This post isn’t about CLL -- thus the "OT" for "Off Topic" -- but then I am not all about CLL. Sometimes I complain about other things. The ability to kvetch transcends one’s state of health. Indeed, the ability to work up a fair degree of indignity is probably a sign of health. When I used to work at a hotel catering to a crowd of older folk, there were several good candidates for a T-Shirt emblazoned with these words of wisdom: “The more I complain, the longer God lets me live.”
But I am digressing from my digression.
Marilyn and I enjoy the NBC TV show Medium. For those who don’t know, it’s about a psychic, Allison DuBois, who works for the district attorney’s office in Phoenix, Arizona. Allison, played by Patricia Arquette, is married to Joe Dubois (Jake Weber), and they can never get a decent night’s sleep. This is because Allison is always waking up from strange dreams that may or may not turn out to be premonitions, or postmonitions, or whatever, and which always have some bearing on the plot. The DuBois’ have three young daughters, two of whom also have psychic abilities. The family scenes are well-drawn, showing exactly what life must be like in households were metaphysics coexists with the mundane, where the wife is dreaming about severed heads while the husband wants some nookie.
What makes it a little more interesting for us is that the show is set in Phoenix, which is the fifth largest city in the United States, and which Marilyn and I know fairly well at this point, since we live two hours north of it and go there frequently. Phoenix is a big, sprawling place. Like much of Arizona, it is surrounded and interspersed with craggy mountains that look blue-gray from a distance. These lend the city its character, such as it is. I will not pretend that Phoenix is a great urban treasure, like Venice or San Francisco, but it is a decent enough place. The climate is hot but not humid, homes are fairly affordable, and the air is clean once in awhile. It has a symphony and an opera and a world-class American Indian museum and one of every major sports franchise, even ice hockey. There are at least 15 Vietnamese restaurants now, which is sort of the scale I go by in grading cross-cultural advancement among American burgs. Metropolitan Phoenix is defined as everything within Maricopa County, and includes such cities as Scottsdale, the toniest suburb; Tempe, which is the home of Arizona State University; Mesa, which is bigger than St. Louis but has no there there; and Sun City, the retiree mecca where they roll up the sidewalks at five.
Medium is set in Phoenix because there really is a "research psychic" named Allison DuBois who lives there; and the more Marilyn and I watch the show, the more we realize how careless the writers are about all things Arizona. For those who have never looked at a map, Arizona is adjacent to California, where people in Hollywood produce shows like Medium. It’s not like they’re being asked to describe life on Mars.
By the time I get to Ely
Some of the inaccuracies are understandable enough and simplify things for plot purposes. The name of the county has been changed from Maricopa to Mariposa, presumably for liability reasons. Maricopa County has a county attorney, and in Medium this person is known as the “district attorney.” In the show, the mayor of Phoenix and the deputy mayors of Phoenix are always breathing down DA Devalos’ neck. In reality, Phoenix is just one of the cities served by the county attorney, and the mayor of Phoenix has no authority over that attorney. In fact, nobody knows who the mayor of Phoenix is. (OK, it’s Phil Gordon, but nobody cares.)
Beyond this, the show gets into some things that can only be described as bloopers, small and large. Some are the kind you only notice if you live in the area. In one episode, the University of Arizona is described as being in Phoenix, when it is actually in Tucson, two hours south. Would the writers have placed USC in Fresno? I doubt it. In another episode, one of the DuBois daughters gets an opportunity to speak to the "state Assembly.” California has a state Assembly. Arizona does not. It has a state House and a state Senate, collectively known as the state Legislature. In yet another episode, Phoenix police respond to a call in Scottsdale. Would the writers have had the LAPD show up in Long Beach? Again, probably not.
Medium also makes little effort to show what Phoenix looks and feels like, which is why on Medium it feels like Los Angeles. They do try to get in a lot of shots of palm trees, but there is seldom a blue-gray peak, and hardly ever a Southwestern-style ranch house, and no hint of the vast sky and its play of light at sunset. The Medium Phoenix is a bit too verdant, the light is a bit too dim, and Allison is always wearing sweaters and jackets, which people do not do all that often in the hottest metropolis outside Mecca. Allison never gets in her car in the summer, touches the shift lever, and screams in pain.
