Thursday, August 26, 2010

Primetime: What Would You Do is what Candid Camera would have been like if it had been created by Sting. "Yes, the talking mailbox is a comedy classic," he'd opine. "But what if this steadfast metal box told you something you weren't ready to hear?"

The show stages confrontational public scenes where they believe bystanders should intervene, and then quizzes people about their values when they don't.

Now, I've always found the show irritating, maybe because I'm a New Yorker. Here we give strangers the benefit of the doubt. When they bother us, we assume it wasn't intentional. And when they look like they're dead, we assume they're asleep. We're busy people: we can't hold a mirror under the nose of every immobile body we pass.

Still, last Thursday's episode was a disaster, raising more questions about the show than its unwitting participants. While he was blithely sliming Joe Blow, John Quiñones, the show's Emmy-winning host, accidentally hit some larger targets.

In one stunt, they locked a dog in a car on a hot day, so they could whine about everybody who walked by and didn't intervene. They cranked the sunroof slightly open, but quoted an expert as saying on a hot day they were useless. Since they didn't actually want to kill the dog, they installed a hidden air conditioner.

As people strolled past the barking critter, Mr. Quiñones criticized them. How dare they! Why, this dog would be roasted within twelve seconds! And then a bunch of firemen walked past. That's right, walked past. Mr. Quiñones stopped them. "Why didn't you do anything?" he so much as asked.

"Well, because the sunroof was cracked open, and the dog looked perfectly okay," one basically replied.

"Oh," was the gist of Mr. Quiñones response. We waited for an explanatory voiceover: were the firemen wrong, or was he? None came.

Our conclusion? Regular people wrong, firemen okay.

In another segment, the show went to a public plaza where displays of affection were common. The show had previously staged stunts provoking homophobia, and they sashayed that way here too. They had a gay couple make out, assuring us that it wasn't against the law.

We gays knew what was going to happen: somebody called the cops. The operator said she didn't know if it was illegal, but she'd send out an officer nonetheless. The policeman angrily approached the two men, saying there'd been a complaint. Judging by his body language it looked like he was bracing for a fight. Fortunately a phone call intervened. It was the policeman's superior telling him this was a stunt for TV.

Without another word the officer headed back to his patrol car. Mr. Quiñones tried to interview him, but he refused to talk.

And then they went back to haranguing regular people.

Needless to say, anybody with a brain was left staring in disbelief. Hidden cameras caught a policeman about to harass two gay men for doing something legal, and they don't pursue the story? Isn't enforced bigotry a bigger scoop than a soccer mom ignoring a warm dog?

They didn't go to the police station. They didn't ask why the cop was dispatched in the first place. Was he going to stop the couple? Was he going to dissuade them from doing something hetero couples do? Or was he just going to confirm that everything was cool and he was down with doing it Oscar Wilde-style?

No, it's not journalism P:WWYD is after. They're big game hunters with a BB gun, plinking at squirrels and running for cover when they accidentally hit bear.

1 comment:

Y | O | Y said...

I learned good behavior from my parents. Back in the early 80's, my parents reported a baby alone in a car to mall security. After they all returned to the car, the mother showed up and screamed at my parents.

My mom taught me that they'd done the right thing despite the woman's reaction. Because of this, I like to think that I'd take action in all of the hypotheticals they set up on the show.