What follows is a continuation of this discussion with @korrasera .I’m unclear on whether korrasera wants to continue talking about the matter, and that thread is itself extremely long. So, I’m making a new post to explore the matter further and explain my reasoning.
Brooklyn 99 is a magnificent show that portrays black men as wholly rounded, sympathetic characters. That portrays Latina women as diverse and intelligent. That portrays the exhaustion of being a Jew in a Christian society with grace and humour. That portrays the complexities and hurdles of queer life, without turning queerness into a tragedy.
All of these things are true, and all of them are good.
And all of this goodness comes from police.
The show consistently, relentlessly, presents police as good people who sometimes get caught up in a bad or corrupt system.
In fact, these police are so good that they can single-handedly counter the entire history of police violence in the lives of the people around them.
Let’s begin with Captain Holt’s husband, Kevin.
When introduced, Kevin is cold, passive-aggressive, and generally unpleasant towards the police his husband works with. This is portrayed as a terrible character flaw which he must ultimately overcome.
It’s revealed that his distaste for Holt’s coworkers is because for the last 40 years, they have been destroying Holt’s life and their marriage, through sustained, relentless bigotry, both racism and homophobia. But, you see, those were the bad cops. Good cops like the show’s main characters would never do something so horrible.
Therefore, Kevin’s perfectly justified, and frankly, correct discomfort around police is a flaw that he needs to fix, and that he is ultimately able to fix when the good cops prove to him that, actually, those other cops were just some bad apples and there are good apples too (and please don’t pay any attention to the fact that bad apples spread rot so quickly through an entire warehouse).
It is only once he gives up his completely justified distrust of people who have been destroying his family for decades, that he is seen as a compassionate and caring character. Only once he accepts that Not All Cops Are Like That does he become the empathetic and kind character we see in later seasons.
There are people who believe, wholeheartedly, that because B99 shows that there are bad cops in the world, it cannot be pro-police. But, most people in the world don’t think all cops are good people, just that most cops are, and that when police violate human rights, they do so for a justified reason. A reason like imprisoning murderers or removing other, corrupt cops from the force.
The reasons that the main characters of B99 also always have for their actions. In the narratives of B99, when police violate human rights, they are always justified in doing so.
When Captain Holt makes a deal to help a mob boss, rather than facing any meaningful consequences for this action, his whole precinct joins together to cover up the deal. They do so by “ensuring” that the mob boss can’t do any harm to anyone. But, they nonetheless engage in a department-wide cover-up of police corruption. This is portrayed positively, as a coming together for the team.
The fact that the department reveals and overcomes other forms of police corruption on sere to prove that when these cops, the good cops do it, it’s justified. It’s righteous. Because they are doing it for good reasons, not bad ones.
When Holt and Jake take recording and observation hardware from the precinct without permission (this is theft, this equipment is stolen), and use it to trick someone into making a confession on tape, then use this recording as a bartering chip to get the criminal to do what they want, this too is justified narrative. They don’t have another choice! Besides, undisclosed recording is legal in New York (though, blackmailing people with those recordings is still illegal, and so is stealing police grades observation equipment, but don’t pay that any mind).
And just in case that early-season blackmail story-line wasn’t enough, the latest season ends with almost beat for beat the same blackmail story-line, except this time the recording equipment isn’t stolen. Instead, a confidential cell phone is illegally cloned and used as evidence to blackmail the chief of police into stepping down. But it’s okay for the heroes to steal the private property of a public figure because he’s a bad guy and they’re doing it for the right reasons.
And, if you’re already inclined to think positively about police, then, when in the real world you see someone do the same thing, you might be just that little bit more willing to believe that their justifications make up for it. Because, again and again, even on exceptionally progressive, well-crafted shows like B99, when the “good cops” engage in flagrant violations of human rights, they’re doing it for the right reasons. They’re working outside the law, but it’s okay because we can trust them to ignore the safety protocols.
