Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bait Car & Minority Portrayals

There is something about brainless, unintelligent car thieves getting caught on camera that makes me laugh hysterically. That's why I watch Bait Car on the reg. truTV pumps out some pretty idiotically dumb shows, but Bait Car is my guilty pleasure and one of the only shows I watch on this network.  It’s absolutely hilarious and full of ridiculously boneheaded car thieves, usually minorities, caught in the act of auto theft.  The cars they are stealing are rigged with microphones, video cameras, and automatic lock-down systems so not only do we get to see first-hand what the criminals are thinking and saying during their attempt to commit a crime, but they are locked inside the vehicle until the police show up and arrest them making it impossible to escape.  Many people make the claim that this show is racist because the majority of the people they catch or choose to show are black or Hispanic.  But does that mean the show is racist?  Of course not.  Bait Car as well as other policing shows rely on statistical data.  Bait Car and the media as a whole have a substantial impact on the viewer’s perceptions of race and class because they choose time and time again to portray representations of minorities in a negative light by reinforcing negative stereotypes.

Television channels and networks are littered with various reality policing shows like Cops, Border Wars, The First 48, To Catch a Predator, Alaska State Troopers, and Jail.  Why is this genre of television shows so popular?  A huge influence can be credited to Cops.  Mark Fishman, author of Entertaining Crime, explains how Cops was the first reality TV program to use actual video footage rather than reenactments.  The documentary style of filming compliments well with the realism of the show.  Bait Car is another one of those shows that seems real to the viewers.  They use hidden cameras while also using the documentary filming style as well.  It is a common filming technique for all of the reality policing shows out there.  The documentary style allows us, the viewers, the ability to follow the footsteps of the police.  We are given the point of view shot that makes us feel as if we are actually there chasing criminals with the police.  

Bait Car though is different from Cops because the policing tactics are used in a different way.  Cops find their criminals through people calling and complaining, through dispatch, and through other suspicious means.  Bait Car uses the tactic of luring in the criminals or baiting them into committing a crime.  What they do is park a nice vehicle in some ghetto urban city like Los Angeles, New Orleans, Atlanta and Las Vegas, where statistics show that there is a high rate of auto thefts.  They then draw attention to the vehicle by leaving the door wide open or by leaving the car running.  They will also put visible laptops and other expensive items in the car to try to draw a thief into committing another crime.  While the car is unattended, police hide in various locations where they can still see the car and wait for a criminal to approach and steal the vehicle.  This is a very simple, but strict procedure that requires patience and planning.  The greatest part about the show is that this all actually works.  Rather than the police responding to a crime like in Cops or Alaska State Troopers, the Bait Car method uses undercover cops and stakeout techniques to catching their criminals.  With cameras located everywhere, the viewers are offered this view of how car thieves operate from all angles.  Sometimes the cops will let the driver drive around in hopes that the criminal will lead them to a Chop Shop.  Cops shows us a variety of criminals and the acts they commit while Bait Car is strictly centered around auto and petty theft.  

There are concerns with the racial portrayals in policing shows like Bait Car.  The majority of the criminals shown during each 30 minute segment are minorities.  It’s not that they never catch white people, it’s just that they don’t show those busts.  I found a YouTube video titled, “The Best BS of Bait Car” (located above) which is a two and a half minute video of various excuses criminals have given to try to get out of the crime they committed.  In this video, only one person is white.  The rest are black or Latino.  The white woman looks like a trashy meth addict and speaks like a wannabe gangsta.  She speaks with the uneducated slang which is usually associated with a minority figure which is problematic because it shifts from the fact that she is white to the idea that she learned to sound uneducated through the stereotypical non-white language of a low class area.  

Bait Car drops their rigged vehicles in low socioeconomic locations typically inhabited by minorities where crime rates are high.  It’s not racist and I say this because Bait Car is not telling anyone to get in the car and steal it.  It just so happens that the majority of people doing it happen to be non-whites.  The viewer doesn't know if they ever pick up white thieves because these white thieves are absent from the show.  Bait Car gives off the impression that whites are never committing these crimes.  Whites are on the other end of the law.  In the YouTube video, every single law enforcement officer is white.  According to Dana Mastro, “analyses of reality-based police shows reported that African Americans were more likely to be seen as criminal while Caucasians were most often seen as police officers.  In addition, Latino characters were more likely to appear as criminal suspects on these programs.” (Cops & Crooks).  This positions white people as being law abiding and in the right while non-whites are positioned as being law breaking and in the wrong.  They basically “other” minorities.

