What Would You Do?

The justice gene—I’ve got it. I swear I was born fully clothed in a bright-colored, monogrammed leotard with a cape tied around my neck. It’s no surprise that I love the TV show What Would You Do? hosted by John Quiñones. If you haven’t seen it, Quiñones sets up a controversial scenario using actors and then films to see what passersby will do. My eleven-year-old took an interest as well, and it’s become our Friday night family ritual, complete with black-and-white cookies, tea, and discussion period afterward (and sometimes during, as we get heated up by what happens or doesn’t happen on screen.) For example:

When attempting to steal a bicycle by sawing through the chain or cutting through the lock, please note:

  • If you are a white guy, no one will pay you much notice
  • If you are a black guy, an angry mob will surround you
  • If you are a blonde woman, you will have instant male accomplices

This isn’t my opinion. These are the facts from a recent show that completely shocked me. The racial bit wasn’t surprising, unfortunately. What astounded me was the number of men willing to help that pretty, blonde woman after she admitted she was stealing the bicycle. And then, though they could have requested to have their faces blocked in the edited episode, they didn’t. They were proud of helping her steal the bike. These must be the same sort of men who find themselves tied to the posts of a hotel bed while the hot chick leaves with their clothes, jewelry, and wallet.

Another fascinating fact: In the potentially dangerous scenarios (e.g., an older teenaged male pushing around his girlfriend), it is often a little woman with a lioness’s roar who comes to the aid of the victim, while a strapping guy in the background shuffles around trying to decide if he wants to get involved or not. I would bet that most of these women are mothers.

Then there are the episodes in which the apathy is downright scary. In one, a group of men at a bar laugh as they watch a woman slip a drug into her date’s drink. In reverse, they would have jumped to the aid of a woman being drugged unknowingly, but when it was a guy, it was funny. Is it that elbow-in-the-ribs, wink-wink machismo that prevents them from helping out one of their own? Did they assume she had sexual intentions and not murderous ones? And that it would be okay or cool for a woman to take advantage of a man? I have no answers, but I suspect it’s this same elbow-in-the-ribs, wink-wink machismo that decides it would be fun to get a bunch of fraternity pledges near-dead drunk and then pile them into a car trunk. Just saying.

I wonder how people can walk by another in need and not stop to help. On a bright note, I’ve noticed that as more shows air, the response from onlookers is better. Perhaps more people are watching and waking up to the idea that we share a responsibility to take care of our fellow man. We’re not all brave enough to step into the middle of the action, and many times that isn’t advisable anyway, but how about calling the police when necessary? We can all do that.

At the end of the show, Quiñones interviews the people who stepped forward to assist. In 100% of the cases, they deny they’re heroes. They are simply human beings doing the right thing. Amen to that.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday) is a different type of show based on ideas submitted by viewers, and it takes you behind the scenes. They’ve decided to air this one at 10 PM, perhaps due to the subject matter of one of the set-ups. I haven’t decided yet whether I’ll let the wee one watch this time. I hope this special edition lives up to the regular weekly show. Regardless, I’ll have fun watching my friend Peter D Michael as one of the undercover actors. Go Petie!



  1. huffygirl said,

    February 21, 2011 at 3:46 pm

    I, like you, hope I’d be the one doing the right thing. I have not heard of this show before and will have to check it out. Sort of Candid Camera with a conscience?

    In my city last summer in a sketchy part of town, a group of teens pulled a passerby from a bicycle and beat him senseless, while others in the group and passersby watched. Sadly this was a real event, not one staged for the cameras. A sad commentary on our society.

    • February 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      “Candid Camera with a conscience” is a great tagline for the show, Huffy. Some of the episodes have moved me from anger to tears in seconds. And then there are the moments when you want to jump on the couch with your fist pumping the air because someone did the right thing.

      I’m not surprised about that incident in your city. We had one at a local school where 100 kids stood around and video-taped a fight and then posted it to social networking sites. Very sad commentary.

  2. Richard said,

    February 21, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Sounds like an interesting show. I do wonder if the increase in good responses is more to do with the fear of possibly looking cowardly on TV than the inspiration of those who didn’t.

    On a related note, an old woman has become a national hero over here in the UK after she single-handedly foiled a jewellery store robbery armed only with her handbag. 🙂

    • February 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm

      Hey, whatever it takes.

      I’m heading to Google to look up the handbag hero.

      • February 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

        The audacity of those guys in broad daylight on a crowded street…It’s shocking! Notice how everyone was content to stand around and watch with video cameras rolling until the lady in red came charging in. Brilliant!

