Crime TV — The Good, The Bad and The Ugly


Of late, there has been a spike in the number of documentaries, television shows and films that celebrate the legacy of criminals and their empires. Famous examples of the same would include shows such as Narcos and Wild Wild Country, the former focusing on the life and activities of the infamous Columbian drug lord, and the latter on Osho Rajneesh, a controversial Indian mystic and the leader of a modern neo-religious movement in the United States of America during the 1980’s. The question that needs asking, but even more importantly, demands an answer, is whether or not the world would be a better place without such films and documentaries.

The first argument in favour of such documentaries is that they provide information and general knowledge about historical figures in a manner which is palatable to the younger generation. The internet already exists as a vast storehouse of information, as do textbooks, but the youth of today rarely have the time or the inclination to pour over pages of text simply to improve their general knowledge. Such shows educate these youngsters while entertaining them, therefore serving a larger function.

On the other hand, however, one must consider the negative impacts of such material on impressionable young minds.

Criminals like Escobar and Rajneesh are often portrayed as being “cool“, and their antics glorified to the point where they become icons. Moreover, such individuals are often portrayed as being lone wolves who are products of a failed society and who ultimately meet their doom at the hands of an oppressive state. As a result, one could argue that such films and television shows create a warped image of the world in the minds of youngsters who have not yet fully developed a moral compass of what is right and what is wrong.

A worst case scenario of the aforementioned issue is that it translates into societal disruption in the real world – something that could start with a mere child thinking that it is okay to steal his father’s pistol and shoot his friend with it because he saw his favourite character Pablo Escobar do it. The scenario is not an entirely unlikely one, especially when one considers the fact that the directors of such films and documentaries often sensationalise the “achievements” of such crime lords in order to make something that sells. One might even argue that in some instances, directors sacrifice historical accuracy (either by omitting important but mundane details, or more importantly, by adding elements to the story) for dramatic effect, thus rendering the argument about education moot.

One might argue that such shows and movies often also depict the fall from grace of such criminals; a fall that is equally sensationalised, and one that often carries with it a moral takeaway of some sort. Yet, one cannot say that all such films do so, nor can one entirely dismiss the idea that the material does have an effect on young minds. Viewed from a different angle though, such shows might still offer something in the way of a benefit to society – that of an alternate narrative to the one the state currently wishes people to believe. In such a situation, controversial films may incite public discourse and discussion on topics which would otherwise have been taken to be true at face value due to the state’s seal of approval on a particular version of events. And yet, what happens more often that not is a filmmaker creating a documentary suggesting a narrative which panders to the demands of the people, i.e. what they want to hear, rather than something truly unique and not driven by a commercial motive.

Ultimately, the issue boils down to whether or not directors and producers of such shows, films and documentaries need to be more socially responsible during the production process, by keeping in mind the age and naiveté of the viewers of their work. A strong consensus exists that a show creator’s job ends at advising viewer discretion and using a parental guidance rating. Beyond that, the duty lies with the parents of the youth to ensure that their children do not view such content. To point fingers at the directors would be to simply shift the blame and the burden of responsibility. In a world where the freedom of expression in the media is of paramount importance, a balance must be struck so that art can be created and enjoyed (within reason) without the need to worry about the ill-effects on young viewers who shouldn’t be watching such content anyway.

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