In the time of #BlackLivesMatter shows like Chicago Fire and Chicago PD capitalize on bigotry and social misinformation to comfort audiences. They reinforce outdated ideologies that police are inherently good, righteous people, and the justice system works well – or at the very least wants to.
Even when these shows do address abuses of power or bullying within the ranks there’s always a happy ending message to remind viewers that despite the occasional bad seed, the apple is still good and good will always prevail.
Fair. Audiences want to believe in good guys. And all TV has a message. The point is to deliver a message – politically motivated or otherwise.
I accidentally got pulled into Chicago Fire when it looked like it might be a good, possibly even Grey’s Anatomy caliber drama. I thought it had Third Watch potential. But Chicago Fire is just camp. Pure PG, predictable, washed, lightly dried, fluffed and folded camp.
I stuck around though, and I got sucked way deep into Chicago PD as a result. PD is leaps and bounds better than Fire but both are propaganda camp crap that play on tolerated racial and sexist norms (in television) to dictate what’s acceptable in the diverse new millennium.
It took me a few seasons but I finally caught onto what Dick Wolf has been putting down and how/why NBC allows it.
NBC’s love affair with Dick Wolf began in the mid 80s when he was nominated for Emmy for an episode of Hill Street Blues. But the network’s been churning out campy cop bullshit (that I’m aware of) since at least 1968.
Adam-12 aired on NBC for seven seasons and followed around a pair of patrol cops who became buddies. They were always cool, calm, collected, and their smarts diffused most situations even if they sometimes had to fire a weapon.
The show is boring by today’s standards, but it’s also very soothing – in no accidental or small part due to the clean-cut aesthetics of the main characters. They exuded simultaneously altar-boy purity and assured virility. Or maybe, the stylish all black LAPD uniform is what gave off the manliness. Behold:
What Pete Malloy and Jim Reed gave audiences of the late 60s and mid 70s was an attractive and comforting ideal that police were reliable good boys who, day in and day out, served the public by keeping everything together. The understood and only lightly explored element was that they did their jobs amid an evolving national landscape which was beginning to question the methods and motives of established authority.
It was the alternative to normal that the boys of Adam-12 serenely assisted their community in deflecting. This is what made them “good.” They were handsome, and young, and were upholding the values of yesteryear.
American society is already largely complacent. We’re not a difficult sell in terms of staying in line. Give us our creature comforts and trickle down just enough money that we can maintain them, our vices, and stay alive and we’re good. We’re not a needy bunch. Some of us may ask much but they don’t really mean it.
We’re willing to compromise our freedoms and morals inside the structure of society for fear of both anarchy, and the shadowy threat of an absolute power. Mics in the smartphones? Cool. Government surveillance in everything? Cool (but don’t tell the public what they didn’t ask because that’s treason).
However, the murders which prompted #BlackLivesMatter and the subsequent marches and steady stream of video evidence of police brutality all tap on the still very sensitive and very exposed – as in unhealed – nerve of racial tensions inside the United States (and factually, across the globe, but that’s another post).
This country can withstand wars for profit, rising gas prices, corporate greed, housing bubbles, and cost-of-living increases. But the domino threatening to fall all the rest has always been and will probably always be race.
Here, slides in a new entertainment franchise, from one of the medium’s best.
Dick Wolf is an exceptional writer for his simplicity alone. His shows are formulaic. The characters aren’t very complex, and the most the actors need is to look good and be familiar and recognizable to the audience. No one is expected to deliver emotionally riveting, or intellectually stimulating work.
Dick Wolf’s propaganda is successful because it’s easily digestible. Chicago Fire and Chicago PD tap into audiences’ need for an escape from, and palatable explanation of, the times.
The goal is to consistently impress on audiences not only public servants’ humanity, but their inherent virtue by choice of career, and to – over time – create the associations that they’re the most valuable and instrumental to sustaining the collective way of life.
Public servants – police especially – are not inherently good or virtuous people. And no one should assume they are.
They are simple-minded, able-bodied, yes-men and women who never had very much ambition. Firefighters, to an extent, and paramedics are a different story. Both professions require more brain work than tapping into nationalistic and community-grown fears of the other.
Paramedics may have the inherent virtue of wanting to, and enjoying, helping others. Firefighters must actually at some point in their careers risk their lives to brave a fire and save others.
Police officers are guided by an instinct that desires only to be guided further. They want to be told what to do, what to believe, how to behave. And they want their pensions. Their uniforms afford them the lowest rung on the power ladder wherein they can freely express their suffocated desires to not only be somebody important but to also exercise control over others.
Society allows them their sickness by lauding false ideals: brotherhood in the work, heroic sacrifice, law as an absolute of righteousness.
Police shows add character and charm where there in fact is very little. Both Chicago Fire and PD toy with Chicago’s gang situation to prop up their leads as virtuous men who love, protect, and serve their city with full, proud hearts.
The shows use the real city’s real problems to push a certain idea but there is zero exploration of how or why the city got that way. Propaganda that promotes the law isn’t concerned with additional perspectives.
In real life good people are rare. The likelihood of a whole bunch of them in one line of work, or in related fields is slim when you consider the structure, origin, and means of sustaining these fields.
In real life good people don’t make biased and unfair laws. Good people don’t hand out disproportionate sentencing where the only traceable consistency is the race of the convicted. In real life good people don’t sodomize unarmed men in vestibules, or rape intoxicated women who ask for help.
In real life good people don’t murder children. Good people don’t defend people who do murder children. In real life good people don’t suffocate men, or beat them, or shoot them for not putting their hands up fast enough. In real life good people aren’t uselessly afraid of people who are not attacking them. Good people do not have itchy trigger fingers, because in real life good people have very little to prove in terms of their goodness, or usefulness.
Dick Wolf’s latest generation of public servant programming won’t likely meet its end anytime soon. NBC has a mostly sure thing in the ratings and advertiser revenue. Keeping these shows on the air as long as possible is in NBC/Universal’s best interest. And we already know NBC/Universal doesn’t care or think too deeply about who/what they put on the air.