Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The "Law & Order" Propaganda Machine

How do you like your propaganda? Do you prefer it served up cold with a side of fries? Or do you want it sizzling hot with a baked potato and some broccoli rabe?

By now, most people know that Law & Order destroyed itself by turning its subtle, disguised propaganda into a more blatant promotion of leftist, politically correct ideas.

We may all have thought that we were watching an entertaining and diverting excursion into the criminal justice system, but Law & Order was also telling you what to think and how to feel about our world. 

The show told us who the bad guys were and what we should want to happen to them. 

Before the show became overtly political, the propaganda lay in the choice of villains. Thankfully, Stanley Fish has done yeoman's work in revealing  it's message: the show does not much like people like you.

Especially, if you are wealthy or powerful or successful or important. And also, I would add, if you emulate those who are wealthy, powerful, successful, or important.

Given the normal human instinct to better oneself by emulating or imitating our betters, the Law & Order franchise has consistently told us that those who are running society should not be emulated; they should be prosecuted and imprisoned.

Whether it is business interests or professionals or even successful creative types, Law & Order reveals that they are all corrupt, that their gains are ill-gotten, and that they must be brought to justice by the good folk who toil in the shadowy corridors of the criminal justice system.

If the show does not, as Fish says, really like people like us, then it must be an exercise designed, in stealth, to promote self-loathing. Either for being like the bad guys or for emulating the bad guys?

The show has promoted an extraordinary guilt narrative. It has worked its magic through a form of subliminal suggestion. You might be thinking that the show and its spin-offs were just fictions, but, so is propaganda. If it did not work, no one would keep on doing it. And if it did not have any influence, people would not become upset over South Park.

Fish describes a television series that taught you to hate yourself or your betters. In his words: "Law & Order hates rich people; they are arrogant, they are condescending, they consume conspicuously, and, worst of all, they are above the law.... Time and again wealthy people manipulate the system by getting well-connected friends to intervene in cases or by hiring high-priced lawyers who know how to put up procedural roadblocks forever."

As if the rich are not bad enough, their children, Fish writes, are worse: "They are spoiled, cruel, believe they can get away with anything and often do. Typically these kids go to expensive private schools, which, at least in Law & Order are populated by blazer-wearing snob administrators and teachers who kiss up to the even snobbier parents of over-privileged brats."

And then, when the brats commit crimes, Fish adds: "... they are treated by psychiatrists-to-the-wealthy who are adept at manufacturing excuses for bad behavior and giving those excuses fancy diagnostic names. Let off the hook, these same scions of the privileged class go off to college where they join fraternities and sororities and devise engines of cruelty and psychological destruction that Goebbels might admire."

Physicians and clergymen do not get off very easily either. Fish writes: "Doctors in the Law & Order world are not always rich, but they are almost always charlatans and hucksters who push addictive prescriptions, use their own semen to impregnate infertile patients, and prescribe experimental drugs without informing patients of the risks. Priests and rabbis and evangelicals are worse: they are pedophiles and hypocrites; they prey on the public, deceive their followers and practice all of the deadly sins they preach against."

And then: "there are the high-roller businessmen, developers, drug manufacturers, executives all of whom are busy devising schemes to cheat the government, defraud shareholders, endanger the public, and betray colleagues."

There's more in Fish's catalog of Law & Order villains, but that should suffice to show the kind of picture that is being painted. Most of those who commit crimes are capitalists or their servants and hangers-on.

Of course, the good guys are those who work tirelessly, and without sufficient recognition, to bring the rich and the powerful to justice.

It's difficult to avoid thinking that the show is really about dividing  society into a criminal elite that is running and ruining everything and an intrepid band of people who are standing up for justice.

Clearly, the show wants us all to feel at one with the police and the prosecutors who are standing up for us. And, for much of the time, we tend to follow the instructions that are part of the show's structure.

And yet, the police and the prosecutors are really defending an idea, even an ideal, and there is no real reason to think that eliminating corruption is the key to making the system run smoothly and, dare I say, justly.

As I mentioned, most people are inclined to emulate those who hold power and prestige in society. This television show was trying to numb that impulse. It was promoting class warfare by telling people that they are being cheated and oppressed by the privileged classes in society, and that therefore they should not want to grow up to become like them.

This does not tell people to try to improve themselves. If they are rich and powerful, it tells them to hate themselves for their thievery and disrespect for the law. If they are not rich and powerful, it is telling them that the only noble life is one on the side of the police and the prosecutors.

The one thing a young person should not do is aspire to join the ranks of those who have succeeded in the world.


Dylan Brody said...

While you are absolutely right to describe Law and Order as propaganda, you seem to veer off the rails a bit beyond that point.

Interestingly, you say that Law and Order promotes a left wing agenda but what you describe from there on is a very right wing set of values. It is the republican party that vilifies intellectualism, decries the values of the "educated elite" and deifies working class values and so-called common sense.

On the left, we tend to think that not only should we all strive to better ourselves, but private-school level education should be available to everyone.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

You make a very good point here. Doubtless I did not express myself as clearly as I could have.

As I see it, and as Fish described it-- and Fish is not a Republican as best as I can tell-- the people who are labeled as criminals on Law and Order are not intellectuals, but are plutocrats, capitalists, and those who enable their predations.

I would almost say that the role of the intellectual elite with which Republicans have had disputes is played by the prosecuting district attorneys.

I hope you are right that people on the left strive for their own betterment, but, would you agree that the only way to do so is to emulate those who have achieved more than we have?

For my part I would say that the kind of intellectualism that is deserving of vilification concerns those thinkers who want to impose their vision of the world, to say nothing of their ideals, on the rest of us.

As I said a few days ago, if theory is pursued in the service of experience, and thus, if experience is allowed to come first, I am all for theorizing.

Whirling Dervesh said...

"hope you are right that people on the left strive for their own betterment, but, would you agree that the only way to do so is to emulate those who have achieved more than we have?"

Define "achieve more".

More of what?

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is the episode where the white Christian gun-owner really did the crime....

It follows all the tropes of the Scooby-doo cartoon:

"If it wasn't for you multi-culturalist kids I would have gotten away with it!"

wv: purav. It's a fun holiday; people wear masks, like in Scooby-doo....