Sunday, May 24, 2009
To Catch a Predator in the Colosseum
Today I wasn't feeling very well, and spent most of the day lying around watching TV. While channel surfing, I caught on MSNBC, an episode of Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator". Lucky me, it was a To Catch a Predator "marathon", and I could watch hour after hour of men's lives being ruined before my very eyes.
I didn't watch hour after hour, though. I watched for two hours only. I wouldn't have watched even 20 minutes, because I have seen the show before and many of the men whose lives were being ruined, I've seen before.
"Oh, that's the rabbi who tried hook up with a 13-year-old boy, the one with the desperate, horrified eyes", I thought, "And look, I know that guy. He's the Baptist minister of tried to make it with a 14-year-old girl, the one who wept like a baby... Oh, there's the Iraq War vet who thinks he's gonna do it with a 15-year-old girl, the one who got on his knees and begged to be forgiven..."
It was like catching a rerun. Well hell, it WAS a rerun. The Best of Predator! I imagine what these busted men must feel, knowing they will be playing in perpetuity via reruns, as though they were Lucille Ball or Dick Van Dyke.
The reason I watched two hours' worth was because I became fascinated by how this show is so successful. When I say "successful", I don't mean in catching online predators (which it eminently is). I mean successful as a popular TV show, as entertainment.
I'll first make it clear that I am all for catching men who try to hook up with young kids online. There should be more sting operations, because the more there are, the more men will think twice before driving out to some 14 year-old girl's house to commit statutory rape.
I just have an issue with the public spectacle of it, the idea of being entertained by seeing some man realize, as he's confronted by Chris Hansen on camera, that his life as he knew it is basically over. This country does not tolerate sexual offenses towards minors. Once you've done it, it's the scarlet letter that you wear until you die.
I think that To Catch a Predator is a form of public entertainment that is somewhat reminiscent of the Colosseum in ancient Rome.
Granted, it's not bloody and savage. Nobody is being fed to lions, but they are being fed to the viewers, who can then say, "Oh, look at that pathetic pervert. He's sick. What a loser." In an off-hand way, I think the appeal of this show is that it makes the viewers feel better about themselves: "I may not like my job and be trapped in an unhappy marriage, but hey: at least I'm not driving 3 hours to hook up with a 9th grader and get busted on national TV for it."
I cringe watching this show. Sure, I don't cringe as dramatically as I would were I watching two gladiators slicing each other open, but I cringe just the same. It's a slight cringe, but it's a cringe. Often I have to look away from the TV set, because I feel so embarrassed for these men.
If you've never seen the show, the set-up is basically this:
There's a group called "Perverted Justice" and they chat online in certain chat rooms where men looking for hookups are usually found. The decoys pretend to be a girl (and sometimes a boy) who is between the ages of 13 and 16.
These decoys chat with men and let them know that they are willing to have sex with them. They give the men the address to their house. The house is actually a house which is loaded with hidden cameras, as well as a full camera crew from Dateline NBC, and Chris Hansen, the show's host, and also, an armed police squad at the ready.
The always unattractive and often butt-ugly man then shows up at the house, usually carrying condoms and alcohol, and sometimes with porno DVDs, marijuana and lube. A young-looking 19-year-old actress is there at the door when he arrives, holding a laundry basket full of clothes and saying the same line almost every time in an innocent, girlish voice:
"Hi! I've got to put these clothes in the dryer, otherwise they'll get all wrinkled! Come on in to the kitchen! I made you some sweet tea! It's on the table! Pour yourself a glass and I'll be right out!"
I'm actually surprised they keep using this line, because this show has been on TV for a long time and many people have seen it, and if I were one of these guys, the moment I see a girl holding a laundry basket and offering sweet tea, I would run away like a gazelle.
However, the man never suspects, and always goes directly into the kitchen and heads straight for that pitcher of sweet tea. As he pours his glass, Chris Hansen comes out and says, "How's that sweet tea?" or "How was your drive?" or "Making yourself at home, huh?"
