LA’s guilty pleasure

Photo by mxlanderos

If there’s one thing that unites Angelenos, it’s a fascination with car chases. The main news shows will completely shut down their regular coverage for the whole hour if there’s a live chase happening, no matter how uneventful it is. The anchors turn into sports commentators, with lots of informed speculation about the exact tactics police will use, when the PIT maneuver is safe, if the CHP or sheriffs have jurisdiction at every point. KTLA even has a helicopter pilot with the perfect name of Johnny McCool to cover it all.

Liz asked me last night, "Is that morally correct?" and the answer has to be "No, but I still can’t look away". It’s glorifying criminals who are putting a lot of innocent people in danger for the sake of entertainment, and feels like a disorganized version of The Running Man.

Still, to LA residents who spends a significant portion of their life at a frustrated standstill in traffic, the sight of someone breaking free and using every trick to speed along the freeways is mesmerizing and vicariously liberating. The fact that they almost always get caught at the end provides a moral alibi, but the real payoff is seeing them in flight.

I had dinner last night with a friend who’s been collecting the most gripping examples on his blog, and we talked a lot about this local obsession. This New Yorker article is the best exploration I’ve seen, with Sheriff Baca blaming the large number of chases on a shortage of cops and lots of "highly mobile idiots", but it never manages to really explain their popularity. It looks like the number of local car chases is actually declining since the peak in 2004, but I’m betting LA stays way ahead of the rest of the country for a long time to come.

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