ChapterPDF Available

"Cops": Television Policing as Policing Reality

Authors:
1
"Cops": Television Policing as Policing Reality
by Aaron Doyle
In Mark Fishman and Gray Cavender eds. 1998 Entertaining Crime: Television
Reality Programs. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
The media are very powerful institutions, yet the nature of media influence is
often too narrowly conceived. There has been massive study of how individual media
products may help shape the views of audiences. While this question is very important,
this chapter will also consider three other forms of influence. Firstly, media products
influence each other's meanings. People do not consume them in isolation but together.
An evening's television may combine accounts of crime from news, fictional drama,
advertising and reality-TV, and viewers may often make sense of them through their
interplay or intertextuality as a package. If we see the O.J. Simpson trial on the news, it
will probably affect how we interpret a similar fictionalized trial later that night on "Law
and Order". Secondly, mass media shape the practices of other institutions. For example,
television does not simply record events in the criminal justice system. In doing so, as we
will examine, it alters the actual practice of criminal justice. Finally, some theorists argue
that media are not just implicated in short-term opinion formation, but in more profound
long-term social and cultural shifts. Historical shifts in our media world--such as the rise
of television and the penetration of its influence into many aspects of daily life--do more
than just affect individual beliefs and attitudes about particular matters. Mass media are
seen to influence the very nature of our subjectivities (McLuhan 1964; Poster 1990), the
boundaries of our social experience (Meyrowitz 1985), our sense of what is real
(Baudrillard 1988).
This chapter argues that the popular reality-TV program "Cops" displays all four
types of influence. Because "Cops" takes a pioneering form, these influences occur in
new ways. The first half explores how, while "Cops" purports to show "raw reality", it
offers a very particular vision of criminal justice. This vision has strong political
implications, fostering among audiences a "law and order ideology". The second part
demonstrates that "Cops" has important influences beyond this. Firstly, "Cops" plays a
key part in the intertextual media package about crime including other reality programs,
advertising, fictional dramas and news. These formats all help shape one another's
meanings so that this package makes a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
Secondly, "Cops" helps shape events in the criminal justice system itself, for example, by
prompting informal rituals of "summary justice" by police, altering the experience of
criminal justice for suspects and civilians, and functioning as informal promotional and
2
teaching footage for would-be police officers. Finally, "Cops" is part of a cultural trend
toward "hyperreality." "Cops" is implicated in the blurring of different ways of
representing the real, and the blurring of mediated representations and the "real" world
itself.
"Cops" was ground-breaking and instantly popular when it appeared in 1989. It
was the first reality-TV program to use actual video footage as opposed to re-enactments.
"Cops" put a new spin on the fly-on-the wall or verite documentary form. To make the
program, a video and sound team have accompanied police officers in action in dozens of
American cities. Suspects and other civilians recorded must sign releases giving
permission for "Cops" to show them. Otherwise, their faces are digitized to conceal their
identities.
As of 1996, "Cops" remained the highest rated reality-TV program (Coe 1996).
"Cops" and its numerous imitators succeeded partly because they are cheap to make. A
"Cops" episode cost around $200,000--about a third the cost per half-hour of a typical
situation comedy (Smith 1993). Television executives also found that, unlike news-
magazines which dated quickly, "Cops" had a timeless quality. Episodes retained
immediacy for years. This makes "Cops" suitable for countless syndicated reruns of its
300-plus episodes (Freeman 1993), even as new episodes continue to air in prime-time on
the Fox network. "Cops" became one of the most ubiquitous American crime shows,
showing twelve times a week in some areas. Two factors came together: television
executives sought innovative programming to fill the expanding range of channels, while
police offered massive co-operation, part of a strong trend toward increasing self-
promotion in the media (Ericson, Baranek and Chan 1989; Schlesinger and Tumber
1994).
"Cops" and similar programs also form part of the context for increasingly
punitive "law and order" policies (Scheingold 1995). These include "three strikes, you're
out" legislation, a prison population explosion, the rebirth of chain gangs and the renewed
rise of punishment by death. Now we will examine how and why "Cops" promotes a law
and order approach to criminal justice.
Ideology
In "law and order ideology", society is seen to be in decline or crisis because of
spiralling crime, specifically violent street crime of the underclasses. The answer is
tougher crime control. Due process and civil rights are part of the problem, because all
right-thinking people know criminals are guilty. Police themselves are not too soft;
instead they are held back by others, such as liberal politicians. The answer is partly more
police, and police who can get tougher.
3
Intertwined with the notion of a soft system is an Us and Them mentality: crime is
a problem of evil or pathological individuals who are a Them less human than Us. Police
are the thin blue line between Them and Us. Criminals are strangers, not family
members. An overt profession that crime control is efficient and utilitarian is bound up
with less conscious, more affectively-charged undercurrents of fear and anger,
identification with powerful authority, and punitiveness and retribution. Various analysts
argue this punitiveness involves the displacement of anxieties and angers from other
sources (Sparks 1992; Scheingold 1995). Law and order ideology is seen to touch a chord
with audiences looking for a focus for their anger.
Law and order ideology is not the official position of Western justice systems.
Official discourse is somewhat diverse, but is increasingly characterized by more amoral,
utililitarian risk management approaches to crime. In fact, there is wide recognition
among criminal justice professionals that a simple "get tough" approach does not achieve
its purported aims. Law and order ideology does, however, fit traditional media templates
well, because of its simplicity, drama, emotiveness, violence, and easily identifiable
villains. Thus, law and order ideology has been a key political tool of the Reagan-Bush
governments in the U.S., of the Conservatives in Britain and of Canada's Reform Party.
Ideology is meaning that fosters relations of domination (Thompson 1990). Law
and order ideology displaces a different set of meanings that links crime with structural
causes such as poverty and unemployment. Law and order ideology thus has wider
political implications. It is often tied with other systems of meaning that construct people
as Us and Them, notably race. Law and order ideology may speak most strongly to white
audiences. Reactions to the Simpson case dramatized stark differences between white and
African-American understandings of criminal justice, differences repeatedly confirmed
by survey research (Flanagan and Longmire 1996). Fear and loathing of criminals thus
often means non-white criminals. Class is another key dimension along which law and
order ideology works. For example, it focuses on crimes of the lower classes, not white
collar and corporate crime.
"Cops" offers a particular view of criminal justice which fits with law and order
ideology in numerous ways. How so, if "Cops" simply depicts reality?
For this analysis, 30 episodes of "Cops" aired between 1991 and 1997 were
reviewed in depth, along with the "Too Hot for TV" video featuring outtakes from
"Cops". Some anecdotal data about audience experiences were drawn from discussions
with "Cops" viewers. Information was downloaded from the official "Cops" website,
including transcripts of self-interviews with two "Cops" producers. Unless otherwise
4
noted, quotations are from these interviews. Other data came from numerous secondary
academic, journalistic and industry sources.
According to "Cops" creator and executive producer John Langley, the program is
a television version of the "ride-along" in which a curious civilian tags along in a police
cruiser for a shift. Its producers call it "unfiltered" television (Katz 1993: 25). Langley
describes it simply as "raw reality", noting that, "Reality is often ironically difficult to
capture because it is unstructured, unpredictable and unscripted."
However, the "raw reality" of the video footage undergoes considerable
processing before it reaches the airwaves. As Langley states:
The process begins with production in the field with producer Bert Van Munster
and his staff of cameramen and soundmen and support staff...All the material
comes back to Los Angeles, with the field staff tagging what looks like potential
stories (italics added). Then our editorial staff cuts together the most interesting
material, whereupon I determine what goes in the shows after recutting or
refinessing if needed. Basically we try to put together interesting combinations.
For example, an action piece (which hooks the audience) a lyrical piece (which
develops more emotion), and a think piece (which provokes thought on the part of
the audience).
One may note the movement in this description from "unpredictable and
unscripted" reality to ready-to-air "stories" with thematic unity. "Cops" uses a variety of
mechanisms to naturalize its footage as "reality". Yet, to turn raw reality into "stories" for
television entertainment, "Cops" also skillfully introduces narrative devices such as
heroes for audiences to identify with, unambiguous storylines with resolution or closure,
and, often, a moral or theme. Now we will examine how these naturalizing and story-
telling techniques promote law and order ideology.
