Monday, January 17, 2011

What Would "What Would You Do?" Do?

You've probably heard of the show "What Would You Do?" On the show, produced by ABC, they set up scenarios and wait to see, well  . . . what people will do in morally questionable situations. When all is said and done (or not done), John Quinones steps in for an interview.

I've only seen it a few times but, for instance, last Friday, they got actors to portray construction workers who were saying inappropriate things to a pretty girl (also an actress) in front of a New York City lunch truck. Bystanders reacted in various ways, from ignoring the whole thing to offering to do some Picasso-inspired renovations on the construction workers' faces.

But another segment of the show had teenaged actors -- three boys and a girl -- pretending to drink on a Montclair, NJ, street in broad daylight. In some instances, the boys even pretended to try to force the girl to drink. Some passers-by chided the kids and tried to help the girl; some passers-by just passed by. The reactions were what you would expect: some people helped; some people didn't.

Also, sadly, when African-American actors were used, passers-by seemed immediately less concerned. One-in-three helped the white kids; one-in-twelve helped the black kids.You have to wonder when things will really change . . .

But what I have a question about is the grown man at the end, who stops to talk to the kids and proceeds to explain to them how he used to buy alcohol when he was fifteen and then moves on to asking them to score him "weed" in exchange for his buying them more alcohol (he is near the end, if you don't want to watch the whole segment -- but it is interesting):

I understand the importance of privacy for American citizens. But here is a guy who was caught on camera offering to buy beer for fifteen-year-olds. My personal feeling is that this scum bucket deserves to be exposed for the piece of filth that he is.

I know: innocent until proven guilty -- but it's on tape, here . . . At the very least, I would have liked "What Would You Do?" to have turned him in and waited until he was prosecuted and then run the segment without face blurring and voice distortion. This eternally adolescent turd deserves to lose his privacy. I know there must be a million legal arguments against this.

Ultimately, what happened to him, is what I want to know? (There's no mention of him in the article on ABC's website. In fact, it seems to me like they underplayed this whole segment; the other four segments were easier to find in their entirely. The most easily accessible version of this segment had the end edited out.) Did he just walk away? Did the crew of the show report him to the local police? It seems, if they have knowledge of someone who is a potential predator, they should be obligated to report it and turn the tape in to the local police, right?

What are your thoughts on this? Does this guy deserve privacy? Does the crew of the show -- a show that presents questions about American morality -- have a moral obligation to turn this guy in?


  1. A few notes.

    This guy, without doubt, is doing something most people with a 'moral compass' would judge to be inherently immoral. That said, simply because we - as perceived representatives of the moral majority - feel this man is undeserving of privacy protection smacks of some hypocrisy. I hold no issue with including myself as a potential hypocrite; I despise this man. Thoroughly. A piece of me would certainly enjoy hearing that he suffered repercussions.

    HOWEVER, you yourself have discussed the importance of privacy (most recently when blogging about the Kindle's intrusion upon reader privacy). What line demarcates the appropriate moral line regarding privacy? Is it simply with children? For me, I believe crimes against children - or any with a reduced capacity for self-defense - are somewhat more reprehensible (not to diminish crimes against adults and perfectly healthy people, such as war crimes).

    I would argue that this man has, and should have, protection. This is a TV show, and any information is gathered under completely false pretenses. Furthermore, these kids are 15. When I was in high school, 15 year olds drank. They smoked (admittedly, I did neither). It's the age when teenagers begin to expose themselves to new experiences, and hopefully overcome the negative possibilities of such exposures. Several of my friends did not - AA by junior year, expelled for drug paraphernalia, etc. Others did - engineers, academics, doctors-to-be, musicians, teachers, all number among the friends I know who did drugs at an earlier age. Kids are going to get it - who are we to throw stones at the one man we saw who's looking to get a fix himself?

    Dude's probably got a messed-up life, as is.

    I know I should clean up this comment, check it for rhetorical and spelling errors. I don't have the time right now; I think I've conveyed a point. Kids will get what they want if they want it; people will give it to them. People should be punished, but be careful not to target a minor causer of problems over a major causer.

    ~ Someone you don't know, but came across your blog because several of your former students are close acquaintances. (For the record, this blog is a go-to for me when I want to think about society and culture.)

  2. I wrote a very long response to this, and it did not publish b/c the "URL (was) too long". I'm going to abbreviate this response because I am irritated by little failures.

    To be short and blunt, I despise what this man is doing, but I'm not interested in throwing stones at him. What he does is morally questionable to the moral majority (of which I include myself), but such morality is, in this case, subjective. Certain issues of morality - those including abuse, unnecessary violence, death, theft, etc. - are pretty obvious. Others, such as the consumption of drugs (i.e. alcohol, weed, and even others) are more questionable. In trying to get one's own weed fix (which is not necessarily inherently addictive, though that's for a different conversation), and offering alcohol to minors (who it may be reasonably assumed have drank or engaged in 'risky behaviors'), is not necessarily immoral (though it is questionable).

  3. Same anonymous respondent as above - I consider it a far greater problem that people are less likely to help black children than white children. This is a horrible and necessary commentary on our society and the omnipresence of racism in American culture.

    I also think that your vehement reaction to the man offering alcohol may be informed by your own personal experiences as a father. That's not a bad thing, perhaps even a good thing, but it's worth mention and some analysis.

  4. Well, Anonymous, I will have to respectfully disagree with you on one thing: buying alcohol for minors in exchange for their engaging in the illegal activity of getting you drugs is immoral as well as illegal. If it is not immoral, I'm not sure what is. I don't consider that "questionable" behavior, whether those children have engaged in risky behaviors before it or not. So I have every interest in "throwing stones" at a person like that, even though that wasn't my focus. But one thing is important for me to point out: my purpose for this post is to question the legal and moral implications for the crew of the show -- what should they do? The other issues, like the African American kids being ignored are pretty obviously horrible and so went without extensive commentary from me. And,yes, I do think it is a good thing to react like a dad to this. Maybe it is the only way to look at it, in the end.

  5. Anonymous -- looks like you went to spam -- I think your original comment is now above. I'm no expert, but I think after a certain length, comments might go to spam. My response remains the same, but your points are well-taken. Glad you are reading!