The Meta-Meaning of Ridiculous Cop Shows
I watch cop shows. I admit it. Not sure what it is. The out-side normal characters? Knowing the enemy? The bad guys getting collared or shot? Because of course the real ‘bad guys’ of the world always have high-priced attorneys. Gritty attempts at realism? The science of forensic everything? A cornucopia of large handguns? Corpses getting Y-shaped stitches? Or just the proximity of real hard death.
Whatever it is, cop shows have replaced cowboy shows in the pantheon. ‘Law and Order’ is the granddaddy of them all, although now its shrunken to just “Special Victims Unit.’ They specialize in prosecuting sexual abuse using cynical or troubled but self-righteous cop characters. At one time it played on ‘ripped from the headlines’ story lines, which actually seemed political sometimes. Now they barely go there – evidently having run out of headlines. It also frequently avoided the standard ‘black/Latino/white weirdo/Mafia’ targets, but instead pilloried affluent assholes. So that you might cheer when they got nailed. However, on L&O, you could also count on them threatening some guy with a gun or a punch or an occasional water-boarding – just to get them to talk. Always justified. Or telling some scared schlub that if they didn’t hand over the information – why, they’d get a subpoena! ‘Not that,’ exclaims the frightened frog, ‘ANYTHING but that!’ L&O proved that rappers could be cops - see “Ice-T” - and that cynical actors and former comedians like Richard Belzer can make money anyway.
Then there was the ‘tall bending guy’ on 'L&O - Criminal Intent' – Vincent D’Onofrio, who set the stage for a whole new group of cops – the magic ones. He would be able to get the Stone Reaper to confess in a few minutes. More on that later. It was no accident, however, that everyone behind the scenes hated this guy. After all, who can put up with a pompous mind-reader?
The most ridiculous show in the cop parade is ‘CSI-Miami.’ Not a show passes without a dressed-up CSI in a plunging neckline and high heels bending over a dead body. The CSI lab is a Pixar fantasy of high-resolution graphics, colorful lighting, reflected glass and uber-computers. Every database in the world seems to be instantaneously connected to the CSI lab in Miami, including the ‘paint chip’ world master database. And of course, who can forget the Hemingway of Cops, David Caruso. This one man single-handedly drives his giant gas-guzzling black Hummer up to the camera, slides on the shades, gazes into the sun and says, “Crime doesn’t pay – it only pays me.”
CSI-Miami spawned CSI-Vegas (of course!) and CSI-NY (inevitable). You can get your fill of forensic science trivia and dead bodies from no finer sources.
Then there are the shows I call the ‘flack jacket fantasies.’ You know, where you watch storm-troopers in heavy protective gear, large handguns and assault rifles, storm into houses, warehouses and burrito joints on every show. “Criminal Minds’ is one of these, along with NCIS-LA and NCIS itself (the father-ship). Criminal Minds has a bunch of FBI ‘profilers’ who suss out the ‘un-sub’ (short for unknown subject) in groupthink sessions, aided by a curly-headed nerd genius that they hope young hip people can identify with. Buff ex-military guys, surf guy and a beautiful female cop adorn the NCIS-LA set, which is ‘set’ in a fucking large historic mansion, run by a tiny woman with glasses who they are all scared of. There are no ugly women in cop shows, remember this – except this one old lady. Oh, and one show features a tubby nerd-computer genius who gets them all their computer info – she’s the only other exception. Of course, most of the corpses are beautiful young white women too. Even though most murder victims are minorities.
LL Cool J, another rapper, found a home on NCIS-LA as a buff cop who could outrun getaway cars. NCIS itself features Mark Harmon as Jethro Gibbs, gruffly getting info from his scamp-like staff and a good-looking tattooed-pierced lab-rat girl sucking down 64-ounce shit sodas. How cool is that?
There are a few ‘missing persons’ shows too, like “Without a Trace” – not sure what demographic this appeals to – nervous mothers with children? Every show usually has an 'older' person anchoring the crews. The most obvious is "Blue Bloods" where Tom Selleck has graduated to elder statesman. This show attempts to return the cop show to the 'Irish family' angle, as if being a cop was just a noble family profession and nothing else. Of course, when the whole familiy sits around the table eating, while Papa rules the roost, I'm not sure if I'm not seeing the Corleone family instead.
My favorite, and symptomatic of the ‘trend’ started by Law & Order’s D’Onofrio – is “The Mentalist.” The lead, Patrick Jane (‘Jane’ for short – how’s that for not macho?) drives a Citroen, does not carry a gun, and lounges around the police station on a couch until the real cops need him. He’s just an advisor, you see. While they go off looking for facts like dumb cops, he intuitively understands the criminal and goes off on a completely different psychological tangent – bringing the cops into the picture at the end. Jane is handsome, wears a sports-jacket and vest and hates psychics, religious phonies and self-help gurus. The show sets up frequent clashes between Jane and the latest ‘mystic.’ He stands up the to police brass and also boldly exposes the bad guys or the rich assholes in public, which is something we’ve all wanted to do, but somehow never got around to. So you gotta like this guy. Except he works for the cops.
The magic angle has spawned shows like ‘Unforgettable” (at least I think that is what it is called) about a woman cop who never forgets anything. And the “Ghost Whisperer” about a woman that can visualize the dead and how they got that way. (This show must have been named after the ‘dog’ whisperer and the ‘horse’ whisperer. I can see the story pitch in Hollywood now…) Visualizations of bullets going through bodies or knives through thighs abound in all these shows, as the cops ‘figure out’ what happened – in their heads.
The worst enemy of the police in show after show is ... dum, de dum dum ... 'Internal Affairs,' who are always depicted as evil, manipulative trouble-makers who are never right.
So what are the meta-messages? Cops are fucking geniuses – even psychic. Cops are hip and really good looking. Cops have lots of guns, but we knew that. Cops have all the information at their finger-tips. Cops need to break the rules frequently. TV, in fact, is one big advertisement for the hipster police state.
Now we have to compare the TV cops and FBI with the actual ones we meet every day. The ones who shoot black guys because they’re nervous. Who enjoy evicting people from their houses. Who volunteer for overtime in order to thump anti-Republican demonstrators. Or FBI agents who collar anti-war activists and socialists. Or 'blue-blood' cops who invite the CIA onto domestic turf to spy on ethnic groups. Or DEA cops who raid pot farms and burn thousands of plants. Or cops who escort scabs through picket-lines. Or FBI agents that couldn’t get a terrorist unless they set up a terrorist plot themselves. Or BATF agents who sell guns to the Mexican cartels. Or county deputies who makes sure anti-Wall Street demonstrators don’t put a stick under their tarps. Or if they are in Oakland, CA, practice using 'bang' grenades and rubber bullets on unarmed sleepers. Or cops who arrest farmers for having Monsanto corn blow onto their property. You get the picture. Almost none of us have met a TV cop in real life. But they sure crowd the airwaves.
Why isn’t there an ‘anti-cop’ show on TV? Other than “Reno 911” perhaps? You know the answer.
October 26, 2011