Sunday, January 24, 2010


trench coats, fedoras
by Earl "Ah, the good old days" Staggs

Back in the day, when Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and Mike Shayne needed information to catch the bad guys, they wore trench coats, fedoras and used up a lot of shoe leather. They scoured the mean streets for clues, twisted the arms of snitches, romanced willowy blondes, bribed bartenders and hotel desk clerks, all in search of information that would lead them to the solution of a crime.

Not any more. Not if you watch mystery and crime shows on TV.

No longer do our heroes have to plead for warrants to examine phone records, wade through years of newspaper articles, get witnesses to spend hours going through mug books, or sweet-talk an old girlfriend at the Department of Motor Vehicles to trace a license plate number.

All it takes now is a few keystrokes.

Nearly every crime show has a computer wizard/master hacker equipped with a million dollars worth of equipment who can come up with any information on anyone in any corner of the globe in seconds.

Take “Criminal Minds” for instance. Approximately every five minutes, one of the profile team calls Garcia, their mistress of the microchip, and the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, babycakes, I need a listing of all twenty-five-year-old redheaded women who spilled beer on their yellow dress while on a cruise ship in the Mediterranean in 1983.”

“Sure thing, sweet cheeks. Give me a second. Ah! Here it is. There were three of them and they all live within a mile of where you are right now.”

NCIS has two of them. Both McGee and Abby, with flying fingers, can key up any information from any data base on the planet. Need the criminal record or military history of a suspect? How about high school yearbook pictures, a listing of any call made or received on any cell phone, or every home address the suspect ever had.

You’ll find someone like them on all the popular crime shows these days.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating my examples a bit, and I don’t mean there’s anything wrong with any of it. I watch those shows and enjoy them. After all, with the technology available today, there’s no reason not to use it to catch the bad guys.

But somewhere inside me, I miss the trench coats, fedoras and hard-drinking, two-fisted gumshoes whose technology was as simple as a punch in the mouth or a slug from a .45.

Earl Staggs


Morgan Mandel said...

You mentioned TV. I have to admit I don't watch many detective shows or mysteries on there any more.

I do watch DVDs and you're right. It's truly amazing, but in almost every movie there's some weird looking geek the hero or heroine knows who can punch up stuff on a computer and find the answer really fast.

Times certainly have changed.

Morgan Mandel

Elizabeth Guy said...

That's why so many of these shows bore me. Everything is so easy.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Things are very different.

Apparently the Chinese won't make fedoras or trench coats (some sort of cultural thing forbids it) and hot blondes no longer walk into detetective's offices. Heck, we can't even get a decent redhead to walk in either.

NCIS, CSI (any variation), etc. it must be nice to have all that technology. After all, we really don't know where our tax dollars go. Since the shows are completely real and they have access to all that high tech good stuff means that, for us, e-book readers will be even better in six months and Blue-Ray DVD's will be surpassed by the even better RED-RAY technology and ......

(who really wants a working pair of x-ray glasses)

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I have to agree. I love real detection rather than keystroke detection. Today, movies and TV are all about magic. Everything comes easy. No one has to work at things. Wishful thinking! It's not that simple in the real world.

Mark Troy said...

Have things really changed? Garcia taps into databases that link esoteric information. Sherlock Holmes did the same only his database was in his head. He solved crimes based on an analysis of tobacco ash, knowledge of which he gained while writing a monograph on the subject. He cracked complicated cyphers, having written monographs on that. He knew chemistry, music, anatomy,literature, Lain, swordsmanship, boxing, fingerprints, psychology, and can tell you at a glance which part of London the soil on your trousers cam from. What he didn't know, he learned from Watson. Today's method's of detection on TV seem unrealistic when compared to the workings of real police departments, but I think an ordinary person tapping into information databases presents a more realistic picture than that of a cocaine-addict with encyclopedic knowledge.

Anonymous said...

I miss the old trench coat and fedora detectives. Their cases were more mysterious and more interesting. Maybe that's why I love detectives operating in the 1940s and '50s -- like Toby Peters.

Pat Browning

Wendy said...

I agree with Pat........the mysteries might not be any less mysterious, but the atmosphere just doesn't cut it!

jrlindermuth said...

Some of these shows are interesting/amusing. But realistic? I don't think so. Outside the biggest cities, how many police departments have access to half the sophisticated equipment depicted, let alone anyone who would know how to use it.

Kaye Barley said...

I rarely watch TV, and if fedoras and trench coats are gone (along the type of PI who wears them), I'm even more convinced I'm just not missing a lot.

Rob Walker said...

Earl, my friend, could not agree with you more here; right on. In fact, the premise for my Inspector Ransom books was begun with WHAT did the cops do before they had all this OMG Technology? And Dead On is a "throwback" to-- to the tough PI who gets saddled with a dame and a dog... so I have been beating this dog for quite a few years....and am sick to death of CSI. Time for a spoof and I would call it CSI SHEBOYGAN....or Flushing

Jean Henry Mead said...

I miss the old trench coated detectives,too, Earl, but I do enjoy the keystrokes when I'm doing research. I've had my fill of microfilm/microfeish machines and dusty library shelves. :)


Helen Ginger said...

You had me laughing, Earl. I totally agree with you. I find those kinds of shows unrealistic; at least, I hope they are. It's certainly scary to see what they can come up with in a matter of minutes!

Straight From Hel

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

That's why I write about small town's where the local law can do some real sleuthing. Lot more fun to write and read about.