The men always look at Chris with a look of complete and total shock. They don't think he's the host of a TV show (the cameras are hidden). They almost always assume that he's a police detective, and sometimes, the girl's father. The moment they see him instead of the girl come out of the supposed laundry room, it almost always looks like their life is flashing before their eyes. It's actually really hard to come up with words to accurately describe the expressions on their faces, because the look of humiliation and fear and realization, and DREAD, is so complete and palpable, that it often makes me look away in embarrassment.
So Chris asks, with a fraternal yet paternal tone, "What're ya doing here?"
The man will feebly reply, "I came to meet ____."
"Just to meet her. Hang out. Maybe watch some TV and talk."
"Really? Because I have your chat log right here. Didn't you say, 'Babe, I'm gonna spread your soft legs wide, get out my strawberry-flavored lube and---' "
"PLEASE. There's no need to keep reading it. I know what I wrote."
"...it may hurt the first time, but I got experience with virgins, I'll soften you up 'til you--"
"PLEASE. You don't need to keep reading it. Please."
What then follows is the man trying to convince Chris Hansen that having sex with the kid was not his intention. Some platonic reason is always given for the visit, to which Chris will say,
"Then why did you bring these condoms? Trojans. EXTRA SENSITIVE..."
The excuses continue, and they are always so ridiculous, such blatant, desperate attempts to win clemency, and so often spoken with such a plaintive voice, so feeble and imploring. Many times what they implore is that nobody else needs to know about this, to which Chris will say,
"Well, there's something you should know: I'm Chris Hansen, the host of Dateline NBC's 'To Catch a Predator' "
At that moment, the camera men come out, pointing their cameras to the pervert, who gives a look of utter horror or humiliation and covers his face, ignorant of the fact that he's been already filmed on hidden camera.
Chris asks, "Is there anything else you'd like to say?"
"Then you're free to go."
At which point the man high-tails it out of there, thinking he's free with just the humiliation as his punishment, but nope, because the police squad is out there ready, pointing their firearms at him, and shouting, "FREEZE! ON THE GROUND! FACE DOWN! HANDS BEHIND YOUR BACK!"
As the man is face down on the grass being handcuffed, you can often hear him wailing with utter despair.
But that's not the end, because the on-camera questioning continues with the police detective asking things like, "Why did you write in the chat, 'I want to pop your cherry'?" and "Why did you bring this: AstroGlide Lube?"
Then after that, we are treated to seeing the incarcerated guy in his striped jail pajamas, sitting before a widescreen TV, on which is a judge who is in another room, charging him with his crimes.
One pervert charged, cut to the NEXT guy approaching the house and being offered sweet tea, and the whole process begins again, man after man, show after show. Another man enters the arena of the Colosseum, to be destroyed for the audience's entertainment.
Yes, destroyed. Many of the men are married. Their marriage is over. Many of them have kids the same age as the supposed girl they are going to meet for sex. Their relationship with their kids is damaged. Many of them have jobs which they will now lose. A couple have been school teachers.
I'm not saying that it's bad for them to lose their job if they are a school teacher, but I do think it's wrong for these men to be put on TV if they have kids. I remember what it was like to be in Intermediate school. School is tough enough without having your dad on TV starring as a pervert.
As I mentioned before, today on the show, I saw a married man with a daughter, an Iraq war vet, ON HIS KNEES before Chris Hansen. He literally kneeled before him, and the whole interview took place with this man pathetically on his knees as though Chris were the King of Siam.
We don't need to see this.
We don't need Chris trying to understand these men later, saying to the camera for the umpteenth time, "This man drove three hours for this encounter. Why?"
BECAUSE HE NEVER GETS ANY SEX! LOOK AT HIM. THE GUY COULDN'T BE UGLIER!
"Here's a man with a good job and a stable life. Why would he risk so much for this encounter?"
BECAUSE NO WOMAN WANTS TO TOUCH HIM! LOOK AT HIM. HE'S REPULSIVE!
And what is really repulsive, is this show, because it's about schadenfreude, it's not about justice. If you want justice, then do the sting without it becoming a reality TV show. Why have the spectacle of it on TV? So that we can delight in the misfortune of others? So we can feel better about ourselves? So we can be like the crowds in the Colosseum, feeling superior to those condemned men in the arena?
That truly is "Perverted Justice".