Naturalization
An opening voice-over states that " 'Cops' is filmed on location with the men and
women of law enforcement." Apart from this, there is no formal narration, nor any other
artifice that suggests journalism. Instead there is simply what seems to be actuality sound.
As Langley puts it, "We were certainly the first, and we are still the only reality show that
has no actors, no script and no host. That's as pure as you can get in documentary film-
making."
Various modernist factual and fictional forms of story-telling use different
strategies to construct realism. News employs truth-claims largely rooted in appeal to
legitimate authority and its authorized forms of discourse such as science and law. Visual
evidence plays more of a supporting role (Ericson, Baranek, and Chan 1987). In contrast,
5
the realism of "Cops" is based more in the pervasive cultural understanding that "seeing
is believing", the veracity of first-hand experience "straight from the horse's mouth", and
emotional authenticity (it "feels real"). News at least purportedly seeks to provide
audiences with the five "Ws" (who, what, when, where, why); "Cops" ignores some of
these questions entirely (who are the civilians present, when did the events occur) and
focuses instead on creating the sense that the viewer is on scene.
Langley states that the program allows the viewer "to share a cop's point of view
in real time during the course of his or her duties" (italics added). "Cops" condenses
footage shot over much longer periods into its seven minute vignettes. Fifty or 60
minutes of videotape are shot for each one used. Yet most of the action aired on "Cops"
unfolds in a flowing linear sequence that simulates "real time". "Real time" is also
suggested by a lone subtitle flashed once in most vignettes indicating the time that a
particular piece of action commences: for example, "burglary call, 6: 23 p.m." This
suggests that the action flows continuously from that time, as if a stopwatch had been
started.
Although "Cops" is presented as though visuals and soundtrack are captured
simultaneously in the raw, often the sound has actually been recorded at other times from
the visuals. This allows for a subtle, frequently-used device that the casual viewer may
not notice which simulates the continuing flow of "real time": continuity in sound is
edited to overlap cuts in the visuals, and vice versa. For example, the continous sound of
an officer talking, radio calls, or a helicopter overhead will overlap a cut between two
different visuals. The continuous sound suggests continuity in time, as if the viewer has
simply looked in a different direction in the same time and place (although in fact an
hour's worth of action and dialogue could have been omitted between the cuts). "Real
time" thus suggests continuous time; however it does not attempt to inform the viewer
how far removed in time the incident actually occurred by giving the calendar date (for
example, 6: 23 p.m., June 22, 1995). Thus "real time" also means the programs do not
date easily and are suitable for reruns. "Cops" does not recede into history; instead, cops
chase, wrestle and handcuff criminals in an eternal present. While presenting the
highlights of an incident in "real time" provides a fictive immediacy or "nowness" that
makes "Cops" more exciting for viewers, it also has the effect of naturalizing the footage
somewhat. Events unfold in an edgy, fast-forward procession that seems disconcertingly
paced, yet naturalization occurs in that the actual cuts are concealed.
Any signs of the camera crew are nearly always edited out from footage of
encounters between police and civilians. As the "Too Hot For TV" video reveals, this
means considerable excising of civilians reacting to the camera, often with hostility.
6
Each segment is most often hooked on a particular officer, that vignette's "host
cop," who sets the scene. The host cop (or sometimes, cops) will talk directly to the
camera, most often while driving to and from an incident. Even then, the presence of the
camera crew is not acknowledged. This offers the illusion that the viewer is in the car--
perhaps in the role of the partner officer.
Identification
Much research on crime and the media uses rather simple models of how
audiences interact with media texts. Such research suggests a passive linear process
whereby audiences absorb faulty information or scary representations, making them
misinformed or fearful. However, consumers also interact with media texts partially by
identifying with particular characters (Livingstone 1990). Indeed, verite documentary
makers sometimes deliberately structure their films to encourage identification with
particular individuals (Anderson and Benson 1991: 49). Good story-telling requires such
protagonists.
"Cops" similarly encourages the viewer to identify with police, while distancing
them from other characters shown. This provides protagonists for the story--but also
reinforces the Us-Them dichotomy characteristic of law and order ideology. "Cops"
promotes such identification through four mechanisms. Some are intended by the
producers; others are simply consequences of the program's structure.
Firstly, various categories of people shown on "Cops" are contextualized very
differently. The host officer's name, rank and department are flashed on the screen as an
introduction. Other officers are often identified by name in subtitles. On the other hand,
non-cops remain nameless. The host cop also often provides auto-biographical
information, so the viewer gets to know their host personally. The officer will talk about
why he--or occasionally, she--joined the force, how long he/she has been a cop and so on.
One officer talked about how he had joined the military and this helped him "get some
discipline and maturity." Another said, "I suddenly realized I couldn't sit behind a
desk...I wanted to get out and make a difference."
Sometimes the viewer even accompanies the host through his off-duty daily
routine. One officer was shown making tea in his kitchen with his wife, who was also a
cop. The viewer accompanied the officer to the pub after work, joining in police
camraderie there, and spent more off-duty time with him enjoying his vintage Daimler
car.
Civilians shown are stripped of similar human background. The television
spotlight focuses on the brief moment of police intervention, and does not provide any
social context for the non-cops portrayed or the alleged crimes. When any context is
7
given, it is likely to be the suspect's criminal record. For example, after a young African-
American man was arrested, an officer stated, "We've been chasing this guy around for
years. He's got a drug problem. He was just arrested last week. He just got out of jail
today. It just worked out pretty good. We just happened to be right there." When
civilians have their faces blurred, this further depersonalizes them.
Secondly, "Cops" encourages identification with police through its use of point of
view. The lone camera simulates a single viewpoint--that of the police officer. This
resembles the point-of-view shot used in film fiction to simulate the view of a particular
character. Thus, while viewers get up close and personal with the host cop, they are also
positioned on scene as if they themselves were cops. For example, the viewer gets a cops-
eye-view through the cruiser window of the hunt for fleeing suspects. This technique is
explicitly acknowledged by the producers: "The goal is to put you (the viewer) in the
passenger seat with them so you can experience what it's like to be a cop"(italics added).
Thus, the "raw reality" the producers talk about elsewhere is discussed here as "reality"
from a particular point of view.
Thirdly, the officers shown describe the sensations and satisfactions of their
work, encouraging the viewer to share them. Thus, viewers can identify with authorized
power and its pleasures. One officer described his job as "like Disneyland." Another said
after an arrest, "I enjoyed that. It's a nice way to end the night." A third said, "I suppose
the best thing is you never know what's going to happen next. Occasionally you get
something exciting happening and it makes all the boring bits worthwhile." Another host
said, "I don't like thieves...I've had two cars stolen over the last 10 years. When I pop a
car thief and get to chase him and catch him, that's a good high there."
Finally, identification is also bound up with the program's voyeuristic aspects.
The supervising producer, Murray Jordan, suggests that "Cops" is successful because of
the "inherent voyeuristic interest that most human beings have." Scholarly analysts have
also pointed out a voyeuristic quality in reality crime programs (Bondjeberg 1996;
Andersen 1996). Voyeurism is taking pleasure from viewing the private or forbidden.
The viewer overrules the wishes of others that the object of viewing remain secreted.
Viewing may thus be experienced as an act of domination. The voyeurism of "Cops" is
interwined with its authoritarian pleasures. The seductions or pleasures of one type of
power--voyeuristically intruding into the private or forbidden--are meshed with the
seductions of another type of power--identifying with the sanctioned authority of the
police.
A warning that "viewer discretion is advised" because of the "graphic nature" of
the program may contribute to this sense of voyeurism. Concealing subjects' faces also
8
adds a frisson of voyeurism, suggesting the viewer is being allowed to see "private"
incidents.
Survey research shows that viewers who report greatest enjoyment of "Cops" and
similar programs tend to be young males (Oliver and Armstrong 1995). A small portion
of the material on "Cops" is explicitly sexual and seems aimed at a heterosexual male
viewer. One opening montage began with a close-up of a woman's bikini clad torso--from
which the camera pulled back to establish that the location was a Miami beach. The "Too
Hot for TV" video marketed by "Cops" producers contains more explicit sexually
voyeuristic material. This includes footage of a sting operation in which the viewer is
positioned with cops hiding behind a one-way mirror, pressing against the glass to get a
good view of semi-naked female prostitutes with their male customers. Another televised
vignette featured the arrest of a teenaged girl who allegedly led police on a drunken car
chase. Tearful and not apparently resisting the police, the teenager, clad in shorts and a
revealing halter top, was kept in handcuffs in the station for an extended period as the
camera lingered on her body. Such sexually voyeuristic sequences are apparently
included by the producers because they help sell the program. Yet the explicit interplay
of police power and voyeuristic power may also contribute to viewer identification with
the authoritarian pleasures of policing.
Closure
A second key story-telling mechanism is closure--editing the footage to create a
relatively unambiguous storyline. Often this storyline encourages viewers to interpret
events in ways consistent with law and order ideology.
The speech of police is edited together to tell the stories, essentially using police
as informal narrators. The words of the host cop and other officers, from briefings and
from police radio are subtly stitched together overlaying various visual sequences.This
spliced-together narration often imposes a story-line that makes sense of a jumble of
video imagery that would otherwise be meaningless or ambiguous. To understand what is
going on, viewers must rely heavily on the police interpretation of events, rather than the
video record itself.
For example, one episode featured a raid on an alleged drug dealer's home.
Without the host cop's explanation, all the viewer would have seen would have been a
short confusing set of images, featuring some figures in body armor running through the
darkness, several explosions in the night, the sound of breaking glass, then men in body
armor standing in a hallway and a woman lying face down on the floor. However, on the
way to the scene, an officer told the viewer that the man inside the house carried a
shotgun at all times and had bragged about blowing another man's head off. The cop
9
described the villain as "very paranoid, has a bulletproof vest, goes to the bathroom with
a shotgun in his hand, has vowed to kill any law-enforcement officers that come on the
property". Then there was the short burst of images described above, lasting perhaps 20
seconds. An officer narrated after the fact, "These doors were locked back here. We had
to break them. We got one suspect on the ground right here. We got a shotgun (not
shown). He's the dude we were thinking about." In this segment of reality-TV, the reality
was the narrative constructed by the officer. Only through his words did the viewer know
that police had succeeded in controlling a dangerous criminal.
Good story-telling means removing confusion from the plot. Police accounts--
and how they are edited--serve to partially close off alternative readings of the televised
events. One officer on "Cops" said to a suspect who protested his innocence, "That's
something that the courts are going to have to determine." However, in the very next
vignette, "Cops" pronounced who was the guilty party in a highly ambiguous situation.
A police cruiser pulled up on a suburban street to a scene where one man, brandishing a
baseball bat, had beaten another man who was sitting on the road. The beaten man
staggered up with one eye swollen shut, in tears and moaning, "I'm hurt bad. I need help."
The bat-wielding man said the beaten man had tried to break into his house, but the other
man denied it, saying he was just walking by. A foiled burglary or a brutal assault on a
passerby? Police made a decision. An officer said to the man with the bat, "You want to
press charges for prowler, right?" The cop directed the bat-wielding man to place the
injured man under "citizen's arrest," even though the injured man was lying on a stretcher
in an ambulance by then. One officer commented that the beaten man "lives in (another
suburb). That's kind of a bad area." He asked, "Why is he coming down to this area? It
makes no sense." Another cop was given the last word by the editors, saying the beaten
man was "a prowler and a thief who got caught. A prowler with a broken jaw."
Making that the last word provided a neat wrap-up, avoiding any ambiguity that
might leave the audience more troubled than entertained. The result was that the incident
was constructed in terms of social class--as though it was clear that the "bad guy" was the
one who came from a "bad area."
Some officers even seem to try to obtain forms of on-the-spot resolution to wrap
up the stories. Another ambiguous situation arose when an African-American mother had
apparently abandoned her baby: did she flee because of threatened violence from the
baby's father, or was she simply guilty of neglect? The moral confusion was resolved
when the host cop took the camera crew right into the woman's jail cell. He elicited from
her that there was no threat of violence, thus demonstrating her guilt for the viewer, and
clarifying the storyline.
10
While "Cops" announces that "all suspects are innocent until proven guilty in a
court of law," all the evidence viewers ever get says they are guilty. Events have only one
storyline--and it can be swiftly diagnosed and dealt with by police. Police are the ones
who know the reality of events. This creates an "illusion of certainty," as Haney and
Manzolati (1988: 127) argue concerning fictional police dramas. "Police work...is fraught
with uncertainty...this image of sureness and certainty may actually create in the minds of
most viewers a presumption of guilt." Haney and Manzolati's survey found that heavy
television viewers were significantly more likely than light viewers to believe that
defendants "must be guilty of something, otherwise they wouldn't be brought to trial."
There is usually a closing comment or "last word" from a cop, voiced over a
black screen featuring only the "Cops" logo. Some "last words" simply sum up events to
create closure. Others provide a moral for the story. These morals--interpretations of the
events by front-line cops--often reinforce aspects of law and order ideology. For example,
after two suspected burglars would not admit their guilt, the officer's "last word" was that
this was "just a sign of the times." Other morals spoke to the comfort of police protection
in an uncertain world. These included: "That's it for today. Who knows what might
happen tomorrow?" and "We'll be sleeping safely in the knowledge that the night shift are
on." Frequently, the last word emphasizes that "lives have been saved" or "someone
could have been killed." A vignette where an officer decided not to arrest a suspected
drunk driver concluded with a moral about due process: "It's a pity...I couldn't get him off
the street. He's probably going to kill someone". A similar moral concerned the need to
get tough with teenagers. After some youths were arrested, a cop noted: "They'll go ahead
and say 'release them to their parents'...They may not spend the night in jail. That's kind
of frustrating...they may be kiddie crooks but they grow up to be adult crooks."
Selection of events and situations
Other reality programs such as "America's Most Wanted" and "Unsolved
Mysteries" focus on statistically rare serious crimes, notably homicides (Cavender and
Bond-Maupin 1993). "Cops" tends to feature more common crimes such as burglaries,
robberies, less serious assaults, street-level drug busts, domestic disturbances, and
incidents involving intoxication. Nevertheless, in some ways,"Cops" offers a highly
selective picture of criminal justice. Oliver's (1994) content analysis indicates "Cops"
(and four other reality shows) over-represent both violent crime and the proportion of
crime solved by police. Oliver found that 69 per cent of suspects on these programs were
portrayed as arrested, a dramatic increase from the actual arrest statistics. In these
respects, "Cops" resembles most fictional portrayals of crime (Reiner 1992: Ch. 5). More
11
generally, "Cops" tends to show cases where police apparently deal effectively with
situations, swiftly diagnosing trouble and resolving it.
"Cops" also rarely airs material which would reflect negatively on police. Two
factors explain this: the producers depend on on-going police co-operation, and producers
themselves internalize pro-police attitudes.
Many police forces are keen to cooperate with "Cops"--part of a trend toward
increasing police self-promotion. However, the content of "Cops" is shaped more by the
interpretations of front-line officers than it is by officialdom (although officers who
appear on "Cops" are likely carefully vetted by management). These front-line officers
are immersed in "cop culture" (Reiner 1992) which resonates well with law and order
ideology.
The relationship between police and media in making "Cops" can be compared to
police-journalist relations. Journalists often depend heavily on official police sources
(Fishman 1980). Ericson et al. (1989) describe an inner circle and outer circle of police
reporters in Toronto. While outer circle reporters are more adversarial, inner circle
reporters are very friendly with police sources and internalize police ideology. They have
access to more information, but also self-censor to maintain close ties with these sources.
The producers of "Cops" resemble inner circle reporters--yet their dependence on police
is even greater. There is no subcultural valorization of at least some degree of critical
journalistic autonomy. Nor does the "Cops" format feature any perceived requirement for
balance.
The producers of "Cops" also acknowledge that, like inner circle reporters, they
have internalized pro-police attitudes. Langley said:
If you had asked me...in the 60s, I would have laughed and said I would never
do a show called "Cops". Maybe pigs but not "Cops". Of course I was brash
and immature back then...I have developed a profound respect for police
officers...They put their lives at risk for others, and I think that's both
admirable and inspirational.
One "Cops" producer said she had been approached by several police forces about
signing up as a cop herself (Bernstein 1992). Debra Seagal, a former editor at a similar
reality show, "American Detective", noted that the camera crews for that program "even
wear blue jackets with 'Police' in yellow letters on the back...The executive
producer...frequently wears a badge on his belt loop" (Seagal 1993).
A Kansas City officer who had a "Cops" crew on his midnight shift for two
weeks told Time magazine: "Most officers would be apprehensive to have the media ride
with them...But these guys proved themselves to us. They said that they wouldn't do
12
anything to undermine us, and that we'd have final discretion about what ran" (Zoglin
1992). Time reported that "each episode of "Cops" is reviewed by the police before
airing, in part to make sure no investigations are compromised".
Thus, "Cops" is highly unlikely to air footage which makes police look bad. As
Katz (1993: 27) argued:
The cameras recording "Cops" would probably not catch a Rodney King style
beating. The officers would know better than to behave like that; even if they
didn't, it's unclear whether the broadcast's producers would show it, since the
program depends on the voluntary co-operation of the police.
For example, as reported in the Seattle Times (Scattarella 1992), in May 1992 a
"Cops" crew recorded the scene as police on a drug raid burst into a suburban
Washington state home. They rousted a couple and their children from sleep, and
handcuffed the half-naked woman--before finally realizing they were in the wrong house.
The woman complained, "They pulled me out of bed and put a gun on me. Here I am
with my butt showing, and I see the camera." Police apparently had the address wrong on
the warrant. "Cops" decided not to broadcast any of that raid.
Seagal (1993: 55) described an incident she reviewed on "American Detective"
videotape:
our cameramen, wearing police jackets are in one of the (Santa Cruz police)
undercover vans during the pursuit (of two Hispanic suspects)... One of (the
camera men) has his camera in one hand and a pistol held high in the other.
The police don't seem to care about his blurred role...the suspects are pinned
to the ground and held immobile while cops kick them in the stomach and the
face...Our secondary cameraman holds a long, extreme closeup of a suspect
while his mouth bleeds into the dirt. One producer shakes his head at the
violence. "Too bad," he says. "Too bad we can't use that footage." This was
clearly a case of too much reality for reality-based TV.
"Cops" is also selective in its portrayal of race. This reinforces ties between law
and order ideology and racism. Oliver (1994) demonstrated that five reality programs
including "Cops" under-represent African-Americans and Hispanics and over-represent
whites as police officers, while over-representing minorities and under-representing
whites as criminals. "Cops" also omits any portrayals of overtly racist behavior by police.
Management would not let overtly racist officers on the program; officers who do appear
likely censor their behavior . Furthermore, even if such material was recorded, producers
would likely not air it. According to survey research (of white viewers only), viewers
13
who report greater enjoyment of reality programs including "Cops" also tend to show
higher levels of racial prejudice (Oliver and Armstrong 1995).
The many episodes of "Cops" reviewed for this chapter focused exclusively on
"street crime," most often in poorer neighborhoods. This focus was confirmed in a Los
Angeles Times interview with a "Cops" co-producer: "Most often, it's poor
neighborhoods where "Cops" goes for its stories. Wealthy areas, while often host to the
same domestic abuse and robbery problems that make up the program's stable of policing
situations, are disdained as not crime ridden enough. "Traditionally, we don't go and ride
in those areas," (the co-producer) said. Things that happen in places like Beverly Hills,
she said, "aren't the kind of things that are stories for us on the show." (Bernstein 1992).
Thus law and order ideology is intertwined with wider issues of class.
Law and order ideology and audiences
Clearly not all audiences will simply accept that "Cops" is reality. Yet audience
research suggests many viewers largely do see it this way. A survey of 358 television
viewers in Wisconsin and Virginia by Oliver and Armstrong (1995) showed that
audiences perceive "Cops" and four similar programs as significantly more realistic than
crime fiction. Andersen (1996) notes that, according to a 1993 Times-Mirror survey,
viewers tend to think of reality crime shows as informational programming rather than
entertainment. Industry research also suggests that many viewers see "Cops" as very
similar to local news (Freeman 1993).
Not all viewers will take "Cops" the same way, and some will subvert its
meanings. Yet many viewers are already inclined toward law and order ideology, and
these are the people whom "Cops" will most likely appeal to. This is confirmed by Oliver
and Armstrong (1995: 565). Their survey found that reality programs like "Cops" "were
most enjoyed by viewers who evidenced higher levels of authoritarianism, reported
greater punitiveness about crime and reported higher levels of racial prejudice." Another
survey showed that regular viewers of "Cops" and three other reality programs were
significantly more fearful than infrequent viewers of being sexually assaulted, beaten up,
knifed, shot, or killed (Haghighi and Sorensen 1996: 23).
The influence of crime in the media on audiences has been very extensively
researched (Gunter 1987; Sparks 1992). There are repeated findings of a strong tendency
for viewers who watch large amounts of crime on television to be more afraid of crime
and more inclined toward law and order. However, the extent to which each circumstance
causes the other has proved difficult to isolate. Do people want more law and order
because they watch crime on TV, or vice versa? The relationship is most likely one of
mutual reinforcement. Like many media products, "Cops" is not exactly "preaching to the
14
converted", but more preaching to those who lean that way--reinforcing fear of crime and
law and order views among people already pre-disposed to them.
It is particularly hard to demonstrate empirically how media may reinforce
existing viewpoints (Livingstone 1996). Nevertheless, mainstream and critical
communications literature converge on one point--the strongest socializing influence of
media may be precisely that: to reinforce existing views (Curran 1996).
Intertextuality
So far, we have discussed "Cops" mostly in isolation of other media products.
However, another key form of influence is that media products help shape the meanings
consumers make of other media products. This notion of interplay or intertextuality is
well established (Fiske 1987). However it has been little considered in specific analyses
of crime in the media. Most consider either news, entertainment or reality-TV in
isolation, or else treat them as discrete components of media content which may be
considered in additive fashion. This ignores the extent to which these media products are
intertwined and mutually constitutive.
A striking facet of Fox's Saturday night line-up is the interplay between different
elements. "Cops" is repeatedly situated as part of a broader television package related to
fear and loathing of street crime. Ads during "Cops" said viewers could stay tuned
afterward to "help the cops catch a killer on 'America's Most Wanted' " because "it's a
night of non-stop action on Q13." One segment of "Cops" immediately cut from the
closing credits to a slogan saying: "Real Cops," an ad for "Top Cops", another reality
program which features re-enactions of heroic police moments. Back-to-back episodes of
"Cops" were followed immediately by "Front Page", a news-magazine which featured
segments on the kidnapping and strangling of a young girl, on "gangsta" rap music, and
on "locking up drug dealers...how one state sends first-time drug dealers to prison--for
the rest of their lives."
Ads repeatedly asked "Cops" viewers to phone in with information to help the
Greater Vancouver Crimestoppers and Western Washington's Most Wanted programs
track down wanted criminals. Also interspersed were repeated ads for Pepper Mace
spray. Airing in the Christmas season, these suggested Pepper Mace "makes a great
stocking stuffer."
