The Thing I Like About …

FBI Files: the times when the agents being interviewed have to be disguised.

FBI Files discusses cases, some from a really long time ago, others from just a little while ago. But, as often as possible, they interview the agents who were on the case, and sometimes those interviews are conducted in the shadows, and the agents’ voices altered. One agent actually had a mask over his head, in the shadows, with his voice altered. Why?

Because these agents are currently on undercover assignments.

When we think of “undercover assignments”, we tend to think big – the stuff we’ve seen in movies and TV shows, with glamourous stars and scripted “problems” and a knowing that the things we’re seeing are made up. The more TV shows and movies we see, the more likely we are to consider the subject matter to be fabricated, to be a thing that doesn’t really happen. But it does really happen.

Not every undercover assignment is a high-stakes Mission-Impossible scenario … but undercover assignments are usually in connection with some pretty bad people, who do pretty bad things. Being undercover is risky at best, and if they’re found out, the agents could pay for their deception with their lives.

In real life.

When you watch the FBI Files, you see a lot of men and women who are not glamourous stars. Since the cases are often from many years ago, some of the agents aren’t even agents anymore – they’ve gotten much older, and have retired, and look not just like regular people but like regular grandpas and grandmas. They don’t look gritty, or chiseled, or scary. Since they picked their profession because they care about catching bad guys, they’re often emotional about the cases they’re describing, the ones in which really bad guys hurt or took innocent lives. Real bad guys. Real lives. Real deaths. Real danger.

It gets so easy to criticize or judge – I don’t know how many true-crime shows I’ve seen where the people complain about how long it’s taking to find this bad guy or that, or where they just don’t understand why it’s so difficult to build a case – as though in the real world everything should take the same hour or two that it does on the TV screen. But in the real world, ordinary people become police detectives and FBI agents and intelligence gatherers … and those ordinary people risk their actual lives to do what they do, and it takes the time and effort that things take in the real world (more than two hours).

These people are someone’s mom or dad or grandparent. They go to PTA meetings and host children’s sleepovers. They bake and mow and do laundry and pay bills. And they have jobs that require so much secrecy, deception and danger that if they want to talk to you about the good things they’ve done before, they have to pretend they’re not them, and talk to you with a dark mask over their heads. And if they want to live through the day and accomplish more good things, they have to pretend they’re not doing them.

How many times have you wished that your job was more … glamourous? More exciting? More worth talking about? How many times have you bemoaned your “ordinary” life? If you’re like most people, you think sometimes that instead of being a claims adjuster or a hairdresser or a gas station attendant, maybe you could have been an agent of some kind, saving people and living a life of danger. But is that really what you want? If you had to do it as the regular person that you are – without scripts, or wardrobes, or people yelling “cut!” … if you had to be your ordinary self, working at a job where your life depended on keeping your identity a secret. Where if you fail, actual bad guys get away with actual crimes, and maybe, if you fail, you’re actually dead. For real.

What strikes me about FBI Files is that the people in the shadows and the masks aren’t really any different from me or you. They’re living this “glamourous” life – except that it isn’t really glamourous, and it is really dangerous … and when I realized that, it changed the way I looked at all the made-up stuff.

And it changed the way I looked at “ordinary.”

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