Essay on cinematic portrayal of NYPD and LAPD cops as ‘monsters’

Now this is quite interesting: ‘The Big City Rogue Cop as Monster: Images of NYPD and LAPD’ – a chapter from a book called Monsters In And Among Us : Toward A Gothic Criminology edited by Caroline Joan Picart and Cecil Greek (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007).

I’ve not read the rest of it, so I haven’t really a scoobie where they’re going with the whole ‘Gothic Criminology’ thing, but I do like me a bit of sleazy big city American cop drama, so I gave this chapter a go.

Author Cecil Greek refines his focus onto a bunch of Sidney Lumet films for the Big Apple end of things – Serpico, Prince Of The City, Q&A and Night Falls On Manhattan – whilst the City of Angels is represented by Extreme Justice, Dark Blue, Training Day and TV show The Shield.

The gist is, movies show cops in big, bad cities doing some seriously dark shit in the shadows – how much of it really reflects real life? (Spoiler: Knapp, Serpico, Durk and Leuci pretty much covered the historical NYPD stuff, whilst there have been no shortage of similar investigations and exposés of LAPD excesses.)

Oh, and Greek is big on the ‘golem’ thing:

…In the original tales the Golem is created from clay by a rabbi familiar with Jewish mysticism, and brought to life to save members of the ghetto community from anti-Semitic attacks…The Golem is an obedient protector at first, but later becomes ungovernable when asked to carry out more self-aggrandizing activities by the populace. Ultimately, the Golem must be returned to clay as he has no ability to discern which commands he should follow and can harm those he was created to protect. His attempts to participate in the adult world of humans – the Golem seeks to have a bar mitzvah and to marry-are treated as inconceivable as he lacks a soul.

The Golem in fact begins to awaken to his subordinate position and starts to desire very human things. He demands food, drink and sex and when he doesn’t get them, goes on a rampage, taking what he desires. In the process the Golem destroys property and takes innocent lives. He appears to lack the higher level human understanding that such actions have consequences and assumes he has immunity from reprisals.

By no means the deepest analysis (and that’s being generous), and the pool of films looked at does seem curiously limited (for example, no The French Connection or Cop Land or Bad Lieutenant or Fort Apache, The Bronx or 16 Blocks for NYC, no Colors or Rampart or LA Confidential or The New Centurions or End Of Watch or Internal Affairs or Street Kings for LA), but certainly very readable.

A few irritating gripes persist, though: Peter Maas’ book about Frank Serpico came out in 1973 not 1997; Training Day is not about undercover but plainclothes officers; etc.


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