"Cops" and "America's Most Wanted" are sometimes even tied together
thematically: for example, they featured back-to-back episodes set in New Orleans for
Mardi Gras. "America's Most Wanted" is much more overtly ideological, and "Cops" will
be read in the context of this. For example, one episode of "Cops" featured vignettes of a
suspected assault/child neglect case, a drug raid and a car chase. The closing "Cops"
15
credits ran on half a split screen. On the other half, with a backdrop of dramatic fictional
crime footage, "America's Most Wanted" host John Walsh offered a monologue. This
monologue encapsulated law and order ideology. Walsh said, "You know what I'm sick
of. Criminals who serve only a fraction of their sentences. Sexual predators who are
released to live next door to you and your children and you don't even know it. Drug
dealers who think they run these streets. This is a society where criminals have all the
rights and victims don't have any. Well, it's going to change. You're going to make that
happen. The new 'America's Most Wanted'. America fights back. Premieres next
Saturday after 'Cops" on non-stop Fox.' An immersion in the "real crime" of "Cops"
offers a strong priming for this appeal.
More broadly, accounts of crime from news, entertainment, and other sources are
often consumed in juxtaposition. Being viewed alongside news may add an immediacy to
crime dramas like "Law and Order"; being viewed alongside such dramas may add
dramatic impact to crime news. "Cops" occupies a special place in this mix. Episodes of
"Cops" are often broadcast right after the six o'clock news, bridging the gap between the
news and prime time crime. This bridging is both literal and figurative. Twentieth
Television syndication president Greg Meidel said the interplay between "Cops" and
news is key to its success in this slot: "All our research indicates that viewers closely
identify "Cops'" content with that of similar sorts of law enforcement coverage on
newscasts locally. That's why "Cops" has been so compatible as a lead-in or lead-out
from local news programming. It looks, feels and tastes like a first-run news program"
(Freeman 1993).
Yet, if viewers see "Cops" as resembling news, its story-telling also resonates
extremely well with fictional television crime."Cops" has the simple, unambiguous
narrative structure, pumped-up action, heroic police protagonists, high arrest rate and
illusion of police certainty characteristic of much fictional crime drama. Like many such
dramas, the action on "Cops" also ends with closure or summary justice at the arrest stage
of the criminal process. "Cops" takes place in linear "real time" in a fictional present
rather than being a past-tense summary of events like news. The presence of the camera
is not acknowledged on "Cops", which is also characteristic of fictional or dramatic
realism. If people see "Cops" is a lot like fictional crime on television, such fiction may
become more realistic for them.
More generally, viewers will draw on experience of one media format to interpret
others. Thus, "Cops" and other media visions of crime together make a package that is
more than the sum of its parts.
Media Logic
16
"Cops" does not simply influence viewers; it also shapes practices and situations
in the criminal justice system itself. Altheide and Snow (1979) explored numerous ways
in which the requirements of mass media lead to the reformatting of practices in other
institutions such as sports, religion and politics. "Cops" also exerts this kind of influence,
which Altheide and Snow call "media logic". Indeed, "Cops" helps constitute events in
the justice system, so that criminal justice events also become media events. "Cops" does
not simply offer a distorted representation of some "real world" of policing; "Cops" helps
shape that world. "Cops" illustrates that "media do not merely report on events but rather
participate directly in processes by which events are constituted and exist in the world"
(Ericson 1991: 219).
The justice system is displaying "media logic" by increasingly shaping some of its
day-to-day practices to be media-friendly. For example, Altheide (1995) describes
situations of "gonzo justice", where judges pass spectacular individualized sentences
apparently targetted to achieve media attention. These sometimes even directly involve
media in their execution, for example, forcing convicts to buy advertising shaming
themselves.
As reality-TV, "Cops" is the example par excellence of how media directly affect
criminal justice practices. There are numerous indications that police tailor their behavior
for the program. Outtakes reveal both police and camera crews giving stage directions
during "real" incidents. In many cases on-the-spot interrogations of suspects or
conferences between officers seem conducted for the camera's benefit. Some police
operations seem ready-made for "Cops" (although there is no direct evidence they are
prompted by the program's needs). In one, a Mack truck was intentionally abandoned in
poor urban areas. Police and cameras were concealed in the truck. Soon, local youths,
usually African-American or Hispanic, would break in to see what valuables might be
contained inside. This resulted not only in ready-made arrests but also ready-made
footage for "Cops".
Another example of how media logic reshapes criminal justice is the emergence
of informal rituals of punishment involving the media. For example, police sometimes
parade suspects in handcuffs in strategic locations so they can be photographed by the
news media--a kind of shaming ritual sometimes called the "perp walk" (Doyle and
Ericson 1996). Parallel practises are evident on "Cops". Police sometimes seem to try to
produce an on-the-spot resolution to meet the story-telling needs of "Cops". One way this
happens is that some suspects are subjected to police lectures which are like informal
shaming rituals. These offer summary justice, providing a wrap-up and/or a ready-made
moral for the vignette. Of course police often engage in such lectures even without the
17
camera, but the camera's presence redefines the situation dramatically, making the
punishment something more than it would be (whether or not the footage is eventually
aired). For example, a man was pulled over by police while driving to a funeral with his
family, and caught with a small amount of marijuana. Instead of being charged, he was
given instant informal punishment: a roadside lecture by police in front of a television
camera.
More generally, "Cops" reshapes criminal justice by altering the experience of
civilians who are recorded. Certain suspects are excited by the camera's attention--and
many do sign the releases. However, being videotaped may be an intrusive and
humiliating experience for other civilians, whether suspects, witnesses or victims, and
whether or not they give consent to air the footage. Nor does the blurring always
effectively conceal their identities. In one incident, the identity of a 14-year-old alleged
statutory rape victim was revealed on "Cops" without the permission of her or her family
(Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1991, p. B3).
"Cops" also reshapes criminal justice by influencing police and would-be police
who are viewers. There has been little research on how crime in the media affects the
particular audience of criminal justice personnel. Mary Beth Oliver, who has studied
"Cops" extensively, said that police academy instructors indicate that these shows have
inspired many of their students to enter law enforcement. The students' "whole idea of
what it means to be a police officer is based on these very shows," Oliver said (Perigard
1995). Similarly, one would-be police officer interviewed for this research saw regular
viewing of "Cops" as part of his training: each episode taught him how to deal with
particular situations.
These examples demonstrate that the various influences of "Cops" on the justice
system are much more pervasive than is first apparent. "Cops" has televised over 900
vignettes of police activity. This means that the program has recorded 5,000 to 10,000
hours of policing since 1989. "Cops" has thus affected numerous instances of police
activity and touched the lives of many individuals in this way. However, "Cops" has
effects far beyond this. It has spawned many imitators such as "American Detective",
"LAPD: Life on the Beat", "To Serve and Protect" and Britain's "Blues and Twos"
(Corner, 1996: 184). In fact, in St. Petersburg, Florida, the increasing media
consciousness of police has pushed this influence to the next step. Local police now
bypass the media and produce their own "Cops"-style reality program, "Police Report",
on cable television. These police sometimes take video-cameras along as they work and
film their own activities for the show (Getz 1995).
18
Video cameras are increasingly omnipresent in criminal justice--and "Cops" has
tried to reach out to all of them. The official "Cops" website has advertised an appeal to
"officers, deputies, corrections officers, troopers" and others: "The producers of "Cops"
are looking for amazing, unusual, exciting or weird videotape. Crazy arrests, angry
suspects, hot pursuits, bloopers from in car cameras, cam corders, surveillance cameras."
The footage was sought for a new video, "Caught on Camera." First prize for the best
footage was a trip to Hawaii.
Thus, the media logic of "Cops" had penetrated throughout the justice system.
Any footage from any video-camera in the system at any time might potentially appear
on "Cops". Increasingly, every criminal justice moment might become a media event.
Conclusions
There has been vast research on how individual media products affect the views
of audiences. This chapter has shown that, while important, this is too narrow a
conception to fully capture the profound ways in which media shape our social world.
Certainly, "Cops" influences many viewers' attitudes. It demonstrates strongly how the
story-telling of mass media can be ideological. Its techniques shape "raw reality" into
made-for-TV stories that reinforce existing inclinations among many audience members
toward law and order ideology. Yet this is only one way of thinking about its influences.
We have also explored how, as reality-TV, "Cops" plays a unique role in a broader media
package about crime. It affects how we make meanings of other media accounts of crime
in news, entertainment and advertising, even as they, in turn, influence how we
understand "Cops". Thirdly, the chapter has shown how "Cops" not only portrays events
and practices in the criminal justice system, it actually helps reshape them. For example,
it not only records arrests, it helps shape how they are conducted and experienced by the
participants, and even how some future police officers may conduct their arrests.
To conclude, we will consider a fourth, broader way of thinking about media
influence. Some theorists have stressed the central role of the mass media in profound
long-term processes of social and cultural change. "Cops" is implicated in one such
tendency. Some of the aspects of "Cops" discussed above make it increasingly difficult to
distinguish what is fact and what is fiction, what is television and what is "real". This
brings us finally to consider the notion of "hyperreality" (Baudrillard, 1988).
"Hyperreality is a postmodern sense of the real that accounts for our loss of certainty in
being able to distinguish clearly and hierarchically between reality and its representation
and in being able to distinguish clearly and hierarchically between the modes of its
representation," (Fiske 1994: 62). The expanding penetration of media into all aspects of
social life and the mutation of media products into new and hybrid forms are profoundly
19
implicated in the tendency toward hyperreality. Despite its claim to be "raw reality,"
"Cops" exemplifies this trend toward the blurring of different modes of reality.
Baudrillard (1988) has described the emergence of the "more real than real",
hyperreal realms of experience more intense and involving than banal every-day life.
"Cops" has a formal property described earlier as "real time" which steps outside the pace
and flow of conventional time, and places the viewer in a new uncertain "time zone."
"Real time" is not simply fictional time: sensory input indicates continuity. Yet things
unfold at a strangely rapid pace, and not at a fixed point on the calendar, but in a kind of
eternal present. "Real time" fits with Baudrillard's description of the "more real than
real".
Reality-TV also crosses boundaries between factual and fictional story-telling,
and unsettles our hierarchy of the real this way. While there has always been interplay
between crime fact and crime fiction, a more recent trend is hybridization. A key
example is "America's Most Wanted" with its mix of artifice that suggests journalism
with fictional techniques such as actors recreating situations (Cavender and Bond-Maupin
1993). Such programs are part of a broader cultural trend toward blurring of different
modes of the real in story-telling (Bondjeberg 1996).
Some of the more baroque reality-TV efforts have mixed forms in more
outlandish ways. They disturb our sense of what is real by moving "real crime" toward
the surreal. For example, the recent program "America's Dumbest Criminals" attempts
reality-based crime comedy, featuring both interviews and re-enactments. A local police
show in Houston, Texas, named "2 Catch a Crook," even introduced a game show
element. The program featured a "Catch of the Day." A police host--who became a local
celebrity--spun a "Wheel of Misfortune" featuring mug shots, in order to choose a
"Bonus Suspect" (Rust 1992).
"Cops" also moves us toward hyperreality by blurring news and entertainment. As
industry research suggests, "Cops" is like another form of news for many viewers;
however, structurally, its story-telling closely resembles crime fiction. Some "Cops"
imitators have taken the blurring of factual and fictional even further. One short-lived
program, "DEA", adopted a "Cops"-style cinema verite form--but used actors and was
apparently a work of dramatic fiction, with no claim to be reality-based. One television
critic somewhat tentatively listed "DEA" among new reality programs, while noting, "it's
difficult to decipher that it isn't real" (Froelich 1991).
As we have discussed, "Cops" does not simply depict the reality of criminal
justice. It actually helps constitute that reality, by shaping events in the criminal justice
system itself. Thus, "Cops" is also hyperreal in blurring the worlds of television and "real
20
life." For example, the possibility police officers may one day appear on "Cops" suggests
a continuity between their working worlds and the world of crime on TV. Consider the
blurring realities of one California police officer, who was being recorded in action for
"Cops". He and his wife were also big fans of the show: "I watch it all the time...I like the
action...which is also what I like about being out here (on the beat). It's an adrenalin rush.
It's what a lot of us like about police work - the excitement" (Bernstein 1992). How did
viewing many previous episodes of "Cops" shape his behavior when "Cops" actually
began recording him on the job? For police officers being recorded, "Cops" may
represent a fantasy come true in that they have become cops after being raised on the
fictional heroics of police crime dramas. Now they have their chance to be a "television
hero."
The expression "reality television" encapsulates the notion of hyperreality by
collapsing the real and the represented into one. This chapter has shown how sometimes
police carry video cameras during their operations, simultaneously making arrests and
producing their own television shows; at other times television crews wear badges and
carry guns, chasing down suspects even as they film them. With the advent of reality-
television, the blurring of the two institutions reaches a dream-like extreme. In its
contribution to the mixing of factual and fictional realms and to the increasing
penetration of television into all aspects of social life, "Cops" pushes us toward the
hyperreal.
Yet hyperreality itself is ideological: its shifting kaleidoscope of real and
represented can be a spellbinding distraction. "Cops" is about hyperreality but, more
importantly, it is about a brute reality: the punitive politics of law and order.
References
Altheide, David and Robert Snow. 1979. Media Logic. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
Altheide, David. 1995. An Ecology of Communication: Cultural Formats of Control.
New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Andersen, Robin. 1996. Consumer Culture and TV Programming. Boulder, CO:
Westview.
Anderson, Carolyn and Thomas Benson. 1991. Documentary Dilemmas. Carbondale, IL:
Southern Illinois University Press.
Baudrillard, Jean. 1988. Selected Writings. Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Bernstein, Sharon. 1992. "The Force is with Her." Los Angeles Times (October 6,
1992): F1.
Bondebjerg, Ib. 1996. "Public Discourse/Private Fascination: Hybridization in 'True-Life-
Story Genres." Media, Culture and Society 18: 27-45.
21
Cavender, Gray and Lisa Bond-Maupin. 1993. "Fear and Loathing on Reality Television:
An Analysis of 'America's Most Wanted" and 'Unsolved Mysteries'." Sociological
Inquiry 63 (3): 305-317.
Coe, Steve. 1996. "The Reality of Realities: Lower Numbers." Broadcasting and Cable
(January 15, 1996).
Corner, John. 1996. The Art of Record: A Critical Introduction to Documentary.
Manchester, England and New York: Manchester University Press.
Curran, James. 1996. "Rethinking Mass Communications." Pp. 119-165 in Cultural
Studies and Communications, edited by J. Curran, D. Morley and V. Walkerdine.
London, England: Arnold.
Doyle, Aaron and Richard Ericson. 1996. "Breaking Into Prison: News Sources and
Correctional Institutions." Canadian Journal of Criminology 38 (2): 155-190.
Ericson, Richard. 1991. "Mass Media, Crime, Law and Justice: An Institutional
Approach." British Journal of Criminology 31(3): 219-249.
Ericson, Richard, Patricia Baranek, and Janet Chan. 1987. Visualizing Deviance: A Study
of News Organization. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press/ Milton Keynes,
England: Open University Press.
Ericson, Richard, Patricia Baranek, and Janet Chan. 1989. Negotiating Control: A Study
of News Sources. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press/ Milton Keynes,
England: Open University Press.
Fishman, Mark. 1980. Manufacturing the News. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Fiske, John. 1987. Television Culture. London, England: Methuen.
Fiske, John. 1994. Media Matters: Everyday Culture and Political Change. Minneapolis,
MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Flanagan, Timothy and Dennis Longmire eds. 1996. Americans View Crime and Justice:
A National Public Opinion Survey. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Freeman, Mike. 1993. "Ratings are Reality for Off-Net." Broadcasting and Cable (April
12, 1993).
Froelich, Janis. 1991. "Drama in Real Life." St. Petersburg Times (June 5, 1991): D1.
Oxford, England: Oxford University Press/ Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press.
Getz, Ronald. 1995. "A Cops Show of Your Own." Law and Order (February 1995): 43.
Gunter, Barrie. 1987. Television and the Fear of Crime. London, England: John Libbey.