  3. February 21, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    I haven’t seen the show. I love the idea that it’s a family affair at your home and that the show sparks conversation. Values clarification with cookies. Sounds delicious and nutritious.

    • February 21, 2011 at 6:17 pm

      I don’t know about nutritious, but when you have a kid who has been eating grilled salmon and steamed veggies since he had teeth, I figure throw him a cookie once in a while. 😉

  4. Snoring Dog Studio said,

    February 22, 2011 at 8:24 am

    Humans can surprise and delight us when they step up and do the right thing. They can let us down, too. The pretty blonde scene just reminds me that often, the male humans react solely on instinct.

    • February 22, 2011 at 8:45 am

      Hi, Snoring Dog. I think we just crossed paths in the blogosphere. I was just commenting on your home improvement post.

      You’re right about instinct, though I always thought our instincts were meant to keep us alive and well. I suppose in this case, instinct could lead to the continuation of the species though “daddy” will spend some time in prison for helping “mommy” steal a bike. 😉

  5. fordeville said,

    February 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    I hate this show! It makes me so uncomfortable, more so since they filmed one episode in our local coffee shop — and now I’m always wondering if John Quinones is going to pop out of the woodwork sometime when I am pre-caffeinated.

    I’d like to think I’d do the right thing, but the reality is that I’m probably so damn distracted wrangling my two toddlers that I’m sadly oblivious to the drama around me. And, plus, if I’d have to give up my coffee to fight crime or confront wrongdoing — well, let me think about this…

  6. February 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm

    Candid camera with a conscience. Cool concept. About 15 years ago I was in downtown Philly and a man came from nowhere and punched me to the ground on the sidewalk filled with dozens of people. Not a single person reacted. City of Brotherly Love my patoozi ! Another time an incident occurred where a fellow condo board member was trying to stop these kids from throwing stones over the wall at our cars and half a dozen grown men jumped the wall to assault him. I could not back him up because I was in a probationary period with the state re my professional license because of several arrests in my past(all small time nonsense, I assure you). If there is any type of incident like this in Miami, everyone within a 10 mile radius gets arrested(OK I exaggerated a little). I did not back him up because if a fight started I would get arrested and lose my job. To this day I still am so ashamed of myself. Fortunately the matter did not explode and no one was hurt. Does not reduce the disappointment in myself but I had two kids to support.

  7. dtrasler said,

    February 22, 2011 at 11:20 pm

    Such a good idea, but one that gives me palpitations. As an Englishman, I’m naturally reticent. That said, I also know a guy who was badly beaten by a would-be car thief. My friend saw him trying to break into the car and simply said “I don’t think you should be doing that.” and continued walking. Instead of running away, the dumb thief grabbed a big stick and attacked my friend with it, putting him in hospital overnight. Luckily the guy was caught and prosecuted, but hardly the reward you want for good Samaritan-like behaviour!

    • February 23, 2011 at 1:10 am

      Very true. You don’t want to be killed preventing a car from being stolen. It’s just a car. Life is more important.

      I tend to get heated up over the injustices toward people. A recent show covered the issue of “shopping while black.” A black woman in casual attire was berated by the clerk of a boutique and told she should leave because she obviously wasn’t the type of customer they catered to and probably couldn’t afford anything in the store. White women who were dressed no better were allowed to shop. To be honest, I wouldn’t be caught dead in a boutique, but if I were in that situation, there’s no way my mouth wouldn’t start flapping. This kind of abuse makes me crazy.

      Thanks for stopping by, DT. You’re the first juggler turned playwright that’s read my blog. 😉 I look forward to reading more of yours tomorrow.

  8. February 23, 2011 at 9:18 am

    I haven’t seen this show, but it sounds interesting. The Bystander Effect, where there are people standing by doing nothing but watching someone in true need of assistance, is a strange phenomenon. The more people present when something happens, the less likely anyone is to offer assistance because there’s a “someone else will jump in and do something or call the police or whatever” effect happening to the individuals. The only thing I’ve noticed in these set-up situations is that a lot of the time it doesn’t seem like the “victim” in the set-up is acting appropriately. I saw one recently where a little girl was being abducted and she was whining “don’t touch me” or something like that and everybody looked, but no one really reacted, but when I watched the video, I think I would have thought she was throwing a tantrum more than needing help. Unfortunately, the racial stereotyping and “shopping while black” doesn’t surprise me at all. I often wonder how many people know that most shoplifters are affluent, white, middle-aged females that are probably exactly the people they “cater to” in that boutique? I’m going to check out this show! It sounds just like something I’d like to watch.

