I used to watch just a lot more TV period, and if you watch a lot of TV, cop shows are pretty unavoidable. I loved CSI (only the original) and also watched Criminal Intent for several years (I loved Vincent D’Onofrio) and SVU, etc.
I think the shows have a simple appeal: people like good guys and bad guys, they like seeing bad guys get punished, and they like watching mysteries unfold and get solved.
But while those are primarily the reasons why audiences watch them, I can’t help but feel like the reason that networks make SO FUCKING MANY of them, way more than could ever be necessary, has a lot to do with reinforcing state authority and normalizing police brutality. The bad guys aren’t just bad but evil; the wrong-accused always see their names cleared; law enforcement always always has the right “instincts” and when their “instincts” prove wrong it still always works out for justice; scenarios are constantly created where they just HAVE to shoot somebody, there’s no other choice, they just NEED to be shot.
Specifically, I’ve started watching reruns of Bones on Saturday afternoons. I realize it’s mostly fantasy science, but I liked the characters and the mystery-solving aspect of it.
But it’s appalling to me to see that kind of behavior that is upheld as necessary and acceptable and normal.
Last week, Booth was screaming at some immigrant woman who hadn’t even done anything, but might have known who did, about how he was going to deport her, and she was going to ICE detention, and they were going to take her baby and she was never going to see her baby again. But Booth only speaks English and the woman only spoke Spanish, so he was trying to get Bones, who speaks both, to translate for him, but she refused, saying that what he was doing was wrong. Which I thought was good. Until in the next scene she FUCKING APOLOGIZES TO HIM for not doing what was needed to crack the case.
Like, abusing undocumented Latina women who haven’t done anything wrong is not only common, it is also acceptable and necessary. Sure, horrible, dehumanizing, abusive things are done by law enforcement. But only because they HAVE to to keep “us” SAFE.
Entrenched attitudes, yada yada. It’s really hard to see this shit as anything more than deliberate propaganda.
This is a good post!
I’ve seen that thing all over. SVU actually arrested a rape victim in one episode (I think because she refused to testify about a serial rapist). Way to make the victim responsible for prosecution. Hell, SVU even used the Tiller case to normalize terrorism against abortion providers, by rewriting their ripped from the headlines episode to have the doctor kill a baby that had been “accidentally” delivered live rather than being aborted, turning it into revenge rather than terrorism.
It really pisses me off how people will simultaneously complain about people like OJ getting off, while saying that the police should be allowed to break the laws there to prevent the guilty getting off.
I really like the formula of crime dramas – they usually strike the right mix of one story that’s completed each episode (the crime) and one story that’s completed over the course of the season (character development). I like to invest 45 minutes and get a complete story, I like to see good get rewarded and evil get punished.
But I don’t know if it’s me becoming more aware, or TV becoming more extreme, or both – but I’m definitely getting annoyed over the last year or two at how cops are always right simply because they’re cops.
On NCIS, Gibbs can arrange for one person to murder their own sibling, in order to cover up his murder of their father, and this is presented as a good thing. (Made worse because the other characters had been grappling with the moral dilemma of learning that Gibbs had murdered someone in vigilante justice – but the moral dilemmas are resolved when Gibbs has one of the victims’ kids killed and the other arrested?!)
Which is the most egregious example I can think of, but it’s ubiquitous in cop shows – going to the judge who owes you poker money, arresting someone for a crime you know you can’t hold them on to buy time, threatening witnesses if they don’t testify, illegally wiretapping/hacking into suspects’ accounts….
And it’s almost never considered wrong. One token protest that’s quickly overridden/disregarded, if you’re lucky. If there are any consequences, the consequence-bringer will be shown to be worse for unrelated reasons (personal vendettas being popular), and the consequences will be threatened but will never actually manifest.
I was actually really impressed duringmuch of the last season of The Closer for addressing exactly the above kind of overstepping by Brenda, going back to some of her questionable actions even in the first seasons. They were “justified” to us, the viewers, by giving us perfect information and making the bad guys completely evil but it was frightening to see the amount of power the police held.
On a semi-related note, the attitude of the cops in so many shows toward IA is inexplicable to me. Like, they see the worst of people every day and they pretty much all know or have heard of dirty cops and yet are so distrustful, rude, and downright unprofessional when interacting with IA.