The worst blooper I have seen (so far) occurs in an episode where a killer is describing the route he took while driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles with a victim. At one point he starts waxing about “where the road turns into one lane.” Perhaps in 1906, but not 2006, where something known as Interstate 10 connects the two metropoli. Worse yet, he goes on to use the phrase “by the time we got to Ely, Nevada.” I have included a map here showing the route from Phoenix to LA via Ely, Nevada. Does anybody check facts on the show? Or do they simply not care?
The larger relevance of these mistakes is that they call into question just how much Hollywood gets wrong about everything everywhere.
"Facts are stupid things" -- Ronald Reagan
As the brouhaha about the ABC movie The Path to 9/11 shows, accuracy in the portrayal of events is crucial when it comes to the writing of history. (Rewriting history is easy, but it is an affront to those who died in the making of it.) Accuracy is certainly more important in a project that purports to tell what really happened in the run-up to a major terrorist attack than in a TV show about a psychic. But I wonder if all this isn't symptomatic of an underlying disease in which our society has become too careless with the facts. I used to be a newspaper reporter and editor, and I was trained with the idea that you did not just accept someone’s word about something, you double-checked the “facts” that were presented to you before running with the story. This was a sacred tenet of the work. If one didn't always do it well, one always made the effort.
If I had stayed in journalism, I would have slit my wrists by now. The most recent example of a media that didn’t do its job is the case of John Mark Karr, the pathetic loser who claimed he killed JonBenet Ramsey. A little healthy skepticism, and some digging, might have nipped this in the bud a little sooner, or at least presented some balance to the piece. Yes, there were a few doubters, notably Dan Abrams on MSNBC. But for the most part we were treated to a spectacle in which inane details, like how many times Karr got up from his seat on the plane to LA to use the bathroom, became the news of import. Infotainment is replacing hard news, and in the span of a generation we have gone from Walter Cronkite to Katie Couric. “Journalist” has come to mean “newsreader.” In such an environment, what really happened on the road to 9/11 can be forgotten if it is inconvenient to the plot -- or point -- that a particular writer or director is trying to make. We live in a state of fiction masquerading as fact. (I have no problem with people taking particular views, but label them as such -- "editorial commentary" or "opinion" -- and if I may quote my favorite jurist, Judy Sheindlin, don't pee on my leg and tell me it's raining.)
The signs are ominous: with so many competing media outlets that need to fill never-ending news (and entertainment) holes that are as big as black holes, we cannot be bothered with accuracy, with fact-checking, with getting something right. (Ironically, the more cable news channels, the less actual news reported.) In a world of spin, truth has become a relative thing.
This is most tragic in the news division. The television media especially seem to lack the fortitude or even the basic talent to question what they are fed. The result is a regurgitation of spin from one side or the other, thus compounding inaccuracy and confusion. No wonder the American public mistrusts the media almost as much as it does politicians.
Media laxity and herd-think has done our country another great disservice. Without launching too far into another tangent, let me say that the press did not do its job in the run-up to the Iraq War. We are now paying the price for the Fourth Estate’s cowed cheerleading. I am Joe Blow sitting out here in the middle of the desert and I smelled a strategic and political rat from the very beginning. Did anyone of influence in the major media take a detached, critical view of the situation in 2002 and early 2003? Friday afternoon’s news dump was a report by the Senate Intelligence Committee that showed there was no connection between Saddam Hussein and Al-Qaeda -- in fact, Saddam distrusted Al-Qaeda -- and that the Bush Administration had been told this by intelligence services before it went to war. Surely some enterprising reporters could have gotten somewhere near the bottom of this a little bit closer to the event. And now we learn this how many lives later?
But back to Medium. It’s a good show. It’s entertaining. It’s not accurate about the place in which it is set, but it would seem we Americans no longer prize accuracy above expediency. In TV-land, this is merely annoying. In the real world, the consequences can be damning.
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