants a realistic perspective regarding violence, crime, and our justice system, stay tuned. The show is based on the premise that a homicide becomes statistically, much harder to solve once 48 hours have passed. The camera crew silently follows detectives as they gain leads, arrest suspects and ultimately interrogate alleged murderers. The characters are not actors based on true stories, they are real people; the detectives, victims, suspects and their families. There are no slow-motion playbacks of a burglar falling through the roof of a 7-Eleven and Ice-T isn’t solving anything. Rather, there are real, filmed interrogations, family reactions to the unthinkable, and actual detectives spending day after day, completely focused on some of the most disturbing, heartbreaking true crime. A&E seemingly has unlimited access to homicide investigations in several different high crime, urban areas.
Once you start to get into the show, you’ll soon realize that murder is much more complicated, both morally and technically than it is depicted in many other programs.
There are no forensic masterminds that solve cases by simply pulling hairs from a vehicles upholstery and the criminals are not arch villains bent on a global takeover. The murders are almost always over an insignificant amount of money, drugs or domestic dispute. The crime is more often then not, exposed by witnesses or people close to the the suspect or victims and unlike in hip-hop or gangster movies, the streets are full of CI’s and others willing to “snitch” once out of plain sight from the rest of the community. The criminals are often people that viewers become deeply invested in.
It is not easy to watch a seventeen year old kid on the street, end his life in the free world by uttering a short statement of admission, or watching a family learn the news that one of their loved ones has been murdered in cold blood on their very own street corner.
But therein lies my point; TV about crime should not be easy to watch because then we consider it entertainment. We completely miss the point that the sociological circumstances of victims and their murderers are part of a constant cycle that leeds to acts that we as viewers simply can not fathom. The First 48 depicts homicide as it really is in most cases; urban, senseless, driven by desperation, and ongoing. Detectives build up a certain kind of immunity to the horrors in which they investigate on a daily basis while at the same time, possessing a type of sympathy and understanding that someone only in their position could posses. While most of the show is soberingly tragic, there are much needed times in which detectives show us their personal sides, often leading to humorous or identifiable scenes.
Although this show isn’t exactly a saturday night popcorn and ice cream marathon, it is an important means for which we can truly learn the ins and outs of detective work and the real horror and devastation that goes along with homicide.
Since each episode is completely real, suspense is always authentic. Consider watching but be warned; your perspective on crime will forever be altered and your understanding of poverty and the unfortunate and unavoidable by-products of it will become much clearer.