From Electric Lit:
Every genre has its preoccupation, and the central preoccupation of crime fiction is justice. But in this moment of political upheaval, where our notions of justice are subject to intense scrutiny, we must ask what role has crime fiction played in getting us here.
In a traditional mystery, the plot begins with a crime and we follow a character seeking to find out what happened. We are satisfied when we finally find out who did it and the guilty party gets their comeuppance. This effective plot structure has time-tested stakes and conflicts. We can explore political issues that drive or motivate individual acts of violence or law-breaking. Cops, private eyes, FBI agents, amateur detectives, attorneys, forensic scientists and others can all get in on the action.
Crime fiction has also been a site to explore the shadow side of the law: corruption, brutality, and misuse of authority. Many endings are not so neat, with ambiguities and gray-area solutions.
Yet overall, the genre has validated the underlying assumption that police are the good guys, and if they’re not, they should be. There is no widespread critique or questioning of the whole paradigm of police and prisons as a system. And even less envisioning of any alternatives.
The typical perspective of police procedurals has helped create the myth of police as heroes. White male police have dominated decades of crime literature, TV, and film, with Black people and people of color stereotyped as violent criminals. Since the first half of the twentieth-century, our popular culture has shown the world of crime from a white male perspective and has validated white male characters’ right to use violent and deadly force according to their own judgment.
Intentionally or unintentionally, crime fiction has been a propaganda machine of fictional stories to back a central lie of our culture: that police are here to protect and serve everyone. In the current political moment, when this myth has been exposed, TV shows are being cancelled. Unscripted TV shows like the COPS and Live PD are being taken off the air, despite their success, because the producers know they are heavily edited narratives that manipulate viewers.
In a recent New York Times op-ed titled “How White Crime Writers Justified Police Brutality,” author John Fram traces how fictional police shows, from the ‘50s to the present, have had to be produced in partnership with police departments. Show creators were keenly aware that they would need to provide an overall sympathetic portrayal of the police in order to survive. Yet as Black people have been saying for a long time, the good guy vision of police is a cultural myth. And the latest police murders of Black people are not an aberration, they are a natural consequence of the systemic racism embedded in the institution. George Floyd’s death actually means that the system is working as it should.
Link to the rest at Electric Lit
The OP neglected to mention that, before crime fiction, police brutality and race-based violence were unknown.
While PG does not defend the improper use of force by anyone, police officer, bank robber, participants in bar fights, etc., etc., the author of the OP operates under an unspoken premises that a great many people of every race and ethnicity who write this type of article do:
- The author is the only one who sees things as they really are. Everybody else is an idiot who believes everything he/she sees on television or in motion pictures is true.
- The author never comes to conclusions which are incorrect based upon what the author has heard, read, seen in various places, etc.
- The author is the one of the very few who is in a position to sort others and their behaviors into clear-cut categories of good/not good.
- The author is a mind-reader, capable of discerning the thought processes of others, how and under what influences their thoughts are formed and identifying the flaws in those thought processes and their creation of which the individual with those thoughts is unaware.