COPS watching kids become cops like COPS but not like cops
April 21, 2008 2:44 PM   Subscribe

Help me identify this Post Modern cultural theory. Prime example: cops on the TV show COPS act differently than they normally would, since they're being filmed for TV. Kids watch COPS thinking that's what cops actually are like. Kids eventually grow up and be cops themselves, emulating cops-on-TV, not "true" cops.

3 years ago, I had a discussion with a college professor who brought up this new theory in relation to a paper that I was writing, focused on Post Modernism. I distinctly remember that he provided that kids/COPS example. I believe he referenced a specific author--with an accompanying book most likely. It's not just Post Modernism, but perhaps a deep slice into it. I believe the author had named it. It sounded something like "dialetics" (don't think so, but this could actually be it) or "dianetics" (um no). The cultural theory must be relatively new, nice it uses COPS as an example.

Can anyone identify what I'm talking about? I'd love to read up more on this school of thought. It seems quite applicable in this day and age of living in a mass media echo chamber.
posted by nemoorange to Society & Culture (18 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds to me like you're remembering Jean Baudrillard's ideas about simulacra.
posted by cgc373 at 2:48 PM on April 21, 2008

Or a dialectic, which I guess is applicable but kind of a stretch. I'd recommend Baudrillard over Hegel.
posted by rhizome at 2:54 PM on April 21, 2008

It's a bit difficult to figure out what you're talking about, exactly, since postmodernist cultural theory generally doesn't have neatly compartmentalized divisions like this.

You might be talking about Jean Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation. Does that ring a bell?

Otherwise, he might have meant Theodor Adorno's essay on "The Culture Industry" in The Dialectic of Enlightenment.
posted by nasreddin at 2:57 PM on April 21, 2008

Yeah, I'd say nasreddin has it. The copy for which an original does not exist (the kids copying something that wasn't truly authentic in the first place). I know there's some discussions of authenticity in there.
posted by cashman at 3:11 PM on April 21, 2008

nthing simulacra.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:52 PM on April 21, 2008

There’s this book: Entertaining Crime: Television Reality Programs By Mark Fishman, Gray Cavender. Specifically, it has this paper, Cops: Television Policing as Policing Reality by Aaron Doryle (here’s a link to the full PDF version of the paper). On page 111 of the PDF, it says, “ ‘Cops’ also reshapes criminal justice by influencing police and would-be police who are viewers”. In terms of theory, the paper talks about hyperreality.
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 3:55 PM on April 21, 2008

you might also like to read up on hyperreality, generally.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:57 PM on April 21, 2008

i might also like to preview before posting.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:57 PM on April 21, 2008

nth-ing simulacra as well.

I understand what you are saying, but the example you give is flawed. Kids watching cops DO want to become those cops. But once they actually start to get exposed to the real cops who are different from the tv-cops, the wanna-be COPS become the traditional cops.

Same as the military, same as firefighters.

But I do think the expectations are very different from reality until they actually get exposed to the real cops.

People in McDonalds/Walmart commercials are VERY ecstatic. Many of the young people who apply for those jobs have those expectations. It changes though when they start working there.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:18 PM on April 21, 2008

Also, in the February 19/26, 2007 issue of the New Yorker magazine is this story: Whatever It Takes: The politics of the man behind “24” by Jane Mayer. And then in the March 19, 2007 issue, in the letters to the editor, there’s a letter by a U.S. Army Interrogator, where he says the following:
My personal experience as a U.S. Army interrogator belies the troubling attitude of Joel Surnow, the co-creator of “24,” toward torture which Jane Mayer reports (“Whatever It Takes”). I have witnessed soldiers modelling their actions and speech, sometimes word for word, on movies such as “Full Metal Jacket,” “Platton,” and “Apocalypse Now” . . .
posted by Jasper Friendly Bear at 4:22 PM on April 21, 2008

Could this also be an example of the social construction of cops?
posted by Rykey at 4:33 PM on April 21, 2008

I've seen the exact thing you're describing (although I'm sorry I don't know what it's called) in a couple of the newer recruits in my husband's police department. It's a small town police department but they recently went through some retirements/turnover and there are 4 "newbies." The new guys are waaay too gung-ho, almost as if they're reliving their childhood games of "cops and robbers" or, as your theory suggests, they are imitating what they think cops should be like based on TV and movies. They don't seem to have a knack for the real-life (and even boring) parts of the job. They don't recognize that half of all police work is about public relations, that it's not an "Epic Struggle of Good and Evil," nor is it about being bad-ass, or cool, or intimidating, or any other number of things that they think cops are supposed to be. They don't have the kind of people skills that are necessary to defuse a situation calmy and peacefully, they don't have the approachable demeanor that is necessary to earn the public's respect. It's very strange to see, and it's even dangerous (for themselves and for the public). Maybe they'll calm down once they've got a little more experience under their belts.

That being said, though, all police officers horse around in their downtime by re-enacting scenes from cop movies and pretending to be something they're not (e.g. reciting Clint Eastwood's "go ahead, make my day" speech, doing the fancy twirling and quick-draw things with their guns like you see in old westerns, and all sorts of other silliness). But the good cops know that there's a vast difference between the fantasy and the reality.
posted by amyms at 5:10 PM on April 21, 2008

I'd suggest you check out Thomas de Zengotita's book "Mediated: How the Media Shapes the World Around You".

The process you decribe sounds a lot like what he calls mediation - the idea that the 'flattered self' has been given so many options of behaviour or choices that when almost everything feels sort of phoney, or as if it is somehow a rip off or a reference to something else.
posted by gerls at 9:27 PM on April 21, 2008 [2 favorites]

A similar phenomenon is when people want to try out sexual positions or techniques they have seen in porn, many of which are designed not to be pleasant to perform but to look good on camera. I have a friend who complains that many of the college-age gay men he meets have fallen victim to this.
posted by kindall at 10:21 PM on April 21, 2008

It might also have been Sartre. The bit on waiters in Being and Nothingness, where Parisian waiters play the part of Parisian waiters, rather than just being a waiter. You certainly get this with security guards and mall-ninjas and the like.
posted by DangerIsMyMiddleName at 11:06 PM on April 21, 2008

Is it not the case that Žižek's essay 'Welcome to the Desert of the Real', which he turned into a book, is, like the event that provoked it, old enough to have been taught to undergraduates three years ago:
in the late capitalist consumerist society, "real social life" itself somehow acquires the features of a staged fake, with our neighbors behaving in "real" life as stage actors and extras... Again, the ultimate truth of the capitalist utilitarian de-spiritualized universe is the de-materialization of the "real life" itself, its reversal into a spectral show.
? (In-joke) But Baudrillard's more yer man here.
posted by holgate at 12:39 AM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thank you for pointing me to Baudrillard. From the Wikipedia articles, it looks like his work falls right in line with what I was going for. However, I don't believe this is actual text .I assumed that the answer lie in something a bit more contemporary, like a lesser-known Freakonomics.
posted by nemoorange at 12:46 PM on April 22, 2008

you might want to also check out the folks who Baudrillard stole derived alot of his ideas concerning media & simulation from: The Situationists (specifically their notion of the spectacle)

if you want to go direct to the sources you could check out the Situationist Anthology

or, if you just want a basic & accessible introduction to it all you could check out the old Spectacular Times series - they're pretty fun & get most of the essential info across without all that dense hegelian jargon french philosophers seem so fond of

lastly, you might find Hakim Bey's Boycott Cop Culture interesting, given the specific subject of your question

posted by jammy at 2:32 PM on April 22, 2008

« Older Fun in Berkeley on Cinco de Mayo   |   San Diego ashes Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.