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Crime is not Black and White

by Archives January 24, 2007

Law & Order has spawned a whole generation of gruff police detectives and gritty criminal cases. But after so many knock offs and derivatives, the original version is still the best. While every episode began with a police chase, it always ended with a court battle.

It was rare to see a prime time program discuss moral issues normally reserved for “activist” judges, when every other program was striving to find the villain you loved to hate.

But this kind of probing analysis of crime and punishment has become rare on broadcast television and criminals have gained an unsettling dark side. What shades of gray that were once left are now gone and the debate over good and evil has become unnecessarily black and white.

It’s rare for us to find a criminal who doesn’t delight in his crimes or who hasn’t got a god complex.

Like super villains, the criminals on television can’t wait to divulge their brilliant schemes, and often spill the beans immediately after finding their cover has been blown.

The daring detectives on Criminal Minds recently foiled a terrorist attack organized by radical Islamists, and the show’s producers didn’t even reserve it for sweeps.

Going from jealous mistresses who murder their husbands, to a terrorist attack on American soil wasn’t considered a giant leap, because television has already had enough villains to fill criminal lineups.

If the NYPD can track down the leader of a vicious suicide cult, why not send Detective Briscoe after Osama Bin Laden? He’d probably have him arrested and arraigned in less than a week, as per usual.

TV coverage of real crimes and murders are no better than those dreamed up by a team of writers.

Dateline and 20/20 host specials about small town murders where even the most dimwitted criminal act is labeled the “perfect crime.”

The networks are still trying to find ways to make the average man with a machete look like the masterminds you see in the movies, even while real crimes – and even wars – need reporting.

CNN’s Nancy Grace has a mean streak and a mean look, and dishes out penalties far worse than any judge could possibly prescribe.

She’s called for the death penalty against early suspects of murders who were later cleared of wrong doing, and has never found a misdeed she couldn’t stick with a lethal injection.

Her fervent desire to see that hardened criminals receive justice compels her to assume that all suspects are guilty, and that the complexities of the court system are mere roadblocks to a proper hanging; suspicion trumps evidence.

On the old Law & Order, the District Attorney often had to prepare a case based on incomplete evidence, and his skills of persuasion were put to the test to find the right emotional or rhetorical device to trigger a guilty verdict in the jury.

Today’s modern cop shows are mostly concerned with finding the missing piece of evidence that will break the case, while the court proceedings are merely a diversion to keep the judge from throwing it out. In reality, even if we have all the evidence, the legal system shows us that there are always two sides to the truth.

Nietzsche once said, “Our crime against criminals is that we treat them as villains.”

One of the reasons our prisons are so crowded is probably because we no longer differentiate between capital offenders and people with lesser offenses.

If you’re in jail, then you’re beyond reproach.

And there’s no recuperation in the world from receiving a blot on your record like jail time.

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