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Anthropologists talk about this idea of observers unduly influencing the subjects they observe. A child might behave differently if their parents are in the room with them. I might behave differently at Popeyes if there are judgmental white people around and any given person may act differently if they know they’re on TV. Deep down, most people are prone to performative behaviors if they know it brings attention, and the more attention that comes, the more amped up that performance may become.

Tonight, I watched a documentary on HBO titled Captivated: The Trials of Pamela Smart. It’s a documentary that came out over a year ago which captures the salacious story of a small-town woman accused of getting the teenage boy that she was sleeping with to murder her husband. The trial became famous due to media coverage of the entire affair from start-to-bottom and, as a result, her guilt by public opinion turned into guilt by the law. It was an almost perfectly gift-wrapped story: you had this woman, temptress if you will, who seemed to “love being a widow” as one talking head points in the beginning, who had an affair with a teenager and, worst of all, didn’t come off as warm or innocent enough. I don’t think it’s out of order to see that she did initially enjoy the attention of newscasters and reporters visiting her and putting a camera in her face allowing her to tell her story. Attention is addictive, no matter the context it comes in.

It’s 1990, the internet we know of doesn’t exist yet, there’s no social media and there’s no reality programs. When Pamela Smart went on TV for the first time to talk about her husband being murdered, this was the highest platform a woman like her from a New England town would ever get and she worked it. She tried to sell herself as a loving, caring wife; maybe this was because she didn’t want anyone to know about her affair, maybe she didn’t want anyone to know she was an accomplice to murder or maybe she just genuinely liked the lights and the cameras and the reporters (one of the original reporters mentioned that she’d told him her dream of being a news anchor at one point), maybe she just liked the attention.

As a collective people like to be entertained more than anything else (except maybe loved but even love can be entertainment, but that’s another essay). Neither Donald Trump nor Ben Carson have any business in an American political race, yet they persevere because they’re “fun”. They get the blogs bloggin and let them churn out that sweet, sweet content. There’s a reality show/webseries about any subject under the sun because why not? Everyone wanted to be on The Real World right? This is your chance. True crime and Court TV specials have assembled an audience on onlookers mesmerized by horrific, psychotic actions who remove themselves from the fact that they’re watching real people in order to enjoy it as pulp. Every year, there’s guaranteed to be a “Trial of the Century”, where the court of public opinion can armchair quarterback a case instead of worrying themselves about reasonable doubt or the justice system. It is a wonder that we haven’t installed court side seats at these trials for Jack Nicholson or Rihanna to show up in or installed a kiss-cam to hover over the trial audience. The next big televised trial might even be sponsored by DraftKings.

The Pamela Smart case gained attention fast and as more and more info about it came out, the more people became enamored of it. For as much as Pamela was assumed to have enjoyed the cameras, as the story got a national audience, you suddenly had local news reporters, local police and eventual trial witnesses being invited to talk on national news programs and daytime talk shows and wherever Geraldo Rivera’s mustache was located at that moment. It’s easy to say that this holds no bearing on a criminal case but you have local players going on TV and maybe they’re being completely honest, but they’re also visibly getting into being on a platform and having people listen to them and watch them. You become cognizant of this and you start acting like it, you put on a performance. Maybe it’s an honest one but it’s an exaggerated one for an audience that’s eager to eat it up. Pamela Smart’s case became the first huge Trial of the Century: filled with TV cameras, reporters and onlookers, many of whom already forming a belief about what they think happened based on the sensationalist, exploitative nature of the news up until that point. By the time the trial started, there were already TV movies and books being written about this case and this woman and key witnesses were signing TV rights for this story. It’s easy to say what the media can and can’t do to influence public opinion, but to be a juror (or judge) and see so many people this captivated and entranced by a story will put pressure on you to make the “right” decision. Because you know that everyone is watching.

Today, we’re in the “age of social media”. The internet is evolving and with that comes ways for any person to reach a large audience. Twitter, i particular, has been in my life since 2009. What started as a silly platform to be an idiot on with friends during breaks between classes at my college, turned into my most honest public mouthpiece. I connected with people I never would’ve without it and it was cool. There were people who had more followers than me and whose tweets got more attention than mine, which was fine but like anyone else would, I wanted to say something that would garner similar attention for no other reason than the self-satisfaction of someone liking the things you say. I don’t know when exactly the first person who became famous because of twitter happened or even who it was; what I do know is that a shift happened where people realized that an online audience could translate to offline success. I saw people who never would have been given a chance without the internet prove that they could make something of themselves and build a loyal audience. In a lot of ways, it was beautiful but twitter/internet popularity is a lot like a popular TV show. Whatever persona you created to make yourself a more marketable personality becomes your calling card: if you’re a comic, you’re just the comic, if you’re a sports guy, you’re just the sports guy, if you’re a feminist, you’re just the feminist. People want all the old familiar beats from their old favorites and you can see people straining themselves to fulfill these roles. In the end, what you’re left with are characters rather than people and agendas over conversations. The worst byproduct of this is the need to be right on the internet. No learning, no growth for people who do this; the point is to look smart, worldly and perceptive in front of an audience. Admitting you’re wrong would make you human and being human isn’t marketable. Nobody wants to be the one who doesn’t say the “right” thing, even if that right thing is based on nothing but popular perception.