Haghighi, Bahram and Jon Sorensen. 1996. "America's Fear of Crime." In Americans
View Crime and Justice: A National Public Opinion Survey, edited by T. Flanagan and
D. Longmire. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
22
Haney, Craig and John Manzolati. 1988. "Television Criminology: Network Illusions of
Criminal Justice Realities." Pp. 120-131 in Readings about the Social Animal, fifth
edition, edited by E. Aronson. New York: W.H. Freeman.
Harris, Scott. 1991. "Rape Case Raises Privacy Issue." Los Angeles Times (April 20,
1991): B3.
Katz, Jon. 1993. "Covering the Cops: A TV Show Moves In Where Journalists Fear To
Tread." Columbia Journalism Review (January/February 1993): 25-30.
Livingstone, Sonia. 1994. Making Sense of Television: The Psychology of Audience
Interpretation. Oxford, England: Pergamon.
Livingstone, Sonia. 1996. "On the Continuing Problem of Media Effects." Pp. 305-324 in
Mass Media and Society , second ed, edited by J. Curran and M. Gurevitch. London:
Arnold.
McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Meyrowitz, Joshua. 1985. No Sense of Place: The Impact of Electronic Media on Social
Behaviour. New York: Oxford University Press.
Oliver, Mary Beth. 1994. "Portrayals of Crime, Race and Aggression in 'Reality-Based'
Police Shows: A Content Analysis." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 38
(2): 179-192.
Oliver, Mary Beth and G. Blake Armstrong. 1995. "Predictors of Viewing and
Enjoyment of Reality-Based and Fictional Crime Shows." Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly 72 (3): 559-570.
Perigard, Mark. 1995. "The Reality is, Cop Shows Fuel Bias and Fear of Crime." Boston
Herald (April 25, 1995): 41.
Poster, Mark. 1990. The Mode of Information: Post-Structuralism and Social Context.
Cambridge, England: Polity Press.
Reiner, Robert. 1992. The Politics of the Police. second edition. Toronto, Ontario:
University of Toronto Press.
Rust, Carol. 1992."Officer Ken's Neighbourhood", Texas Magazine (August 9, 1992): 8.
Scattarella, Christy. 1992. "Wrong Raid Captured for Cops Show." Seattle Times (May
24, 1992): A1.
Scheingold, Stuart. 1995. "Politics, Public Policy and Street Crime." Annals, AAPSS,
539: 155-168.
Schlesinger, Philip and Howard Tumber. 1994. Reporting Crime: The Media Politics of
Criminal Justice. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.
Seagal, Debra. 1993. "Tales from the Cutting Room Floor: The Reality of 'Reality-Based'
Television." Harper's (November 1993): 50-57.
23
Smith, Steven Cole. 1993. "Cops File Bulges With Rules Broken, Viewers Captured."
Chicago Tribune (February 18, 1993).
Sparks, Richard. 1992. Television and the Drama of Crime: Moral Tales and the Place of
Crime in Public Life. Buckingham, England and Philadelphia, PA: Open University
Press.
Thompson, John B.. 1990. Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the
Era of Mass Communication. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Zoglin, Richard. 1992. "The Cops and the Cameras." Time 139 (14) (April 6, 1992): 62-
63.
... Research dealing with ''reality'' programming has primarily examined the content of those shows and their tendency to exaggerate the relative frequency of violent crime (Kooistra, Mahoney, & Westervelt, 1998) or the success of police in catching the ''bad guys'' (Oliver, 1994). In general, these programs display law enforcement in an almost unwavering positive light (Doyle, 1998). To date, there have been no attempts to assess the influence of ''reality'' TV programs as a socializing agent that influences citizen perceptions of the police. ...
... The world depicted in television programming was more violent than reality for most people. At the same time, police often were depicted as more efficient and effective than they were in reality (Doyle, 1998;Sparks, 1995). Although Gerbner and his colleagues never specifically tested their hypotheses focusing on ATP, an implicit affinity for the police could be seen as coincident to their conception of a ''mean and scary'' world. ...
... ''Reality'' police programs provide an almost directly contrast- ing view. These programs are filmed from the police perspective and frame police behavior in a consis- tently positive manner (Doyle, 1998). Additionally, police departments filmed for these programs, or that assist in staging reenactments of crime scenes, are given complete discretion over the material used in the final show (Seagal, 1993). ...
Article
Compared with Whites, African Americans generally have less positive attitudes toward the police (ATP) and this is most often attributed to the differential nature of citizen–police interaction experienced by Blacks and Whites. It has been suggested that the media play an important socializing role, in the form of “vicarious” police contacts, in generating ATP. To assess this possibility, this research examined the relationship between ATP and watching television news as well as “reality” crime programming, such as COPS and America's Most Wanted. Data used in these analyses were taken from a 1996 survey of 1,492 adults residing in a southeastern metropolitan area. When other factors influencing ATP were controlled for in ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions, the frequency of watching news was positively related to ATP for Blacks and Whites alike, but watching “reality” crime programming improved ATP only for Whites, males, and those with no college experience. “Reality” crime programming increased the racial divide in ATP.
... This formula reinforces a crime-control ideology that proves inspirational to officers and police departments, who eagerly participate in the show. Similarly, the show has been influential among those interested in pursuing a career in law enforcement (Doyle, 1998(Doyle, , 2004. Notably, it is not necessarily the so-called unfiltered reality that viewers find compelling, but the worldview-the promotion of crime-control ideology that, in turn, reinforces the legitimacy of policing-that draws support from viewers. ...
... Scholars have documented that one of the most significant elements of law-enforcementbased reality TV shows is this reinforcement of crime-control ideology (Doyle, 2004;Fishman & Cavender, 1998;Valverde, 2006). As sociologist Aaron Doyle (1998Doyle ( , 2004 explained, crime-control ideology reinforces an us-versus-them mentality in which suspects are presumed guilty and dire criminal threats necessitate tougher criminal justice measures. In this context, due process concerns are minimized, and the police become "the thin blue line between them and us" (Doyle, 1998, p. 97). ...
Chapter
The relationship between the police and the media is complex, multidimensional, and contingent. Since the development of modern-day policing, the police and the media have interacted with one another in some way, shape, or form. The relationship has often been described as symbiotic, and can be characterized as ebbing and flowing in terms of the power dynamics that exist. For the police, the media present a powerful opportunity to communicate with the public about crime threats and events, as well as police successes. For the media, crime events make up a significant portion of media content, and access to police sources assists journalists in constructing such content. But the police–media relationship is not always cosy, and at times, tensions and conflicts arise. The increasing professionalization of police media communications activities has further challenged the nature and scope of the police–media relationship. Not only has the relationship become more formalized, driven by police policies and practices that are concerned with managing the media, but it has also been challenged by the very nature of the media. Changes to the media landscape have presented police organizations with a unique opportunity to become media organizations in their own right. The proliferation of police reality television programming, together with the rise of social media, has served to broaden the ways in which the police engage with the media in the pursuit of trust, confidence, and legitimacy; however, this has also opened the police up to increasing scrutiny as citizen journalism and other forms of counterveillance challenge the preferred police image.
... The introduction of Reality TV shows at the turn of the twenty-first century such as Big Brother and Pop Idol was the beginning of a rapid paradigm shift which began to restructure the "interface between industry, text and audience" (Holmes, 2004, p. 214). While popular docu-soaps such The Real World, Cops, and The Osbournes certainly contributed to the advancement of Reality TV during the 1990s (Doyle, 1998;Gillan, 2004), these formats still cast the viewer as passive recipients. Big Brother on the other hand, heralded the move toward expressly, and deliberately empowering viewers to shape outcomes by enabling them to choose, week by week, who remained in the show, thus co-opting the audience to co-produce what happened next. ...