    • February 23, 2011 at 7:47 pm

      I’m always amazed by the people more concerned with filming the event than helping out. A few comments up, my friend Rich mentioned the woman in the UK who single-handedly scared off 6 jewel thieves while people stood by with their phones in the air. If you were sleeping under the same rock as I was when this footage went viral, check it out on YouTube. Keep one eye glued to the upper-right corner of the screen as lady in red rushes in to help from blocks away.

  9. Posky said,

    February 23, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Very very interesting. This post really opens up a lot of questions about who we are and how we treat other people differently. It’s so strange to me to think that we don’t just treat everyone the same and not worry about it.

    This has already started a dialogue between my friends. Great post.

  10. SuziCate said,

    February 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I have not heard of this show. It sounds quite interesting. Amazing how judgment comes before justice in so many case.

    • February 24, 2011 at 7:21 pm

      It really is. Something about this show reminded me of a book I read a long time ago that really made an impression. The title is “Black Like Me” and it’s the true story of a white man who intentionally took a drug to make his skin dark so he could experience what it was like to live as a black man in the South in 1959.

  11. bronxboy55 said,

    February 24, 2011 at 7:28 pm

    It’s a sad commentary that we can identify and commend the passersby who are willing to help — because there are so few of them. Have we changed our values that much? Are we afraid of lawsuits? Getting shot? Spilling our six-dollar coffee? What happened to us?

    • February 24, 2011 at 7:53 pm

      Fear, self-absorption, being taught to mind your own business, ignorance–I’m sure they all play a role. But I really want to believe that most people would do the right thing.

  12. kATE said,

    February 25, 2011 at 4:24 am

    All this simply says only one thing – Women rocks! They are always there for help.
    Woman’s Image
    What form of woman impresses you the most?

    • February 25, 2011 at 8:15 am

      Not so fast, Kate…I saw a few women practically step over a person who had fallen in the grocery store. There may have been a sale on baked beans in aisle six though.

  13. February 25, 2011 at 4:20 pm

    Yes, I have seen an episode of this show. It was an episode about taking the mother’s baby. The mother was actually the actress. I found it unnerving and have not wanted to be on the look out for another episode.

    • February 25, 2011 at 7:02 pm

      Hmmm, I’m not sure which one you’re referring to. Maybe the one where the mother left her baby in the car, or the one where she was going to drive while intoxicated. In any case, yes, some of them are unnerving. And unfortunately, they all do happen in real life every day.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  14. deborahatherton said,

    February 25, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    It’s interesting that recent studies show that most human beings display the “justice gene” as early as six months – our sense of justice is innate, although apparently our sense of responsibility for seeing justice done not so much! It’s the gap between knowing and doing that is interesting. Although the episode where men were ready, willing, and eager to help a woman still a bicycle sounds hilarious — I guess some impulses are stronger than our sense of justice!

    • February 26, 2011 at 9:49 am

      I guess so. These guys have obviously retained some primitive memories of their ancestors stealing the wheel from the other caveman and getting the girl. 😉

  15. Jessica S said,

    February 27, 2011 at 11:35 pm

    My hubby would have been one of the humble heroes. He’s a big boy, 6’3″ and pure broad-shouldered muscle (I’m kind of proud to call him mine). We saw a guy pushing a woman around in the parking lot (not a cute blonde, by the way) and without any hesitation, he strolled on over and asked the man if he had something to discuss. The girl fled into the nearest store enterance, and the man just got in his truck and left. We still don’t know what was going on, but I do know that poor girl stopped getting pushed into the bed of the truck.

  16. Melinda said,

    February 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

    I saw the first episode of this show and was fascinated. You would hope that if someone is in trouble people would get involved. It is an interesting study in human behavior that gets you thinking. If I could ever get my TV off the Disney channel I would watch more.

    • February 28, 2011 at 11:08 am

      I remember those days, Melinda. In my house it was endless viewing of Baby Mozart and Baby Einstein. Someday you’ll have your TV back.

  17. Val Erde said,

    February 28, 2011 at 3:04 pm

    We don’t have that show here, that I know of. There used to be something similar years ago, but I can’t remember what it was called. My mother used to be rivetted to it (not literally, you understand…)

    Me, I’m pretty much a coward. I will phone the police if I see an injustice going on outside (and in fact have done in the past) but if I’m close to the ‘action’ I get too scared to do anything usually. Then I nag someone else to do something!

    • February 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

      “Fighting injustice one nagging encounter at a time.” That works for me, Val. Whatever it takes. It’s the people who step over the body lying in the street that do my head in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: