I missed Felicity yesterday... but don't regret it. Instead, PBS had my attention for the evening.
It started when I was channel surfing. I have an aversion for commercials that aren't clever... and since there aren't many of those, my fingers start moving frantically whenever there is a commercial break. Nothing was particularly interesting on Tuesday evening television, so nothing in the typical network channels held me.
Then I changed the channel to PBS.
A hundred dollar bill flashed on the screen. I don't consider myself a greedy person, but it caught my eye. "What's this?" I thought. I let the remote down.
It was NOVA. A special on how money is made. Amazing what they do to put security into a hundred dollar bill. Watermark. Holographic film placed into the ink to make it change color depending on the angle that the bill is hold. Microprinting. Security strip. There are supposedly a number of other securities that the US government, of course, doesn't tell us. Amazing. I also found the portion where they describe the various methods that they "rescue" bills. Any bill is legal tender, no matter what condition it is in. It's amazing to see termite-eaten bills slowly being picked apart and pieced together to reimburse the bills' owner.
Soon, the show was over and, unlike other channels where I start surfing upon completion of the show, I kept watching. I enjoy hearing about upcoming shows and specials on PBS. The next show sounded very intriguing.
What if we knew everything about a death row killer and what he had done -- what would we think? Would it still make sense to execute him?
Oo. That sounded like an interesting show. The idea behind it was to do a show on Capital Punishment. "A macro-examination of an execution's effect on all who take part in it or have a stake in it... we would get to know the condemned man, learn everything we could about him and his crimes, and record what happens to him as he sees his death approaching. Most Americans have made it clear that they favor the Death Penalty. But support or opposition to it seems based largely on abstract arguments and slogans about crime and punishmant. What if the whole process were to be given human faces at cloase range? Might it have an effect on our opiniosn about Capital Punishment?" It was a three and a half year project where they searched for "a typical murderer". They discovered Clifford Boggess, a man who admitted that he was a murderer (most of the men on Death Row were appealing on the basis of innocence. Clifford Boggess was appealing on the basis that he was a changed man). He committed two terrible premeditated murders on old men for their money. He was articulate and had a good memory and was able to recall the events in detail.
It turned out that the more they learned about Clifford Boggess, the more amazing and interesting a character he became. Quite atypical. His absent and abusive parents. His isolation. Nerdiness. He graduated as the valedictorian of his high school class. In jail he became a talented artist.
As I watched his story unfold, I became extremely sympathetic to him, despite his demonstrable vindictiveness that can be seen in his choice of visitors. Not so sympathetic that I would believe he was a changed man... but I don't believe that he should have died. I think that he could have still contributed to society in some respect as an artist, even behind the jail walls. He was extremely articulate. Perhaps he would become a writer or poet. We would never know: he was executed on June 11th, 1998.
I found the website today over lunch. The show's creator had some interesting observations about Boggess.
Several members of our production team were repelled by him, and all of us wish he'd never been born. But the more we were drawn into his story, the richer it became. It borrowed from one classic after another: Crime and Punishment, for one, except that unlike Raskolnikov, whose conscience betrayed him to the police and then finally helped him find redemption, Boggess, with no conscience to betray him, lacked any means of redemption, however he tried (and I became convinced that he did try very hard); Frankenstein, the monster made without a soul, doomed from the beginning; Pinocchio, the wooden boy trying to become human. Boggess himself liked The Wizard of Oz and was always longing for some place that didn't exist. And he liked the works of Jane Austen, for reasons that escape me. And then he came to embrace the works and life story of Vincent Van Gogh and The Bible, identifying with the thief on the cross.
I'm sure that if my family member was murdered in the brutal methods Clifford Boggess used, I would be infuriated and passionate about the need for his execution. I wouldn't see past the murder. To look at the murderer as a man would be unthinkable. I think of man having sense, control. Clifford Boggess, at the time he performed the murders, seemed to have neither sense or control. However, like Heavenly Creatures, I sympathized with Clifford Boggess. I related to his intelligence. His creativity. I grabbed on to that very human trait and turned a monster into someone human... a human that should not be killed. Perhaps imprisoned for life, but not killed. He reminded me of Jeffrey Dahmer when he was being interviewed several years ago. Watching the news, he was despicable. An animal. Once I heard him interviewed. Heard his well-thoughtout, articulate answers... my mind changed. Here was someone I could have a potentially fascinating conversation with. Intellectual stimulation for my brain. That should never be wasted in my eye! But, the Justice system doesn't cater to my personal entertainment and amusement.
After seeing NOVA and Frontline, one can easily see the difference between public television and network television. The quality of the program and the analysis of Clifford Boggess' case is something that you don't see on network television. The only show that comes close is 60 Minutes or Sunday Morning. Every story is chosen with care. The cinematography doesn't resemble an MTV video. The camera is allowed to linger and the viewer is allowed to take in the images slowly. The interviewee's face. The scenery.
This is what PBS does best. The presentation of quality documentaries. I originally thought that PBS would be the pinnacle when it comes to performance art, but I've lost a bit of faith in it since it chose not to show "Lolita". ("If PBS doesn't do it, who will? Showtime!") However, I still consider it a mecca of great programming like Mystery and Frontline and NOVA. I always feel guilty after I watch shows like Earth: Final Conflict. Never with PBS.
The show made me want to start writing to a convicted prisoner. I wanted to do so a while ago (I don't exactly remember when), but I never acted on it. I need a PO Box first. Once I get one, however, I think I would want to write to one. Perhaps another artistic deathrow inmate.
So, what are my views on the death penalty? I'm still undecided. Abstractly, I would give a nod to capital punishment. However, on this humanistic level I don't think I could condemn someone to it. I seem to always see the potential the person could still have.