TV Shows

‘Freeway’ A Tale Of Crack Cocaine And The American Dream

Although a segment of the ‘Freeway Ricky Ross” story winds through Cincinnati, Ohio, I was not familiar it. Ross is of one of America’s most successful drug traffickers. At one point, officials said Ross was worth $1 billion.

My interest in the roughly 2-hour documentary, though, is it offers a peak into the devastation caused by the ‘War of Drugs’ implemented by Ronald Reagan. (That ‘war’ help lead to Preble County’s economic demise, but I digress).

The film follows two basic narratives: the rise and fall of Ricky Ross and a background story — independent of Ross — that explores allegations of drug money being used, indirectly, by the Reagan administration to fund the Contras in Central America. This plotline is a little more complicated, but it is relevant, because Ross’ main supplier of cocaine was an individual funding the Contras.

In the documentary, Ross is portrayed as an amoral entrepreneur who surrounds himself with neighborhood and childhood acquaintances. He defies stereotypes as he eschews violence, helps his friends become wealthy, and takes a business approach to the trade. He simply sells an extremely large quantity of the highly-addicted product as a path to wealth.

This story line is engaging, intriguing, and offers a look at the societal, and political, forces that created a perfect storm for the drug’s acceptance.

Just importantly, though, is Ross’ new life. After spending 20 years in prison, the formerly illiterate Ross learn to read, write and became an activist — speaking out against drug use — and the “War on Drug” approach to addiction which left communities and families in ruin while spawning the prison industrial complex.

My Rating 4 out of 5: The film has it all: corrupt cops, reformed drug dealers, and a wide range of savory and unsavory characters. It gives a very detailed look at the drug scene in California and parts of the Midwest. My only qualm with the film is the Contra storyline. Although the Contra story and Ross’ story are intertwined, I would have preferred a Part One/Part Two scenario so the Contra story could be developed more fully.

Categories: American History, movies, Ohio, TV Shows

British Series Takes Inquistive Look At America

British comedian and writer wryly notes in the opening episode of his 2008 series Stephen Fry in America, that he was almost an American, which means he was almost a Steve. It was the realization, though, that if his father had accepted a stateside position he would have been raised American instead of British, that prompts Fry to create the six-episode travel show.

In the series, Fry visits all 50 states. Although I have watched other state-based shows, it is what Fry chooses to highlight that makes his series intriguing. Overall he avoids the touristy spots — and bypasses the obvious — focusing instead on obscure American history and sites that average viewers will not recognize.

Here are some examples:

  • In the first episode Fry visits several New England states, and as one would expect, he visits Ben & Jerry’s in Vermont where creates his own ice cream flavor. But Fry also visits the stately Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire — site of the 1944 Bretton Woods Conference which launched the International Monetary Fund.
  • In the second episode Fry visits Tennessee, but Nashville is not the focus. Instead it’s a Knoxville facility where people donate their corpses to science. The bodies are left outside and in containers so forensic investigators can better understand how the body decomposes.
  • In the third episode Fry travels both on and along the Mississippi River. His trip starts in New Orleans where he broaches the obligatory subject of Mardi Gras and Voodoo before taking a ride with a black Iraqi War veteran who shows Fry the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. The soldier explains, as he looks at the ruins of his high school, that he feels like he is back in Iraq because of the desolation, destruction and the escalation of force.

As Fry works his way east to west and north to south in his London Taxi Cab, he fills each episode with the unusual and enlightening. Sometimes, the enlightenment is about our country’s oddities — or our poor and desperate regions — and, other times, Fry playfully mocks our fears — including our need to forcefully guard our northern border that no one is clamoring to cross.

Along the way, he entertains a wide range of characters, including actor Morgan Freeman, Blues legend Buddy Guy and a myriad of unknown fellow Americans. As Fry waxes philosophical and humorous, those interested in American history, as seen through a ‘foreigner’s eye’, will find the show enjoyable and worthwhile.

It is currently available on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime.

Each episode is about an hour long.

Categories: American History, TV Shows

Big Brother — The TV Show — Paints Picture Of Who We Are

We have a summer tradition in my house. Each year, my wife, daughter and I huddle around the TV three times a week to watch the CBS reality show, Big Brother. If you’ve never watched the show, it has a simple premise: 12-16 people are locked into a small house for the summer — competing for $500,000. All they have to do is be the last one standing. Two things are pushing them out of the house — their ability or inability to get along with others (called the social game) and their ability to win physical challenges. In some ways, the show mimics the workplace, where people often win or lose based on their skill set and their ability to get along with co-workers.

Unlike workplaces though, people are asked to leave by their peers. This is done once a week when house guests cast votes to evict a teammate. (The idea has never been implemented in the workplace due to a fear of increased turnover.)

But, what unfolds inside the house is too much free time — which often translates to boredom — and a lot of ‘mind games,’ as every move and word of each player is recorded. Soon, they forget the cameras are there and, even with a loss of privacy, they get a false sense of security.

It is this loss of privacy that shines a light on who we are.

In season after season, despite the varying cast of players, a very predictable pattern emerges. Players make poor choices. Players say the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. They trust someone who is lying. As viewers we can see their mistakes. In a small, godlike way, we see the whole picture of their life, but the players, they can only see and know what is immediately in front of them. They only know their own actions and conversations. They cannot see how it is all about to play out.

It’s why they mess up — they make decisions based on their extremely limited viewpoint.

Experience Alters The Course

This season four players are returning and they have adjusted their gameplay. One player, much more abrasive in her past performance, is only showcasing her abrasive side in the diary room — a private conversation with show producers that her peers cannot see or hear until after the season is over. She learned from life. She learned that, although she is funny and witty, not everyone gets her humor or even likes her — so she hams it up for the camera and then uses a more low-key approach when interacting with other players.

Some say this is manipulative — after all she is not being ‘real.’ I disagree. No one can be all things for all people. Our predictability is a liability. When people can push our buttons, they control our behavior. In the end, they know precisely how we will respond.

The wise players, both in the game and in life, step back, pause and think through their response before reacting. Observing life, and adjusting to its flow, is not a weakness. It can lead to peace and power.

And for one person it will mean $500,000 this fall.

Categories: Personal Essays, TV Shows | Tags: , , , ,