A new study further confirms that most crime TV shows are good PR for cops

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/01/27/a-new-study-further-confirms-t.html


I prefer —


No shit, Sherlock.


It’s good that people do this kind of quantitative exercise for the record.

But if someone has seen any cop show ever, and didn’t already think it was Narnia-level fantasy propaganda, then I don’t think mere facts are going to fix that person.



I mean yes, but I think it’s also worse than that. It doesn’t just show “good cops” doing the “right thing”. They also sometimes show “good cops” doing exactly the wrong thing but we’re meant to be supportive of the characters because their emotions got away with them, because the “bad guy” is a dirt bag and because they’re doing things for the “right reasons”.

In particular, harassment, violence or threats of violence against people they are questioning. Also entering and searching without warrants. I’ve also seen cover-ups of illegal behaviour out of blind loyalty to their police partner.


24 was really disturbing to me as a young teenager.

“We gotta torture the terrorists to get the information!”

Even when I was 13 I knew torture was a stupid way to try and get info. I got spanked as a kid. I knew they’d say anything to make the situation end.


Yeah, effective propaganda doesn’t lie about who people are; it lies about what the reality is.

People don’t believe something because you simply tell them it’s true. They believe it because they’ve drawn their own conclusions. But if you feed them an inverted picture of reality – where criminals have all the power and police are the underdogs – then people will conclude for themselves that it’s cool for cops to torture, kill, cause vehicle pile-ups etc. And when someone has formed an opinion “on their own”, they’ll defend it stubbornly, because it’s theirs.


I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing if it inspires the right people to be involved vs a cop show that is just a medium to justify overreaching law enforcement actions (like 24). I know CSI had a lot of influence in driving people to careers related to it, the reality of the job is very different from what TV is but getting people who are genuinely interested in the process i still think is good.

Plus more people these days are aware of police bullshit so these shows can only do so much PR-wise.

I feel the same way about Daredevil. I haven’t watched all of it but it seems to me the first series is just torturing a series of racialized “bad guys” to get info on where the next “bad guys” are. It’s no mystery why something that should be as simple as “is torture bad?” seems to be a difficult question for so many people.

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They will never hire the right people though. They want people who will respect the thin blue line, who won’t rock the boat, and in that one famous case a decade ago in the US, who’s IQ isn’t too high. The better the leadership, the better the hiring is likely to be. But any small force that has any corruption or questionable policies and tactics at the top will be very careful not to bring in anyone who will upset that balance.

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I do believe there’s a good potential for change though, even if you take TV shows out of the equation there’s more pressure and visibility on unjust police activity. I am perhaps being too optimistic, but i do hope there will be change as long as people continue not putting up with their bullshit.

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I think I suffer from an echo chamber in that respect. I rarely run into people with significantly different views but I don’t think my social circle is at all a representative sample of the population at large.

My overall view on things is pretty cynical, so i’m with you on the frustration and anger towards law enforcement. I still want to be hopeful that our collective anger towards them is having some kind of positive change for once

I’ll watch some SVU all day long, but man, I stumbled across Blue Bloods one day — just intensely, cloyingly over-the-top “police are our saviors, the ends justify the means.” Mix that in with a with a nice pro-nepotism “only our family is up to the task” angle and I just can’t see that show as anything but fan service for actual cops.

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Yeah, that cop shows are good PR for the police is stupidly obvious to anyone who has seen a US cop show, but it’s also more insidious than is obvious. And not just because cop shows routinely show “good” cops doing bad things - and the show justifying them and not showing the consequences to the people those actions would impact - the vast majority of Americans whole notion of how policing/the criminal justice system works comes from cop shows/movies. And that becomes a kind of propaganda that’s impossible to escape, even if you’re aware it’s propaganda.

I mean, even if you go to court as either a juror or defendant, you’re only seeing one aspect of the system. You’re still getting most of your information, assuming you don’t study the criminal justice system, from media. And since shows get some parts of every aspect of criminal justice wrong (either deliberately or accidentally), everyone has a skewed notion of how things work/are supposed to work. So beyond having cops (or cop-adjacent characters) constantly as the POV characters on screen for us to sympathize with, our basic notions of how every part of the justice system works has a pro-authority bias. Even cops get suckered into this (e.g. having a cinematic misunderstanding of forensic tests and even police procedures, mistaking the LAPD motto for their own, etc.).

It’s interesting as the CSI shows created incredibly unrealistic expectations for forensics. This has worked both for and against the cops - if someone shows up for the prosecution and provides some forensic evidence, jurors tend to accept it as incontrovertible, no matter how absurdly unreliable it is in reality; on the other hand, jurors expect forensic evidence in cases even where it isn’t appropriate. I’ve heard from jurors on cases where they failed to convict because there was no DNA evidence - even though it was a type of crime for which they’d never even bother to collect it.

Rejecting the overt propaganda of cop shows still leaves us with the fundamentally tv-mediated hyperreality of the criminal justice system.


Most people just call it the 2020s, but this is good too.


The subtlety of some of the effects were really driven home for me recently. I’ve been working my way through the wire (we’re late in season 1) with some I’ve actually done anti-police violence organizing. To not spoil things too heavily, the first season actions of Pryzbylewski at the towers are framed as unambiguously bad, but despite that I still heard late season joy at him finding a place to use his skills. The existence of a well written narrative arc has a way of paving over a lot of sins, even if everyone at each step of the creation and consumption is aware of the real problems.


Yeah, it’s the effect of having a POV character - even if they’re not written to be sympathetic, we can’t help finding them so to some degree. On top of which there are the issues of cops being depicted as good and righteous despite their transgressions, narratives being written such that the infractions themselves are depicted as fully justified, and often the audience gets to directly see incontrovertible evidence of the guilt of the suspect (often involving a solid confession freely given in response to evidence). Not to mention the issues around misrepresenting how the criminal justice system works.

I just don’t see a way of having cops as POV characters without it being problematic. If they’re corrupt or just rule-bending, it normalizes that behavior to some degree. If they’re scrupulously honest, upright and by-the-book, it creates the expectation that this is how cops are (even when, in reality, they’re really not), so real-world efforts to reform police forces don’t get the support they need.

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