Other people’s misfortunes as entertainment

August 20, 2007 9:39 PM

Border Security, Channel 7

My parents and I are big fans of Channel 7’s “Border Security“, a half-hour reality show shot mostly in and around Sydney International Airport focusing on the work of the Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Departments.

It’s exactly how you’d imagine it and the usual themes are these:

  • People smuggling in drugs in fanciful and creative, but ultimately flawed methods.
  • Same goes for parcels and containers arriving into Australia containing prohibited and counterfeit goods.
  • Visitors arriving in Australia under false pretenses or with fake documents.
  • Not declaring commerical items to Customs, or food and other organic items to Quarantine.

The bulk of the offenders shown on the show though are people who break Custom and Quarantine laws. Just like how you’d see signs reading “Drug trafficking carries the death penalty” at most South-East Asian airports, there are big signs in Australian airports telling you to either dump all organic material at special bins or declare them if you are unsure. They say that ignorance is not an excuse, but it sure is entertaining.

Most of the people depicted are always shown being asked about the immigration card completed upon arrival, specifically about goods declaration, “Do you understand what you have entered in this form?” And all would always say yes and then the next scene would cut to the Custom and Quarantine officers pulling out food, plant or organic items from their luggage.

Then there are those who brazenly flout the laws by bringing in suitcases filled with just food or organic material, or commercial quantity of goods that are obviously not for private use.

It’s formulaic and we would see the same things being done by Australians and other nationalities repeatedly, but week in, week out we would tune in to watch it without fail. And I have a theory why: it’s fun to watch people mess up and get caught because it makes us feel better with ourselves. We like to think that we would never be that stupid, and we would never break the law. The show is a validation of our moral and intellectual superiority, a feel-good pill to be taken once a week.

Put it another way, the show is an equivalent of “sux to be you”.

Though I wonder if we laugh at other people’s misfortunes enough, is karma gonna be a real beeyotch and bite us in our ass when we least expect it? 😉

10 thoughts on “Other people’s misfortunes as entertainment

  1. blur ting

    Knowing how stringent Australian immigration is, we never take any chances ie. no food, not even candy when we step into Aussie airports.

    I had one encounter in San Francisco. I brought in some ‘bak kua’ for a friend and decided not to declare. It was stupid of course because they managed to detect it. When the immigration officer asked if I knew there’s food in my luggage, I said “No. Not that I am aware of.” Then he pulled out my package and asked “Then what is this?”

    I said sheepishly “I think my mum snuck this in.” I got an earful from the guy. “You should always know what’s in your luggage!”

    But he quickly followed up with “Since you’re such a nice girl and it’s your first offence, I’ll give you a small fine of $25.” He kept the pork bak kua but let my chicken one through. Till now, I don’t quite see the logic but now I have a quarantine record with the immigration. From then on, I always declare everything I bring.

  2. mooiness Post author

    yeah it’s better to just declare it, better to be over cautious than not. But the bak kua thing is weird, why is chicken allowed but not pork? Shouldn’t both be confiscated?

    In any case, wouldn’t bak kua be available in San Fran? Or is the Singapore one so much better? 😉

  3. yurl

    aussie customs are the food nazis. I’ve tried the have no food thing before but I always get a full baggage check anyway. They just don’t believe asians will go through without trying to sneak in some strange foodstuffs. I’ve figured the fastest way through customs is to buy a sacrificial bag of chinese herbs. declare it and let them confiscate it off you in the red lane. They do a quick look over of everthing else send you through without much fuss, happy you’ve paid the troll toll. better than waiting for the customs officer to fully unpack your luggage in the green line.

  4. Dabido

    I’m not an avid watcher of th show, but I have caught it and it’s New Zealand counterpart many times before.

    I think there is something to watching people with their hands caught in the cookie jar [so to say].

    I find it funny some of the excuses they come up with … but then again, I deal with that sort of thing in my line of work anyway.

    We recently caught a guy on fraud, and after he’d made his statements etc and admitted to being decietful, he came back the next day to try to recant it and tried to say that the previous manager was aware of his actions and approved of them … what he didnt’ know was the previous manager was the guy who wanted him investigated to begin with as he suspected fraud! Bwahahahahaaa!

    Guy was lucky though, we didn’t decide to prosecute, we just let him go.

    But, I find it funny that they try to pull the wool over the eyes of people who do that sort of work day in and day out. They know the scams, they talk to each other and they tip each other off when they suspect something.

    Yurl – It’s not that they don’t believe asians, they actually have profiling that they work off. If they always used to pull you up for a full baggage check, it’s most likely that you fitted a profile for people who do a lot of smuggling of food. This sometimes might include racial stereotyping, but usually age, nationality, where you are from, econonic status and a whole stack of other things come into play.
    So, don’t blame it on being asian, blame it on being asian, your age, where you just came from, where you live in Australia, what you do for a living, where you lived as a child, the fact that the last country you were in thought you looked suspiscious, some guy you met once in a bar but didn’t realise he was being followed by police and you had a ten minute conversation with him, how much you earn, if a relative you know owns a store which sells exotic goods or imports, and random check [because they do randomly check some people who don’t fit the profiling, just to be sure].

    Oh, and blame the other people who fit your profile, because it is possible that 99% of them like to try smuggling food or other things through customs. 🙂

  5. mooiness Post author

    yurl: unfortunately, a lot of the offenders tend to be Asian. I don’t understand it though – a lot of the items can be bought at Chinatowns and local Asian grocery stores.

    Lad Litter: hehe, I would consider Big Brother to be of the same ilk as well, but Idol too? 🙂

    Dabido: yeah true that about the offenders trying to lie to these officers who’ve hear the excuses on a daily basis.

  6. blur ting

    Hi Moo, singapore bak kua is da best! Even my true blue American friends love it! Malaysia’s version should be somewhat similar to ours. But the ones in San Francisco…I really don’t know cos I haven’t gone out to look. But the beef jerky found in their grocery stores…that i don’t like.

  7. AP

    I always gets freaked out at airports, because even though I never intend to do anything wrong, I ALWAYS get searched!

    Last week, they threw out my tube of toothpaste (it was five bucks, the bastards! :)), and the lady pulled out some used underwear from my backpack! Sure it might have traces of “organic matter” but how rude!! 😀


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