Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Similkameen Spotlight week of Feb. 28, 2005)

Celebrity Trials Worse Than CSI

  By John Martin

Looks like I touched a nerve or two.  Last week’s column lamenting the popularity of CSI and other police investigative shows (Police Reality Shows Are Anything But) ruffled some feathers.  Don’t get me wrong.  Nasty e-mails have been an enduring regularity since I started this column five years ago.  Typically they come from socialists and other parasites who want a check for sitting around doing nothing.   But I have as little time for bums as they do for checking out the classifieds, so these door stoppers are worth little more than a chuckle.

But this time I was deluged from faithful and devoted followers of CSI and the like.  The column blamed the much watched wave of forensic based television dramas for creating unrealistic expectations of the police.  I also noted that jurors are routinely demanding they be presented with DNA evidence, just like on CSI, in order to find the defendant guilty.

When I checked my e-mail I learned a very important lesson.  You don’t criticize CSI and just walk away.  I had more e-mails slamming the column that I get from that rich guy in Nigeria and Viagra distributors combined.  Unlike the rabid rantings I usually get, these were articulate and forceful in their defense of CSI.  Many suggested that shows like CSI actually help the justice system by raising expectations and forcing police and prosecutors to do a better job.  A couple readers disagreed with everything I said, but suspected that criminals might be learning to cover their tracks by watching these shows.

Sounds like a movement to me.  Still, I hold my ground.

But the entertainment media is only half the problem.  Journalism is equally culpable for distorting crime and criminality for ratings and advertising revenue.  Already, news media from around the world are camping out near the courthouse to cover the Michael Jackson freak show.  Er, I mean, the Michael Jackson trial.

A list of celebrity witnesses is being compiled, the allegations get weirder by the day and there are more sub-plots than a bad soap.

Jackson’s farther has stated that the charges are nothing more than racism.  Could be.  But before I’d buy that I’d need to know what race Michael Jackson belongs to.  Or what species, for that matter.

The media and public seem particularly anxious to convict Jackson.  This is a bit odd because, as a rule, we cut Hollywood perverts and fiends a lot of slack.  Maybe Jackson should have done what other high profile deviants do when they get busted.  Go on TV and cry during the press conference.  Then again, that would make his mascara run.  Now that would be scary picture.

Celebrity trials are truly the ugly side of criminal justice.  They are emblematic of our strange and twisted fascination with that dreaded combo; fame and infamy.  We feel better about ourselves by seeing how pathetic the rich and powerful can be.

I won’t watch the trial.  I’ll skip any news item related to it.  And twenty years from now, I won’t remember where I was when the verdict was announced.

But I’m sure this won’t be the case for the people who crammed my in box this week.  They’ll have been watching CSI.

Nor will it be a problem for NDPers and the like.  They’ll have no difficulty remembering where they were.

Sitting around and waiting for a check.  Like always.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at

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