Tuesday, August 25, 2015

31 Day Miami Vice Challenge, Day 25: Reflection of Real Life in the 80s?

I can only be called an 80s kid because I was born within the first part of the decade (1983, holla!), so this may be one of the more difficult challenges of this month. Three was born in 1976, so he has a much clearer memory of how things were back when Miami Vice burst onto the scene and limped into infamy with its craptastic later seasons. But I'm not going to defer to his memory. Instead, I will RESEARCH, because I am a geek and this sort of thing excites me.

Miami Vice focuses more so on the drug trade*, with prostitution, racketeering, and weapons running to keep things interesting - like how Buffy didn't just fight vampires, even though that was plainly in the series' title. Unlike today, where a lot of drugs like heroin and cocaine come through Mexican cartels into the United States over the border, most of the drugs that entered our country came through our southern ports - the biggest one being Miami - from Latin American countries like Colombia and Panama (Noriega worked out a deal with Colombian kingpin Escobar where he allowed drugs to pass through the canal). This was both in response to the demand for their products in the States, where people would - and could, seeing as it was the decade of greed and the one in which Friedmanite economics was championed by President Ronald Reagan, both of which I'll get into later - pay top dollar for primo shit, and also basically to stick it to the Anglos who invaded countries (Grenada, anyone?) and toppled regimes that were not working toward American interests.

And from that bit of backdrop, it helps you really get the character of Calderone (the first one, not the surviving son later played by John Leguizamo). An intelligent but unschooled man, he completely played the system and lived life on his terms, laughing at the feeble attempts by the lowly vice squad; after all, he had judges in his pockets and entire islands on which to escape justice. When Rico and Sonny got too close, he'd send his men after them, and it was only through his daughter, Angelina, that he would fall.

The 80s were also a very violent time period, where the above mentioned Pablo Escobar would punish even a perceived enemy by dispatching a hit squad to a mall where they were eating with their family, collateral damage be damned. Crime rates had been rising since the 1960s and seemingly culminated in the 80s, ushering in the great suburban migration (of mainly middle to upper-middle class white folks), and a lot of that was caused by the influx of drugs and the intense competition for thriving markets those drugs provided. The first couple of seasons of Miami Vice had their fair share of shoot-em-up scenes, but the later seasons definitely echoed more of the actuality of life in Miami, where you could just be an innocent bystander, getting your groceries, when two rival cartels got into a firefight. People on both sides - the drug traffickers and the lawmen - had just as likely a chance to be killed in a raid, and Vice made sure to incorporate that into their stories. Of course, it was presented with a certain cinematic veneer, but there was truth behind what they were showing each week to the masses.

Now, remember that greed I mentioned? Well, we're about to get into it. I've never seen the movie Wall Street, and I don't ever intend to (but then again, Three got me to watch Falling Down, so ...), but that famous quote "Greed Is Good" encapsulates the entire decade, enough so that it trickled down to its media, like Miami Vice. Even in the first episode, Corky - the dealer who gets blown up for trying to leave Calderone's organization - discusses free enterprise and democracy and the ability to just buy whatever you want. In later episodes, businessmen, federal and local police officers, lawyers, you name it all showed their seedier sides, willing to take hits in the integrity department, as long as it padded their wallets. Sometimes they got their comeuppance, like the lawyer in "Milk Run,"** but more often than not, they simply call the cops names and continue on with their lives of crime, all based upon wanting more money or power or prestige than they already had.

The consensus, at least in my brain, is that Miami Vice was as accurate as it could be, given the sensors at the time, and actually pretty groundbreaking in its attempts to be realistic. Nobody expected the Duke Boys from Dukes of Hazzard to represent real Georgian life in the 70s and 80s, Dallas and Dynasty were admitted evening soaps, and super sappy family sitcoms like Growing Pains were only meant to impart lessons and leave you with a feel-good warmth in your stomach. So to approach the dangerous life of vice cops in Miami, with a bit of curated realism, was quite revolutionary.

Of course, I could start talking about the outdated stuff and the fashion, but that's for the next two days!


* I'll be discussing drug use later on Day 30, both the historical setting and portrayal of drug use and the people that use them on the show, so I'm not going to delve too deeply into it here. 
** Every time I watch this episode, I'm reminded that he's wearing the same designer shirt that Theo in The Cosby Show wanted so badly. 
Via Three Little Birds

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