There’s a way in which you can become so invested in the news the way you are invested in a movie. It happened during Ferguson and Baltimore, it happened when Tonya Harding sent the goons after Nancy Kerrigan, it happened for the OJ car chase. As you watch these news stories, you invest in them the way you would characters in a movie and it becomes most dangerous when it’s time for the payoff.  When it was time for a verdict to be passed down regarding Pamela Smart, there had been days and days of content and rhetoric and opinionating done on her character. If you had access to a TV or to a newspaper, you knew who she was and a picture of her had been painted in your mind. Her guilt or innocence is almost an aside to the much more tantalizing story of a Hot-to-trot married psychopathic schoolteacher who seduced a teenager and got him to murder her husband. That’s a movie anyone would want to see but not if it doesn’t have the right ending. To pretend that the spotlight and wild narratives written had no bearing or influence on a jury is incredibly silly. Nobody is impervious to that shit. “Listen to the music. He’s evil!”. Perception isn’t the only thing but it’s a thing,

Attention is addictive. It might be more loved than money but the desire is supposed to be secret. It reveals our narcissism and that’s not proper etiquette. The Trayvon Martin case is one of the most heartbreaking public trials of my lifetime. One of the more poisonous, corrosive narratives that took place was that of George Zimmerman the folk hero who stood up to a scary black teenager. Whether or not the jury was influenced by outside media is unknown but what I do remember is rumors of a juror signing a book deal to recount her story of her time on the trial and going on the 24 hour newscycle to talk about how hard of a decision this was for her and her fellow jurors. Brave. What’s a good movie without a sequel right? The thing about the cameras is that they always leave and sometimes you’ll do what it takes to keep them around a little bit longer.

I don’t believe in conspiracy theories because most of them are boring. The truth is always more fascinating than some overly wrought, Game of Thrones-style deception. By the end of Captivated, I didn’t know if Pam Smart was guilty or innocent but what I do know was that her trial was not objective and everyone deserves that. The main takeaway from watching this was getting to see the early road towards twitter/instagram, reality TV and 24 hour news, and getting to see how the promise of ratings, fame and even money could play a part in influencing behavior. Blogs write outrage-inducing headlines because it gets clicks, the news shows exploitative images because it keeps eyes glued and violent images are popular in our media because people love violence. You do what works until it stops working. To pretend that the media or even other people are expected to keep a moral code is a convenient way to ignore how culpable we are in helping engineer this ship. You get the culture you deserve and so far we’ve all decided we want to be entertained.

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martin

Here me out.

The first season of True Detective was a interesting concept and technical feat surrounded by smothering pretentiousness and often silly dialogue. The show was a work in progress from beginning to end but it was always somewhat entertaining and interesting. The most intriguing part of the series is that it’s limited: every season will bring a new story and a new cast. This season brought us Woody Harrelson growling and clinging on to some dated sense of masculinity while also wishing he cold give it up; it also brought us Matthew McConaughey’s jaded, College-junior level ruminations on the meaning and inherent hopelessness of life. It was ridiculous but also kind of fun and I think True Detective should continue down this path.

This is what leads to my opinion that season 2 should be about Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, otherwise known as Martin Lawrence and Will Smith from the 1995 film Bad Boys. For those of you who remember, Bad Boys was the directorial debut of a flashy commercial and music video director by the name of Michael Bay. It has the benefit of being early in Bay’s career, before he figured out how to shove in 4,382 explosions into a 2 and a half hour movie while still making time for racist stereotype humor and gratuitous shots of women’s asses. Bad Boys as it stands is just a cheesy action movie that looks like a sleek early 90s music video that is propelled by two great performances made by two Black actors about to completely blow up.