Article
Full-text available
This paper explores the changing nature of audience participation and active viewership in the context of Reality TV. Thanks to the ongoing rise of social media, fans of popular entertainment programmes continue to be engaged in new and innovative ways across a number of platforms as part of an ever-expanding interactive economy. Love Island 2018 has pushed the boundaries of this participatory culture by exploiting new forms of digital media in order to encourage multi-platform consumption of content by the show's fans. This paper argues that while this strategy has enabled Love Island to successfully exploit monetization opportunities, it has simultaneously created opportunities for the show's audience to group together online and form communities of resistance which have placed themselves in opposition to the show's producers. These fan communities have harnessed the connective powers of social media to pool together their means and knowledge and to eventually exercise modes of sousveillance designed to hold “powerful” actors to account for perceived wrongdoing on the show. Examples of such behavior during Love Island 2018 hint at a paradigm shift in the relationship between television producers and audiences and demonstrate the new pathways available to audiences as they seek to answer the perennial question of this entertainment genre: how real is Reality TV?
... This method captures events in their naturalistic settings without scripting but with consent of the involved parties. Prior research uses FoTW video recordings to investigate media (Doyle 1998) and communication (Nabi et al. 2003) topics. It prioritizes a naturalistic setting but relaxes the observational condition by securing customer consent to record during actual service experiences. ...
Article
Full-text available
This study examines the impact of frontline employees’ problem solving on customer satisfaction (CSAT) during ongoing interactions prompted by service failures and complaints. Based on outsourced regulation theory, we predict negative moderating effects of frontline relational work and displayed affect on the dynamic influence of frontline solving work on CSAT. Frontline employee’s verbal cues provide the basis for identifying solving and relational work, and nonverbal cues for identifying their displayed affect. We test hypotheses with data from video-recordings of real-life problem-solving interactions involving airline customers, as well as a controlled experimental study. We find that frontline solving work has a positive effect on CSAT, which increases in magnitude as the interaction unfolds. However, this positive effect becomes weaker for relatively higher levels of frontline relational work or displayed affect and, conversely, stronger for relatively lower levels over time. In sum, overdoing relational work and over-displaying positive affect diminish the efficacy of problem-solving interactions, which provides implications for theory and practice.
Article
Police increasingly rely on new media software for public communication and policing operations. One such software is MobilePatrol: Public Safety App, a free to use mobile phone application marketed by data and analytics company Appriss Safety. It compiles information including mug shot photos, sex offender lists, and most wanted profiles for public access. To capture carceral visuality on the application, I conduct an ethnographic content analysis of police use in upstate New York. I penned a daily user log, took in-app “screenshots”, and analyzed user product reviews. I find that MobilePatrol reinforces an emerging new carceral visibility where an assemblage of police records are rapidly disseminated for widespread consumption, further driving data-led state entrenchment into the public sphere.
Chapter
This chapter examines how fight pages, as a form of antisocial media, have changed the terrain for distributing footage of public bare-knuckle violence. Drawing primarily upon my experiences following five fight pages, I provide an account of the content hosted on these pages, from the clips of bare-knuckle brawls they curate, to the video descriptions that enframe them. Through doing so, I show that the violent entertainments hosted by pages were not only highly heterogeneous but also curated in a manner that legitimated street fighting, and street justice: eye-for-an-eye retributive violence enacted in response to a wrong.
Article
Drawing upon a survey and 41 semi-structured interviews with television consumers, we examine the negative moral reactions that some people have to contemporary reality television. We explore the relationship between cultural preferences and moral condemnation. Television consumers who have a moral reaction to reality TV are more likely to be from a higher socio-economic position and are less likely to consume the genre. To more fully understand some viewers' negative moral reactions to reality television, we examine the moral reasoning of television consumers. Moral reactions to reality TV can be classified as endogenous and exogenous. An endogenous focus is concerned with the immorality of consumption. An exogenous focus locates morality in cultural production. These moral positions are also socially patterned; television consumers with an exogenous locus of morality possess higher levels of cultural capital, greater education and are less likely to consume reality TV. Theoretically, we contend that cultural taste is being turned into moral condemnation. In other words, when cultural consumption is linked to moral position then a strong symbolic boundary can be formed that reinforces real-world boundaries amongst social groups. This condemnation serves to harden cultural, symbolic boundaries rooted in classed consumption practices.
Article
Full-text available
The author argues that nativism, racism, and anti-immigrant sentiment presented by representatives of the U.S. government in the context of human trafficking leaves both victims and traffickers portrayed as one-dimensional criminals. Current anti-trafficking regimes embody and restate xenophobic reactions directed against illegal migrant men, while often disguising the role domestic actors have in trafficking. Additionally, the images presented imply that traffickers are lacking in “proper” masculinity, particularly of the sort embraced by Americans. This article not only explores how government anti-trafficking statements made between 1998 and 2010 create and reinforce divides in masculinities based on regimes of racial domination, but also notes particularly how anti-trafficking furthers the domination of white American masculinity. The author describes the ineffectiveness of such an approach and suggests that we must move beyond racial stereotyping and the immigration frame if we hope to broaden our definitions and understandings in a way that will deepen our thinking and allow us to see those involved in this trade as multi-faceted and textured human beings, thereby allowing us to pursue social change more effectively.
Article
Full-text available
We focus on the relationships among three types of television viewing (news, police reality, and crime drama) and attitudes toward capital punishment and handguns, as well as the likelihood of actually owning a handgun. A host of exogenous variables are treated as predictors of television use, support for police authority, fear of crime, and our criterion variables. A series of direct and indirect relationships are assessed. Analysis suggests that viewing police reality shows is both directly and indirectly related to the endorsement of capital punishment and handgun ownership, while also directly predicting a greater likelihood of actual handgun ownership. In addition, TV news viewing predicts fear of crime in audience members, and this fear contributes to the endorsement of capital punishment and handgun ownership. Crime drama viewing is positively related to support for the death penalty.
Article
Research addressing the effects of mass media on individuals is limited because it does not account for how mass communications involve human agency, various technologies, and social institutions. Recent studies show the mass media to be more open, diverse, pervasive, and influential than most researchers have argued. The mass media do not merely report on events but rather participate directly in processes by which events are constituted and exist in the world. The mass media do not stand apart from people and the various arenas in which they seek justice but are integral to their everyday processes for seeking justice. However, in the very process of participating in these various arenas of justice the mass media expose their own injustices which become subject to regulation and reform. © 1991 The Institute for the Study and Treatment of Delinquency.
Article
Altheide's new book advances the argument set in motion some years ago with Media Logic and continued in Media Worlds in the Postjournalism Era: that in our age, information technology and the communication environments it posits have affected the private and the social spheres of all our power relationships, redefining the ground rules for social life and concepts such as freedom and justice. Articulated through an interactionist and non-deterministic focus, An Ecology of Communication offers a distinctive perspective for understanding the impact of information technology, communication formats, and social activities in the new electronic environment. As more routines, rituals, and activities incorporate such technologies within their organizational cultures, new sorts of activities are added and previous ones are changed according to an underlying logic explored in these pages. Various chapters illustrate some of these altered and redefined organizational cultures: bureaucracy, the mass media, computer formats, war, surveillance, and testing, among others.
Article
Telephone surveys were conducted in Virginia and Wisconsin to explore attitudinal predictors of exposure to and enjoyment of reality-based and fictional crime programs. Punitive attitudes about crime, higher levels of racial prejudice, and higher levels of authoritarianism were associated with more frequent viewing and greater enjoyment of reality-based programming, but were unrelated to enjoyment of fictional programming. Reality-based viewing and enjoyment were also more common among younger respondents, respondents with lower levels of education, and respondents who were heavier television viewers.
Article
For more than two decades, the United States has been at war with street crime, but we have precious little to show for it. Our obsession with punishment at the expense of, indeed to the exclusion of, prevention is not just futile but criminogenic and divi sive. This article explains what is problematic about our indiscrimi nately punitive response to street crime and explores the political forces driving these self-defeating policies. What emerges is an un derstanding of the politics of street crime that is rooted less in the fear of crime than in a variety of anxieties that transcend street crime but are affectively related to it. Criminals provide a convenient target for the anger that is widely felt, but is not quite appropriate to express, with respect to unwelcome changes in race relations, employ ment opportunities, homelessness, and the like. To serve their own distinct but convergent purposes, the media, the public, and the politicians all contribute to the perpetuation of our perverse approach to controlling street crime. While there are countervailing forces at work, they seem unlikely to prevail in the foreseeable future.