Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hawaii 5-0: A Gripe

Pardon me, I just want to rant about something...

It's pretty common for television shows to exaggerate what's technically possible, for dramatic effect. This is usually pretty obvious, and shows regularly stretch their portrayals of "cutting edge" technology, usually passing it off as "conceivably possible" with today's technology, if everything was aligned correctly and functioning optimally. We, as viewers, have come to accept this, with the implied assumption that the main characters are optimally utilizing all the available technology at the time, as impractical as that might be.

This, then, brings me to my gripe. On a recent episode of Hawaii 5-0, we have the typical cop-chase scenario: tracking the bad guy from point to point, calling up surveillance footage in real time, calling in vehicle identification, etc. At one point, one of the main characters even causes a spy satellite to be re-tasked to locate the fleeing suspect in real time; implausible, sure, but within the standard technology-use stretches common for television and movies. However, at another point, they had identified the suspect as being inside a late-model GM car (GM sponsors the show with taxpayer money, so product placement is predominant) with a hostage, and it takes them ten minutes to get a trace.

Now, as I presume most people are aware, all GM cars come with OnStar: you can't get one without it for at least the last few years. As everyone should be aware, OnStar comes with several built-in features, such as automatic tracking of the vehicle, remote management, and a built-in microphone which can be remotely activated and recorded from without any indication in the car. Moreover, all these things can be done by OnStar without any sort of court order or customer recourse (as they are a private company, and you agree to the EULA), as has already been demonstrated publicly.

So I have to ask: why, when they knew the suspect was in the car, did they not just call up OnStar, and have them remotely disable the engine, lock the doors, and engage the listening system to record the resulting incriminating conversation, all while sending the tracking information to the police immediately? This could be done in real-time, much less within the ten minute window stated to just get the vehicle location. In this case, the show had a blatant understatement of the government/police technical capabilities, which was very out-of-place given all the other high-tech stretches. It was very disconcerting, and made the rest of the premise almost laughable to me.

I guess my message to writers for TV/movies is: if you're going to stretch what's technically possible for dramatic effect, don't ignore the blindingly obvious when constructing your plot. If the bad guys are in a car with OnStar or similar remotely accessible listening and/or vehicle management system, and the good guys are the police (or have access to the system for whatever reason), catching them would be trivial: that's part of the point. Don't ask me to believe the good guys have all this high-tech magic, but are willfully ignorant of the features mandated in cars largely specifically for law enforcement and government surveillance: it makes your shows seem stupid and contrived.

That's my opinion, anyway.

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