Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Making Heroes out of Criminals

Tim DeKay (on the left) and Matt Bomer (right)
One of the TV shows that my wife and I watch is called White Collar. Since we don't have cable we watch it via Netflix. We don't watch the normal "cops and robbers" shows like CSI; CSI: Vegas; CSI: Springfield; CSI: Antartica; CSI: Moonbase Alpha; CSI: Outback (it was the dingo); or CSI: Old Guy Pretending To Still Be Cool. We will watch the quirky ones–Psych being a good example–or even the ones that don't pretent to be reality based (CSI: Using Equipment And Techniques That Don't Really Exist Which Makes Real Law Enforcement Jobs Harder) which is where White Collar comes in.

The premise behind White Collar is "the unlikely crime-solving partnership between Neal Caffrey (Matt Bomer), a charming con man turned consultant for the FBI, and Peter Burke (Tim DeKay), the Federal Agent charged with keeping him on the right side of the law." The idea is that Caffrey's extensive background as an art thief, forger and general con man gives Agent Burke the advantage in capturing other criminals. Caffrey is released from prison and put on home arrest. He has to wear a tracking anklet except when he is working a case undercover. Then alternate means of monitoring (wearing a wire or a gps enabled watch) is used. This doesn't prevent Caffrey from getting himself into illegal situations. He has a trusty sidekick–a fellow con man that has not been convicted–named Mozzy that helps Caffrey out on the cases but also helps keep Caffrey involved in illegal activities. For the most part Agent Burke works to keep Caffrey out of trouble and even tries to catch Caffrey when he suspects Caffrey in stealing a large amount of Nazi stolen treasure.

The stolen treasure ends up playing a pivotal role when it turns out to be the ransom demand for Agent Burke's kidnapped wife. The treasure (or at least half of it) is used to draw out the kidnapper (who is an "archenemy" of Caffrey) and everything seemingly works out. The kidnapper takes credit for stealing the treasure in the first place which gets Caffrey off the hook. Burke knows that Caffrey had the treasure (which was technically stolen by Mozzy) and it becomes a point of contention between the two. It all leads up to the Season 3 finale where Caffrey has a hearing to determine whether or not his sentence is commuted. It turns out that Burke–knowing that Caffrey was involved in the stealing of the treasure and other art work–testifies that Caffrey has become a valuable asset to the FBI and good citizen who should have his commuted. Of course this testimony comes just as Caffrey is cutting his tracking anklet and making another escape.

Up to this point I thought the struggle that Caffrey was having between being a reformed criminal and reverting back to his old ways was an interesting insight into what grounds a person. The more Caffrey became rooted through friendships and his work with the FBI the less Caffrey wanted to give that up and live a life on the run. That part I understood. But the turning of Agent Burke from being honest and straight forward to someone that was willing to cover up for Caffrey because the situation was working really bothered me.

What bothered me wasn't the fact that Burke was making a pragmatic choice. We make pragmatic choices every day. When we find something that works we usually stick with it and hold to the truth of the situation. It is where we get the saying, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." What bothered me is that the elevation of someone that we would consider a criminal to the position of hero. But it was more than that. If we look at the heroes of the Bible (particularly those of the Old Testament) they were not always good guys. They lied, cheated, murdered, committed adultery and more. Yet they were still considered heroes. They all had to face the consequences of their sins. What really bothered me about the direction of White Collar is that it was designed for the viewer to root for Caffrey to get away with it. We don't want to see Caffrey arrested and put back in jail. We want to see things somehow work out without the consequences.

Unfortunately the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross tells us that the things we do wrong has consequences. Even when we receive forgiveness for our sins there was still a price that needed to be paid. There might not be an eternal consequence that we have to pay (there may be earthy ones) but someone still had to suffer the consequences. I think that it sets a bad tone when we start rooting for criminals (even fictional ones) to get away with their crimes. While they may escape the consequences for their crimes there is still a victim somewhere that has had their life negatively affected by the crime.


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