Police Work as Magic
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In the 1990’s we had the various Law and Order shows touting the myth that the various rules governing admissible evidence were nothing more than technicalities that enabled the guilty to go free. Further that they were terrible and useless obstacles in the way of the police protecting us from the demonic other, the criminal.1
That this point of view worked well into the “Politically Correct” mindset that criminals were being coddled and protected by arcane, “technicalities” and that we needed to be tough on crime and punish criminals so that they would indeed be deterred. That mentality played into the way the media by concentrating on violent crime gave people the inaccurate impression that crime was totally out of control. Allied to this was the notion that the police were the good guys totally on our side but fighting crime with one hand tied behind their backs. Yes all those evil “technicalities”! Thus one hardly ever saw on those shows police corruption or shows which showed why those rules existed. Instead the extent and so-called pernicious influence of these rules was emphasized by those shows, which over and over again showed damning evidence excluded by the “technicalities”, and the heroic police officers and District Attorneys having to labour heroically to make sure to prevent the obviously guilty from going free.2
Of course this was not the first time that TV portrayed law and order in a distorted fashion after all there was in the past the TV show Perry Mason, which obviously took place in a fantasy land and not reality.3
After Law and Order in its various incarnations turned Police and District attorneys into heroes. Law and Order: Criminal Intent was especially notable for turning a lying psychopath, Det. Goren, into a hero, because he would do anything to get the “guilty” to confess. Including I suspect beating suspects and fabricating evidence.4 After all he was willing to lie and lie repeatedly. But the end justifies the means I guess. Then we got the various CSI programs.
In the CSI programs we find out that forensics is magic. It is sorcery that enables the “wizards” to infallibly zero in on and track down the criminal. In the various CSI shows the degree of wish fulfillment with Mary Sue characters is omnipresent. And to add to the mix was totally bogus forensics. The writers of the shows would not let a little thing called “reality” interfere with making shit up. Thus we get DNA results routinely in a few hours, when they can take days or months and sometimes the results are ambiguous and not clear. Also we get stunt forensics like the infamous getting a conversation from a groove in a pot. That one was so stupid that it should get an award for it. There are many many other examples of forensic idiocy on the CSI shows. From huge data bases that don’t exist to internet searches that take a few seconds and computer programs that don’t exist or don’t work has well as portrayed. All this lathered up myth created the impression that forensics would infallibly point to the true criminal.
This has led to what is called the CSI effect; the idea that forensics would lead straight to one suspect with no ambiguity. This is utter nonsense. Frequently the forensic results are tentative, they have to be considered in relation to other evidence, they may point to other people along with the accused etc. Results that unambiguously point to one person are not anywhere near as common has portrayed in the TV shows. As such life is more complicated and difficult and evidence is often circumstantial. Because of the CSI effect many people have far too high expectations of what forensics can do and this as had ill effects on the justice system. Juries have to be told that real life is not CSI, Bones etc.5
Now to add to the constellation of TV distorting the law and police work we have shows like Criminal Minds. In Criminal Minds we have one of the ultimate in Police tools so-called “Profiling” used has a magic key to unlock the mind of evil criminals. In the case of Criminal Minds serial killers.
Of course the problem with “profiling” is that it is largely woo. The “science” behind it is minimal but hey it makes great TV has our band of wizards magically read the minds of evil criminals.
Profiling is based on the idea that the way a criminal commits his offence and the type of offence can lead one to extrapolate the motives, behavior and who the Criminal is. This is done also through comparison with other serial killers so that a particular type of killing is associated with a particular type of serial killer. Thus profiling would enable someone to deduce if a criminal was male or female, his socio-economic status, ethnicity, motives etc. A characteristic of profiling is its supposed ability to create a complete and accurate profile of the psychology of the un-caught, unknown criminal.6
In other words profiling is like using a Ouija board. Basically psychological reconstructions of unknown people are based on what is found at a murder scene. This is psychic mind reading with a little science thrown in. At best it is only a tentative tool and cannot be used to reliably give anyone in the absence of the actual culprit an accurate picture of the culprit.
However on the show each and virtually every episode our heroes infallibly wield their psychic powers and describe the culprit before he, (almost always he.), is caught. They also use many methods that are dubious like graphology, which is pure hokum and statement analysis which is even more useless. Both are even more pseudo-sciences than profiling.
Other aspects of the show are equally fantastic. For example in each case our heroic team tracks down the serial killer in a few days. Which goes against the fact that tracking down serial killers often takes years and even decades. This is of course completely silly and shows clearly that the show is fantasy and takes place in a magic land much like Oz.
