Monday, September 28, 2015


CSI Miami

There’s an acknowledgement of the effects of combining facts, esp. “scientific facts”, with narrative and graphics.  It’s called the CSI effect and means that people are learning a lot of pop science -- we can all say “allele” and “petechia” with confidence.  And if you haven’t learned how to test for trace by swabbing with a Q-tip and then cutting off the cotton tip to immerse it in a little vessel of fluid and put it in a mysterious machine -- you just aren’t paying attention!  People seem to be obsessed, at least for the decades-each run duration of the variations among CSI, though the actual story lines are pretty much congruent.  

My fav is “CSI Miami.”  One of the three “creators”, Anthony Zuiker says he intended it to be “ridiculously gorgeous” and that it is.  But in spite of the name, it is mostly shot in California.  It’s clear that the females are bikini-ready, but I did not realize that the Crayola-colored Leggo buildings were also California.  The locations, ranging from sub-sordid to glass-glamorous, are the same we see in movies, managed by scouts and agents.


Zuiker, the son of a maitre d’ and a blackjack dealer, looks exactly like that.  The two women, Carol Mendelsohn and Ann Donohue, are also Hollywood writer types, many of whom make their living creating “idea” scripts that are never produced.  They often act as “show runners.”

Jerry Bruckheimer

Jerry Bruckheimer is the top of the CSI heap, a Repub (a McCain donor), a do-gooder, and a producer of commercials before he went to action (violence) and police films with great success, and then added the CSI serieses, of which there are four.  

I’m going back to this again because of one show, the 5th episode in the 8th season of CSI Miami.  But it really stands out: in fact, enough that I think you can
watch it as a free-standing vid.  Even as a classroom discussion starter or for an enviro activist group.

Brian Davidson

Here’s a review from an online info source:  

Brian Davidson‘s script feels like a progression for the show, and I hope it’s a herald of things to come rather than a departure. There was a real energy to this story, a personal stake for the characters that was more appealing than fancy plot twists or high-energy shootouts. The episode felt really fresh, something that’s not that easy to achieve after seven full seasons.”

The importance from my point of view is that this show managed to get across some things about industrial food production in this country that we all should be thinking about.  A pretty young girl is killed by e coli on a chopped salad in a restaurant.  Her about-to-be fiancé is killed because at the same meal he had corn-on-the-cob that had been genetically altered to make it more digestible for cattle, who quickly get big and fat on corn but develop nasty feces that are a perfect home for e coli.  

The mutant gene was introduced to the corn in the next place over from a gene that when mixed -- which can happen -- makes the corn lethal.  (I’m not sure that this last is real rather than theoretical, but the rest of it certainly is, and has made many people go vegetarian.)

The next bit of science is that frankencorn -- mutant grain -- is in pollen which drifts uncontrollably.  If you are raising corn next to an industrialist farmer using gene-altered grain, some of your own grain will also be mutant, inseminated by the wind.  The altered seed is patented so you will be sued for patent infringement.   This is real and happens here.  If you have neither the stomach nor the cash for a high powered lawyer, your only option will be to sell, though the actual culprit was just the wind.

The CSI team works their way back through this information far enough to turn the tables: the parents of the young man, who are capable of suing, can start a civil wrongful death claim against the industrialists who KNEW that in a small percentage of cases, their mutant corn could kill.  They say, shrugging, “This is like building a bridge or a dam.  It’s always known that some people will die, but it’s considered a legitimate price to pay for the greater good of the construction.”

By the time the episode plot sends out their three “trace” finders, the three include the handsome and aggressive guy who is now filling David Caruso’s slot so Caruso can use more energy on producing; the snarky little “Wolfe” who thinks he’s a shark; and the newest, a big black man with a child’s round face who happens to have a degree in Art History as well as his scientific training.  He’s the one who presents as a kind of naive dummy, good only for heavy-lifting, but turns out to find the crucial clue.  The three guys, arguing and deducing, find the smoking gun just over a berm: a huge feed lot with water run-off supplying e coli to the irrigation system of the truck garden.


This is good story-telling, but I can tell you that a feedlot that size is a very noisy and unmistakably reeking place at a great distance.  A little berm wouldn’t be able to conceal it.

CSI Miami” is the most Disneyland of the versions: sentimental, ghastly (The one where the bad guy dissolved in a swimming pool full of intense alkali must have been fun for the special effects guys.), and based on a population where “bad things happen” for a lot of good old American reasons like greed, failure to bond, sex as a form of cash, and total loss of contact with reality.  

“CSI New York” has the same combination of horror and sentimentality but also a cast that’s a little more intelligent and better at the bitter jokes.  The plot lines in all CSI shows are based on today’s headlines and established practices, but just pushed a little bit.  The "CSI Effect" in negative terms leads to juries expecting more evidence, clearer, more cutting edge.  The truth is that the numbers of bodies are so great, the circumstances so ambiguous, the money so scarce and the motivation so slight that what we’ve got in the end is science fiction.

"CSI Effect" in positive terms is that the characters model diligence, dedication, and true caring about their fellow human beings.  Caruso plays his alpha male role as the compassionate protector.  Sinise plays his as the seeker of justice.  He’s a bit of a fool when it comes to love, but then, the Caruso character gets entangled with much more dubious women and stands by the ensuing sons.

Sometimes I think that the screenwriters are the true preachers of our times and far more effective theologians and ethicists than the college professors.

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