Every once and a while we get a law abiding minority who reports the unattended car to the police and proves to be a good samaritan, but it is rare.  It’s rare because it is not interesting or funny.  It is a waste of airtime because viewers want to see the plan go through.  Viewers aren't excited by people not breaking the law especially when they are watching a show whose main purpose is to catch criminals.  These kinds of things are awesome to see on the news, but boring to see on policing, entertainment shows.  I like to see criminals who lack common senses because it makes me feel good about myself.  People love watching shows where we can compare ourselves to others and say, "hey, my life is way better than his/hers."  Shows like Bait Car or Cops boost my self-esteem because I can watch it and know that my life is better than all of these criminals.  I live in a very nice neighborhood that is safe and I feel like I have it made when I watch Bait Car.  

None of this is racist, but rather it’s a pattern.  Back when African American portrayals were either absent from the media or they were portrayed as entertainment devices for white audiences is kind of how Bait Car operates.  Black and Latino criminals have outlandish excuses and are caught doing ridiculous things through hidden cameras and are used strictly for pure entertainment.  These portrayals and representations are demeaning to minority groups because it presents their race, ethnicity, and class in a negative way.  By only exposing audiences to minority groups, it reinforces all the harmful and hurtful stereotypes that exists about these particular groups.  I just think it’s funny how the criminals have to sign forms allowing for the show show their face without distorting anything.  Almost like they embrace the fact that they are on television committing a crime.  By consenting, they allow truTV to show who they are and them not caring is a sign of how idiotic they are.  Nonetheless, the show is awesome and makes me laugh and I suggest giving it a watch.

~Brian Forrest


Fishman, M., & Cavender, G. (Eds.). (1998). Entertaining crime: Television reality programs. Transaction Publishers.

Mastro, D. E., & Robinson, A. L. (2000). Cops and crooks: Images of minorities on primetime television. Journal of Criminal Justice28(5), 385-396.


  1. This is hilarious, I'm glad that somebody wrote about Bait Car. I find myself highly amused by the show but part of me is amused based on the way that I think the show portrays minorities (similar to what you mentioned in your post). How ridiculous is said-situation for this person? They'll go as far as to leave the driver's side door open and car running, they might as well unveil a fucking red carpet. I don't know if that's the effect that TruTV/Bait Car is going for, but I'd imagine that they cut out a lot of excess footage that (if included in the show) would clarify each culprits' situation. Do you think that the show opts out of showing any "filler" (context) to make the show more entertaining, or because they have to fit a specific time slot? Either way I think the editing process reduces and "desensitizes" each perpetrator to his or her race. Great post, I lost it during the 'best BS' clip.

  2. I used to watch this show a lot, and I agree it is funny to see the whole setup go down. Especially, when the police officers tell the criminals that it was a bait car and they were monitoring it the whole time. Although, I stopped viewing it because I feel the procedure of "Bait Car" is unethical and a form of entrapment. It just didn't seem right to purposely place the vehicles in low income ghettos and wait for the criminals to steal the cars. That is just my two sense, however I did enjoy reading your blog and I thought you did a great job!

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  4. It only targets minorities, why don't they ever leave the car in lower class white areas? It's always in lower class Black and Lationo areas so of course the thieves will always be minorities. I know they do catch people who for the most part should be off the streets but would balancing the show kill the producers? It just struck me as very racially biased.

    I'm glad the show was cancelled.

  5. It targets minorities. Why don't they leave the car in lower class white areas? It's always in poor Black or Lationo neighborhoods so the theives will always be minorities.

    I'm glad the show got cancelled, there was just something unethical about that show.

  6. How is it racial profiling if the people ACTUALLY are criminals caught in the act?

  7. facts are facts, im sick of minorities complaining about this BS, if they stopped being the ones committing all of the crimes, they wouldnt make up 85% of the prison population..Sick of people crying racism!! Get jobs, get off welfare!!

  8. Nobody is telling them to steal the car. I love how the thieves think they're so bad ass and then cry like little girls when they get busted. It's not racist. I am so sick of this excuse. As if we should just step aside and let thugs go thuggin' .

  9. Nobody is telling them to steal the car. I love how the thieves think they're so bad ass and then cry like little girls when they get busted. It's not racist. I am so sick of this excuse. As if we should just step aside and let thugs go thuggin' .

  10. They pick the areas by how many cars have been reported stolen in those areas,not by how many blacks, latinos,or whites live there.They are trying to help law abiding car owners in these areas by discouraging car theft in these areas.

  11. They pick the areas by how many cars have been reported stolen in those areas,not by how many blacks, latinos,or whites live there.They are trying to help law abiding car owners in these areas by discouraging car theft in these areas.


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