This blog is a rant disguised as writing advice. Therefore, when I say “When you’re writing something, be sure to do your research”, what I really mean is “Man, don’t you hate TV shows that assume we’re all idiots?”
I realize that there is a necessary balancing act between too much research and flying by the seat of your pants. A story too concerned with 100% accuracy can often appear infodumpy, and if the writer includes too many details it can really bog down the pacing of a story. I also understand that you’re never going to make every reader/viewer happy. (If you’re ever looking for people who care too much about minutae, read the “Goofs” sections on IMDb. My favorite is this gem from Bourne Ultimatum: “In the opening minutes of the film, Bourne has his nightmare in Goa and goes to the bathroom. We hear the fluorescent lamp ballast (choke) buzzing at 60Hz, however if Bourne is in Goa, India like the film says then it should be buzzing at 50Hz.” Obviously, you’re never going to please these types of people.)
But, despite that caveat I want to firmly declare: there are times when you simply have to have your facts straight.
The most egregious genre (or, at least, the genre I’m thinking about at the moment) is cop shows. We Americans are raised from little kids to know what’s in the Constitution, and when we’re in the fifth grade we study the Bill of Rights, and we all know what an illegal search is. I’m not complaining about the little-known trivialities of police procedure–I’m complaining about when a cop breaks into someone’s house to search it. That’s illegal. They may find evidence that catches the bad guy, the TV show ends happily, and everyone in the audience is thinking “ALL THAT EVIDENCE IS GOING TO BE THROWN OUT OF COURT, YOU MORONS.”
This is likewise a problem when a cop beats a confession out of someone, which is done all the time in stupid cop shows, generally when something is time sensitive, like a bomb is going to go off, or a kidnappee is locked in a box somewhere. If a real cop did this, the criminal would sue, the cop would get demoted or fired, and the bad guy might not go to jail after all.
This drives me crazy.
Lots of cop shows get around this by making a private detective do the dirty work: they’re not cops, so they can do whatever they want! True, a private detective cannot perform an illegal search and seizure (because he can’t even perform legal search and siezure), but that private detective can definitely go to jail for breaking and entering. Of course, that would never happen, because the ultimate message of cop shows is: as long as the bad guy goes to jail, the ends justify the means. Beat up a criminal, break into a house, coerce a confession, entrap a suspect–that’s all okey dokey.
Which leads me to my real point: yes, we all know these laws, and yet we ignore them (with few notable exceptions) when it comes to our entertainment. Is this a sign of deep philosophical rumblings, where we Americans view our society with a kind of Old West justice–shoot first, ask questions later? Or is it, perhaps, that we catatonically gobble up any lazy piece of writing slapped on the screen?
(I know there’s a third option, which is “Sheesh, Rob! It’s escapism! Calm it down, fatboy!” This, I suppose, is a valid point. It’s still apathetic–it assumes that escapism can only be found in lazy, crappy writing, when that is most definitely not the case. But I will concede that there are worse things in the world, like genocide, maybe.)
So, after all that, I guess my point is this: man, I hate Castle.