Cop Shows & Althusser's Law (was Re: surplus and other stuff)

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Wed Feb 3 10:25:17 PST 1999

I move that "Homicide" and "Law and Order" be designated culturally revolutionary exceptions to the general dismal political fare of the tv copsnrobbers genre, and any others that Paul Rosenberg has investigated closely empirically and so informs us.

Charles Brown

>>> Paul Henry Rosenberg <rad at> 02/02 6:40 PM >>>
Michael Hoover wrote:

> > anyone seen 'between the lines'? a brit cop show, very dark, about an
> > internal
> > police investig. unit who never get their man (who are always, well,
> > cops)....
> > angela
> what distinguishes above - and *Prime Suspect 3* as well, another
> Brit cop series produced, interestingly enough, for British
> commercial tv - from US shows such as *Homicide* is that it/they
> are not about defense of law and order, made more 'realistic'
> sometimes by occasional failure, acknowledgement of injustice, and
> 'human' cops, but about the ambiguity of police work and the concept
> of police itself - a state with police is to some degree a police
> state...

If you haven't seen that thread in *Homicide* or *Law & Order*, it's because you aren't paying attention.

> in *Suspect 3*, the suspect doesn't walk because the detective
> couldn't break his alibi, but because the police officialdom has
> made it impossible for her to pursue the case (in the series, this
> character has lousy sex with lousy men, is a chain smoker, and has an
> abortion to advance her career)...
> in *Between the Lines*, the main character is a philanderer who
> betrays both his wife and the woman with whom he is having an
> affair, in addition to the way he covers things up to protect
> other officers, compromising cases along the way...the series
> depicts the secrecy and anti-social solidarity of cops...this
> character, whose job it is to ferret out lies, lies himself
> all the time...Michael Hoover

And in *Homicide* we had the long drawn-out war with Luther Mahoney and his organization, in which just about every piety or principle was ripped to shreds, turned inside-out, and burned to a crisp.

To top it off, TWO of the once-most-idealistic characters left the force as a direct result--one forced out for his role in starting the whole thing going ballistic by murdering Mahoney, and the other leaving on his own because he'd lost everything in his idealistic identity that made him so passionate about being a homicide detective -- a speaker for the dead, as he often put it.

Hoover again, from another post:

> > Law & Order is a bit schizophrenic at times.
> > As to the ideology, as I said, it's mixed
> > The DA loses often enough and the law is realistic, and sometimes the
> > tone even allows the viewer to side with the defense attorney.
> > Eric
> above is kind of show where, whenever there is a socially sensitive
> trial, casting is carefully arranged so that white men are not to
> be viewed as oppressing minorities or women...prosecutor or judge
> will be woman or minority...a commendable effort at breaking down
> stereotypes? ok, but flipside is that sermons about 'law and order'
> are given by people who are often the object of oppression...

I guess this just shows to go you the power of selective memory.

There's been just ONE black prosecutor on the show -- Robinette -- and that was years ago. There have been a series of women prosecutors over the past 4 or 5 seasons, but NOT lead prosecutors. The sermonizing has come overwhelmingly from the crusty old DA himself, or the lead prosecutor, played by Sam Watterston for the past 3, 4 seasons (and Mark Moriarty before that). And, of course, judges don't do a whole lot of sermonizing. That's not their role.

On the other hand, there have been all manner of intelligent ways in which racism has been dealt with -- from the frontal confrontation with in-your-face racists (NYPD cops in one instance) to the devious ways in which racism lives through the denial of racism.

And from one last post:

> > I think the reason there are so many cop shows is because cop shows are
> > easy to write
> > Tom L.
> re: movies, the dominant Hollywood assumption has always been that
> violent action is the most genuinely cinematic of all visual
> phenomena...Michael Hoover

Of course, "Homicide" and "Law & Order" are notable for having by far the LEAST amount of onscreen violence. Both of have gone whole seasons with no gunshots fired onscreen.

I swear, folks, we could have a REALLY interesting discussion, if only some of the experts here had actually seen the shows they're pontificating about.

-- Paul Rosenberg Reason and Democracy rad at

"Let's put the information BACK into the information age!"

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