Any time the narrative discusses the rightful consequences the main characters should face for these absurd miscarriages of justice, they are proven to have been right all along. Jake goes to prison for being a “corrupt cop” because he is framed by a much worse policeman. But the things he’s framed for are all things he has actually done. Breaking the chain of evidence, taking restricted materiel out of lock-up, keeping confidential case records in his home instead of in the records rooms. He’s “framed” in that we, as the audience, know he did those things for “the right reasons.”
And that gives people a reasonable doubt, when a real-world corrupt cop does all the same things, except he actually is doing them for the sake of corruption. Because we have been primed to see those actions as “technically against the rules, but only if you’re a bad guy.” And the cops on B99 aren’t bad guys. They’re the good cops! The progressive ones! The compassionate ones!
The ones who lock sex workers up in & make fun of them for having STIs. But it’s fine when the good cops do it, again and again, as a recurring gag. Because, hey, they’re diverse!
When Jake Peralta keeps a man trapped in an interrogation room for almost a full 24 hours without sleep or food and screams loud, relentless music at him, lies to him about what they know, threatens a young black man with jail time to force a confession out of him?
Sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to loud noises, threats, all of these are forms of torture. But Jake’s right. The man was a murderer. And technically, those tortures are legal, so it’s fine. Jake himself, in the episode, talks about how it’s actually really fucked up that he can do all of these things. And then he does them anyway and is rewarded for it.
Again and again, the show says, “police malpractice and violence is bad,” and again and again, it tacks on, “except when our protagonists do it because they’re doing it for the right reasons.” The thesis of the show could easily be described as, “police malpractice is a horrible crime that must be overcome., and the only way to overcome it is with more police malpractice.”
And that feeds directly into people believing that when the cops in their home town do something horrible, they were probably justified too. Because the police in their town are “the good ones” too.
This isn’t like anti-shippers with their proclamations that fan-fiction is making people think raping children is totally a good thing. As a general rule, it’s accepted in our culture that raping children is fucking heinous. Fan-fiction isn’t going to stand up in the face of that. In fact, it’s so accepted that actual science doesn’t stand up in the face of it (what a great time to remind everyone that most rape of children is not perpetrated because of sexual attraction but because of violent power-seeking behaviour, the same as any other type of rape, and pretending otherwise makes it harder to combat this specific form of rape).
The general opinion of policing in the US, however, is positive. The consensus of most people is that “most cops are good, it’s just a few bad apples who need to be thrown out before they rot the rest of the barrel.” B99 espouses that exact same message. It completely matches the general perspective of police in the US. And for people who already hold those views because they’re the dominant ideological framework? Shows like B99 reinforce them. For people who are on the fence, shows like B99 make supporting police even when they’re miscarrying justice and abusing human rights, seem normal.
Pretending that this unfortunate truth is just “overly simplistic” and an attempt to silence discussion is wildly misrepresenting the facts of the show, the fandom, and the way propaganda works.
Propaganda is biased media that influences other people to share those same biases. And while most of B99’s biases are positive, and most of its goals are laudable, the fact of the matter is, it’s a show where cops are the heroes. Full stop. There are bad cops, too, but the heroes of the show are the police. And their heroic actions are justified, no matter how extrajudicial or immoral they are. Their ends always justify their means, because they’re the heroes.
B99 is magnificent as a piece of representative media. It strives to make the world a better place!
It also does so by portraying cops as the ones making the world a better place even when they’re behaving immorally.
Both of these things are true, and in fact, it is the excellence of the show as a whole that makes it such compelling police propaganda.
For whatever reason, korrasera is now claiming that I blocked her so that she would not have the chance to respond to this post. That’s incorrect. I have not blocked korrasera, and she is welcome to respond if she likes, just as you all are. I’m happy to continue this discussion if you all like.
I misunderstood that post, but nonetheless, I’m open to continuing this discussion.