The difference between what we once thought of as terrestrial and satellite TV has largely dissolved in recent years, essentially it’s all just “television” now, wherever it comes from. But although the technical distinctions may be disappearing there are certain aspects of their content that continue to divide the old school channels from their more recently arrived relatives, in particular their depiction of crime.
On the mainstream channels the fictional detective is still king and crime drama in all its variant steams continues to thrive. Further down the dial though, reality bites and the number of programmes featuring actual lo-fi footage of actual criminals being chased by actual cops is enough to have the fictional cops handing in their badges in frustration.
The default setting for many of these shows is the high-speed pursuit, filmed mostly by aerial surveillance or from the “dash-cam” that sits in the front of every American police car. These dramatic getaways tend to end badly for the felon - if film of anyone getting away exists it’s being suppressed - but while the footage might make for startling viewing, the question of why people might drive away from the cops on such apparently hopeless errands is seldom addressed. This week though, the drivers finally have their say when Why I Ran manages to shed light on what has become TV’s most abiding but least considered real life situation.
The show opens with Angie, who was trying to return some stolen shoes to a shop for a cash refund and ended up being pursued by four police cars and helicopter and hitting three other vehicles before eventually being stopped. “It’s hard to watch,” she says as she beholds the footage of her high-speed escape for the first time. “All I could think about was my children,” she reckons as she sees herself throwing shoes and drug paraphernalia out of the speeding vehicle. Drugs are what drove her to it she claims, although it was her behind the wheel. “I just wanted it to stop,” she says, although she doesn’t explain why she didn’t just stop in that case. It’s enlightening and baffling at the same time.
More dramatic and more forthright is Paul who drives away from the cops because he has previous convictions and doesn’t want to go to prison. It’s not a long-term solution, but in its way it’s understandable. Though very drunk and since this is a rural pursuit Paul manages to evade numerous police cars by driving into cornfields and switching off his lights. He pulls this off three times, before the police give up, only to then find him asleep in the middle of the road having crashed his truck in a ditch and passed out on his way home.
If you had hoped to discover a complex web of underlying social patterns explaining this particular strand of criminal behaviour then, this week at least, the show look like being a disappointment. Everyone featured was basically out of their minds when they were busted, freaked out and just legged it without worrying about the consequences. If they had known they would end up on TV watching themselves on TV then maybe they would have thought differently, although the message here seems to be that nobody’s thinking at all.