Alyssa Rosenberg In The WASHINGTON POST: TV Cop Shows Like Law & Order Aren't Woke Enough to be Realistic
Print Friendly and PDF

From the Washington Post opinion section:

Shut down all police movies and TV shows. Now.

By Alyssa Rosenberg, JUNE 4, 2020

Like many other industries, entertainment companies have issued statements of support for the protests against racism and police brutality now filling America’s streets. But there’s something Hollywood can do to put its money where its social media posts are: immediately halt production

Uh, didn’t they immediately halt production back in March? Wasn’t there something in the news about social distancing? But who can recall that far back?

on cop shows and movies and rethink the stories it tells about policing in America.

For a century, Hollywood has been collaborating with police departments, telling stories that whitewash police shootings and valorizing an action-hero style of policing over the harder, less dramatic work of building relationships with the communities cops are meant to serve and protect. There’s a reason for that beyond a reactionary streak hiding below the industry’s surface liberalism. Purely from a dramatic perspective, crime makes a story seem consequential, investigating crime generates action, and solving crime provides for a morally and emotionally satisfying conclusion.

The result is an addiction to stories that portray police departments as more effective than they actually are; crime as more prevalent than it actually is; and police use of force as consistently justified.

And criminals as vastly whiter than they actually are, as seen on the last 30 years of various Law & Order shows.

There are always gaps between reality and fiction, but given what policing in America has too often become, Hollywood’s version of it looks less like fantasy and more like complicity.

Specifically, they can’t make realistic big city cop shows because nobody wants to watch 60 minutes per week of Blacks Behaving Badly. Watching black knuckleheads screw up over and over and over is boring and depressing. That’s why TV writers make up fantasies about white criminal masterminds to bring to justice.

There’s no question that it would be costly for networks and studios to walk away from the police genre entirely. Canceling Dick Wolf’s “Chicago” franchise of shows would wipe out an entire night of NBC’s prime-time programming; dropping “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and a planned spinoff would cut even further into the lineup.

One of those platforms also airs “Cops,” a decades-old reality show with a troubled history of participating in police censorship and peddling fear of black and brown criminals. If McCarthy means what he says, canceling “Cops” would be a start.

In other words, make cop shows more realistic by canceling the most realistic cop show: Cops.

But simply canceling cop shows and movies would be easier than uprooting the assumptions at the heart of the problem.

Say writers made a commitment not to exaggerate the performance of police. Audiences would have to be retrained to watch, for example, a version of “Special Victims Unit” where the characters cleared only 33.4 percent of rape cases, or to accept that in almost 40 percent of murders and manslaughters, no suspect is arrested. If storytelling focused on less-dramatic but more-common crimes such as burglary and motor-vehicle theft, the stakes would shrink — along with the case-clearance rate.

They could make a highly realistic TV show out of L.A. Times murder reporter Jill Leovy’s nonfiction book Ghettoside about a white detective who gets justice for black murder victims in South Central by patiently getting black witnesses to testify against black murderers, even though the black witnesses are in danger of being witness-murdered by the black murderers in turn.

[Comment at]

Print Friendly and PDF