Police shows as propaganda

I have never watched any episodes of the extremely popular Law and Order and its multiple spin-offs and after watching John Oliver’s critique of it as essentially police propaganda, I am not likely to. He says that these shows get the assistance of police departments to produce them (thus greatly reducing their production costs) and in return portray the police and the US justice system in a very favorable light, as consisting of people who always have justice as their goal and almost always close their cases, which is simply not true. The shows, while claiming to get their material from real life, ignore the systemic problems that exist in the system and the many real life cases of police atrocities.


  1. says

    The most heartbreaking part of that show was when Mariska Hargitay was bragging about how her show enabled so many victims of sexual assault to go to the cops with more confidence, and to know what they had to do to help the cops do their job…followed by another comment from elsewhere about victims being hugely let down by real cops who were never as helpful or sympathetic as Hargitay’s fictional character, even when they did do their homework.

  2. Rupert says

    The ones I have seen seem to go to extreme lengths to close the case, even ruining anyone’s life (perhaps an innocente dragged into things) who doesn’rt help them get their man/woman.
    The US justice comes across as one of bartering. If you ask for a lawyer, the Police can no longet help you and you risk the death penalty. Give up that right and death comes off the table.

    What kind of justice is that?
    A long way from Perry Mason and similar.

  3. says

    Rupert @2

    If you think about it, Perry Mason was pretty subversive for its time. The cops and prosecutors were wrongfully having people arrested almost all the time and it showed that being arrested and being put on trial didn’t mean people were necessarily guilty.

    It did have its own problems with witnesses just sitting in the court able to hear all the previous testimony, but it did dare show the justice system as being flawed.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    It was ever thus. An even more egregious example is “Top Gun”, which was practically a Navy recruiting video.

  5. says

    The ones I have seen seem to go to extreme lengths to close the case, even ruining anyone’s life … who doesn’t help them get their man/woman.

    …and also ruining the lives of people who DID help them, or who couldn’t have helped them.

    PS: The L&O shows aren’t even the worst examples of present-day copaganda. For that, look no further then “NYPD Blue.”

  6. StonedRanger says

    Rupert @2 In the US everyone has the right to a lawyer. With or without a lawyer, the police are not there to help you. The Supreme Court Of the United States has said more than once that police have no obligation to stop a crime or to help anyone. They are considered an investigative body. The police in the US dont prevent shit as far as crime goes. They are there to pick up the mess afterwards. Sometimes.

  7. Tethys says

    My main issue with all those cops programs is their unexamined premise.

    Treating sexual violence and murder of (mostly)women as if it’s just a normal, everyday part of society is merely perpetuating misogyny.

    I much preferred the “disillusioned private investigator” shows like Rockford Files and Baretta. They portrayed the police quite accurately as rather corrupt and ineffective.

  8. Pierce R. Butler says

    This goes wayyy back, well before our esteemed host’s arrival in the USA.

    Watch Dragnet. Or Gunsmoke. Or Dick Tracy cartoons.

  9. Tethys says

    Baretta frequently featured storylines about the crookedness of police. He was a plainclothes detective, but the police themselves were often depicted as bumbling authoritarian types, typical for the post Vietnam era.

    A brief glance at the synopsis for the first two seasons of Baretta shows that besides the first episode where his girlfriend is killed, very few of the crimes he was trying to solve involved killing women.

  10. Rupert says

    Dear StonedRanger,
    I am not so naive as to think that the Police help criminals (although in some shows the cop actually says: “We can’t help you if you ask for a lawyer”), but I’d like to believe they want to find the true culprit and not only close the case -- either for their statistics or for promotion or whatever other reason -- though threats and cajoling.
    In these shows, the police go out of their way to stop them from asking for a lawyer -- often even lying to so so.
    Major Crimes and Chicago PD are also examples of this kind of behaviour.
    I prefer reruns of The Rockford Files which, as Tethys says, at least “portrayed the police quite accurately as rather corrupt and ineffective” for that time.

  11. jrkrideau says

    @12 Rupert
    I’d like to believe they want to find the true culprit

    In most cases they probably do but some of their methods just are not conducive to doing so. I do not mean that they are doing anything illegal, just that they often use techniques that will just as easily convict an innocent person as the actual guilty person. In their searches for better investigative techniques police departments have often been sold a lot of snake oil.

  12. says

    Yes, cops really do want to find someone they believe is the true culprit; but all manner of complications hinder their ability (and sometimes willingness) to best ascertain who’s really the true culprit. Their own emotions, wishful thinking and prejudices cloud their judgment in the short term, and there’s always a huge amount of popular pressure/hysteria at their backs, driving them to find someone, and ASAP, so people can tell themselves that they’re safe again and justice is being done. And then once someone is arrested and charged, it’s very hard for large numbers of people to contemplate the terrifying thought that a) they were wrong in thinking he was guilty and b) the real perp is still out there and they’re still not “safe.” (And once a wrongful arrest or incorrect testimony is on a cop’s record, every other conviction that cop helped to get becomes suspect; so there’s a huge incentive to never admit mistakes.)

  13. brightmoon says

    I stopped watching COPS when they showed a woman who died after her drunk husband punched her in the heart . They showed the unsuccessful CPR. That was enough for me ! I had already felt that they mistreated some people that they arrested so that was a last straw

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