All this said, there’s no two people I would rather watch discover the evil hidden in all men while trying to infiltrate a secret cult of white supremacist Miami club owners who sacrifice 20-something bottle girls for their satanic rituals than these men. Just imagine it for a second: Marcus Burnett, family man, watching his 37 kids grow up and growing distant from his wife but refusing to admit that it’s happening. He just wants to do his job and go home to wife to spend some quality time. Instead he’s got to put him with this secret cult bullshit. He blames Mike for this because he blames Mike for everything. As far as he’s concerned Mike is a magnet for this type of shit. Everywhere ol’ Mikey Mike goes, there’s a secret cult sacrificing women in satanic rituals. The truth is, he blames Mike because he envies Mike. Who the fuck is this trust fund cop anyways? He rides around in the nicest cars, fucks supermodels and uses this job as an excuse to live out his Commando dreams. Marcus’ resentment is understandable: nobody envisions a life unfulfilled, a marriage with a spark that has faded and children who treat you like you don’t matter. This job is the only thing that makes Marcus feel like a man, even if only for a moment, but it isn’t enough. Marcus would never cheat on his wife though–he just can’t bring himself to–so instead he accepts this life; a life of emasculation in a world where male truthers are desperately clinging onto the most basest, aggressive senses of male ego. In this world Marcus continues to make sense of it all.

And what of Mike Lowrey: rich kid, action cop who crashes cars into giant explosion piles and buys another one afterwards. Who cares? None of it matters anyway. Another impossibly hot woman comes to his beautiful condo in order to be pleasured by him and then never heard from again. He’s happy to oblige because he’s always happy to oblige, doesn’t mean anything to him anyways, just the same thing every single day. Mike loved someone once but it didn’t work out, maybe it was the toll the job took on him, maybe he just didn’t know anything about love or maybe after years of causal meaningless sex the concept of love is too foreign to ever be taken seriously. Love is probably imaginary anyways, he figures, just something to distract us as we die alone. Something is happening to Mike the deeper he gets into the cult of Miami club owners. Clubs used to be nothing more to him then a place for overly priced Hennessy and scantily clad women paid to entertain your advances. It never occurred to him that this place could harbor the worst qualities in man but now it only makes all too much sense. The animalistic masculinity and aggression on display mixed with the countless cases of sexual assault? Of course nightclubs could be linked to satanic rituals, if only he’d seen it earlier. If only he’d seen a lot of things earlier. Mike’s been obsessing over this case in between periods of reading nihilist works from Jim Crawford and Eugene Thacker. He’s been trying to make Marcus understand his newfound viewpoint but Marcus isn’t having it. “Now’s not the time Mike” he says; he always says this, because time is a flat circle and we’re doomed to repeat the same things. Mike has found himself obsessed with the boogie monster that leads this cult. He wants to understand how he thinks. He’s stopped shaving and keeping up appearances, Marcus doesn’t get why. Marcus never gets why. At least not until the time is opportune for him to get why (probably episode 8), at that point Marcus will have some insightful commentary about the meaning of life and our place in it and Mike will look at him with bated breath and proclaim, “NOW THAT’S HOW YOU ‘SPOSED TO PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY! FROM NOW ON, THAT’S HOW YOU PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY!”

So yes, this absolutely needs to be True Detective season 2.

I find Girls to be a pretty enjoyable show. The idea that it’s such a polarizing program is mostly laughable. There’s nothing really “offensive” about it–the lives of over-privileged white girls slumming it because their parents won’t give them more money, that’s a pretty damn safe premise.  Most of the vitriol (and praise) it is just a tad unnecessary.

Calling it one of the best new shows on television doesn’t really say much (I mean it’s closest competition is probably Veep) and calling it a “great” show seems a bit much. As I stated before, it’s enjoyable–it even has moments of greatness–but it always struck me a show just shy of being a favorite of mine. Something about the construction of the show doesn’t click with me enough–and it isn’t because I don’t relate to it, I don’t give a shit about that–I think I just find it hard to care about Lena Dunham’s “Hanna” character.

The detractors of the show, while making some valid points, go just as overboard. If you don’t like a show that’s fine; entertainment is subjective and people have opinions. The idea that this show deserves some sort of special hatred pedestal is ridiculous. As far as the whole “no ethnic people” issue, well here’s the thing: the criticism is deserved but let’s not forget that this is a show about over-privileged white girls written by an over-privileged white girl. She’s writing what she knows, and while she herself admits that there is a level of responsibility to reflect reality, it seems to me that the New York of Girls is just another reflection of a life she’s led. That’s not to say she doesn’t know any black people, that’s just to imply that it’s probably a limited experience.

With that being said, much like with The Walking Dead, I will be tuned in to the new season. Hoping that this likable show becomes lovable and that the characterizations get a little better than they were in season 1. Here’s hoping.

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