Saturday, November 10, 2007


Perp Nation: COPS' and Its Steady Run of Bad Boys:

"As “Cops” presents its 700th episode this evening, Saturday nights on the networks are resembling an abandoned neighborhood. Once upon a time, American families gathered there to see Carol Burnett gamely sing along with Julie Andrews, or Mary Tyler Moore throw a calamitous cocktail party, or even Charo make her umpteenth “Love Boat” appearance[...]The Saturday night viewers who remain often answer the siren call of “Cops,” watching arrest after arrest in a series that reinforces the notion that order can always be restored."

Or perhaps reinforcing the notion that crime is strictly a lower-class, disproportionally minority problem, and the police are always portrayed in a very halo-like, Joe Friday, "just the facts, ma'am," light. Also, based on my own informal analysis of the show, no one ever seems to have a shirt on, people seem to have more toes than teeth, and all the males are usually wearing mullets.

As Robert Heiner noted in his [formal] analysis of media violence a few years ago, it takes an average of 60 hours of footage to get one, 30-minute episode of COPS (22 minutes, minus commercials). What you are seeing is a high-edited "reality" show which, of course, isn't real in the slightest. The stories and "perps" that make it onto the show are those chosen for their entertainment value ("I don't know where that meth lab in my garage come from, honest!"), and those that reinforce the stereotype that crime is really only a lower-class "street" phenomenon.

Or to put it another way, when did COPS last bust a white-collar executive, or take down a "coke head" out in a gated community in the suburbs?

But as the Times notes, the show is morbidly entertaining (in a way that slowing up at traffic accidents is "entertaining", I suppose), and it keeps pulling in a steady audience from week to week, going into its 19th year in production.

Maybe the old cliche about "you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time" isn't so true after all.

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