The flying of a team of experts all over the USA in a Lear jet is another fantasy land element. Given the cost of even one flight the idea that the FBI would fly a team out to various sites in a private jet for more than 20 round trips a year is silly. That would cost more than a million dollars a year easy, on the conservative side. Any police department worth its salt would not have such a luxurious, useless extravagance.
Another aspect of the show is its lack of boundaries to areas of competence. With one exception all the characters are not just analysts of data but they are cops in the field. Each episode has our profilers go into the field with guns blazing, breaking down doors, fighting evil criminals etc. In the real world of course such forensic experts would not be involved in arresting a suspect and frequently they would not be carrying guns because they would not need one. After all they are not trained to be swat teams or to take down criminals. But then having our heroes involved in violence and taking down the wicked is exciting, supposedly, the fact it is pure Mary Sue fantasy is not relevant, supposedly.
Being Mary Sue characters each one of the characters is with one exception, involved in carrying out the Mary Sue desire of the writers to kill the wicked criminal. So that each episode often ends with one of our heroes killing the evil serial killer, the other, the scum that needs to die. Thus each character, with again one exception, kills, but it is “good” killing because the “scum” deserved it. Thus does the series play into deep desires to slay, to kill, cloaking it with justification so that it is “right”. Each one of the characters has over the course of the show killed multiple times with one exception.
That the show shows the results of decades of media bombardment of the notion that criminals are coddled and that the death penalty is the only real solution is clear. It is obvious that the show like so many of its predecessors operates on labeling the criminal, in this case the serial killer, as the other, as beyond redemption, has death being the only solution. Thus the show ignores the fact that serial killers when caught are usually caught not killed. But the death of the serial killer is the preferred solution of the show to the problem of serial killing. Thus each member, with one exception, is a serial killer of serial killers. Thus we get episodes like the one in which the leader of our band of Mary Sues beats a man to death in a rage and we applaud in approval because it is set up for us to approve. The FBI and his colleagues approve of his lack of control and his righteous rage.
In another episode another serial killer when arrested is banged around by one of our heroes who then with righteous joy crows about the pleasure it will give him to watch this criminal he is arresting die. The joy on his face and in the tone of his voice is palatable. Of course there is no problem with beating up the criminal suspect after all he is just scum and deserves it.
Along with putting the audience in a mood to feel that righteous justice will be dealt out. The show has a heaping helping of voyeuristic crime and sexualized violence that the audience can enjoy vicariously. Often the show dwells loving over screaming half naked women, and the details of sex crimes. Thus the audience can get the frisson of enjoying the crimes without actually committing them.
As for the characters on the show they are the usual collection of stereotypes.
We have Aaron Hochner played by Thomas Gibson, the control freak married to his work. Thomas Gibson plays him like he is a piece of wood. I am unable to determine if that is because Mr. Gibson can’t act or that was the way he was told to play the character.
Derek Morgan, played by Shemar Moore, is the prototypical kid from the hood. Basically eye candy for women.
Spencer Reid, played by Matthew Gray Gubler, is an extreme stereotype of a geek all he needs is the pocket protector.
Penelope Garcia, played by Kristen Vangsness, is the typical hacker internet babe genius, a bundle of flakiness. She is also the one and only one who hasn’t yet, killed.
David Rossi, played by Joe Mantegna, is the old fart put in the show to give it nostalgia appeal.
In the first couple of years of the show Jason Gideon, played by Mandy Pantinkin, was the old fart. He left the show over problems with the shows drift towards sensationalism and salacious sexualized plots.
Jennifer Jareau, played by A. J. Cook, is the young vulnerable mother figure. Whose sole purpose seems to consist in reassuring people and looking cute and helpless. Although she too joined the ranks of Mary Sue killers.
Emily Prentiss, played by Paget Brewster, is the mysterious foreign femme fatale. She has mysterious history that she is hiding from her co-workers and also knows about a dozen ways to kill all of them.7
There are some other characters but frankly I think I’ve listed enough.
The acting is generally competent, with one exception Mr. Gibson, who is either terrible or brilliant.
The plots are usually rehashes of murders in the historical record but with magic i.e., profiling, to solve them.
The usual defence is that shows like this are entertainment, but it is very special entertainment that supposedly takes place in the “real” world. The problem is it doesn’t take place in anything like even a facsimile of the real world but in a magic fantasy land and further that it propagandizes for attitudes and beliefs that are profoundly destructive and bluntly empirically wrong.
The show gives people the wrong idea about how crimes are solved and has such has real world consequences.
Finally the show caters to the desire for punishment and is in many ways a voyeuristic revenge fantasy.
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1. Law and Order, Wikipedia Here
3. Perry Mason, Wikipedia Here
4. Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Wikipedia Here
6. See Offender Profiling, Wikipedia Here.
7. Criminal Minds, Wikipedia Here