Every so often I watch an episode of CSI: Miami. I don't know how I get to that point, from the happy state of not watching CSI: Miami to the morally compromised state of watching CSI: Miami, but I obviously get there somehow. It's strange - I could be out rescuing a family of star-nosed moles from evil carnies at one moment, and then there's a kind of warp in front of my eyes and then the entish face of David Caruso is sweeping back and forth across the television screen. Am I blocking the memory of that decision to turn on my television? I can think of no other reason. And meanwhile, the carnies are having their evil way with the poor little star-nosed moles.
CSI: Miami is rewarding not for its entertainment value - although it is undeniably, if uninentionally, entertaining - but for its fanatical contempt for 98 per cent of the population. The only demographics excepted are: 1) young girls who never hurt anyone and need protection; 2) CSI employees and a smattering of honest cops. Everyone else comes off at best as arrogant and entitled. From those heights we drop to the corrupt, the venal, and the guilty. David Caruso's character Horatio Cane (really?) is a tech-heavy update of Dragnet's Joe Friday, drifting through a morally bankrupt world where the Eloi laugh at the notion of moral responsibility and the Morlocks feed with impunity - until a stray fiber or thread of saliva brings them down.
Atop the moral pyramid rests the clear glass compartment of the CSI crime lab and its busy exegetes of crime, who skirt corruption by relying on technology for their answers. In their world, the guilty are convicted not in court but rooted out by a microscope, a fingerprint database, a blood-detecting mist of Luminol. Compare the overburdened and harried forensics lab in The Wire with the efficient and unbelievably stylish Miami digs, and you will find the exaltation of forensics into a temple to technology, an Apple Store with corpses in the basement and a centrifuge off to the side.
Television has traditionally relied on shallow characterization, but CSI: Miami seems uniquely uninterested in psychologically convincing characters. The members of the CSI lab all have their personal crises, their inexplicable arrests by Internal Affairs, but really they're adjuncts to the implacable tech of the forensics lab - chips inscribed with a moral executable for the extraction of justice. David Caruso's character, despite the frequent gestures towards a personal life, is a blood-free cyborg programmed to protect innocent women, ignore civil rights and constantly answer his own questions. He is in fact a cyborg condom.
The crime scene investigator and his array of tools function as a prophylactic, a thin but electronically tested barrier that allows him to come in contact with evil but not be contaminated by it. The rest of the world is irretrievably tainted by congress with Big Evil, but when Big Evil slops up against the crime scene investigators, the crime scene investigators wipe it up and take it back to the lab. There they interrogate Evil down to its molecules and pull out a perpetrator from the traces.
As a prophylactic, the CSI lab prevents evil - not acts of evil, but scary metaphysical Evil - from contaminating justice. People still commit crimes, but thanks to the examination of a smear of lotion or a pebble in a boot tread, the criminal will break down and confess, defeated by the infallibility of lab geeks and the clarity of microscopic evidence. That's my favourite part of the show: when the perpetrator, confronted by a tiny pile of forensic clues that, in the real world, would add up to a whole lotta nothing, suddenly tells the whole story. I keep thinking, now would be the time to shut up. I think, where's your lawyer? But you know those lawyers. They keep trying to poke holes in the CSI condom.