Choose one of the symbolic groups or settings from the lecture course ( police, gangsters etc). How and why are they misrepresented in popular culture, with reference to writers and/or themes discussed in the module. ' (1500 words) The mass media is, for many, the main source of information about crime and criminal justice and the media 'can play a critical role by exposing corruption and the harmful activities of the powerful and of agencies of control such as the police'. (Croall, 2005)
This essay will look at the media's representation of the police and examine the ways in which they are portrayed to the British public, be it either positively or negatively. Focusing largely on television as the main source, it will also take into account small pieces of radio and literature evidence from the past fifty years to see how the portrayal of the police by the media has changed and how these changes have affected people's attitudes towards the police. The police drama has been described as 'the eternal struggle between good and evil… with the thrill of a journey on the wrong side of the tracks' (Screenonline, 2005).
The portrayal of the police on television has generally shown to be positive with the 'cops normally catching the robbers' (Croall, 2005), yet there have been many occasions where stereotyping, corruption and the 'bungling incompetence of officers' (Croall, 2005) has prevailed. Reiner (1992) claims that the media represent four specific characters in police dramas: The 'bobby' – a professional street officer The 'new centurion' – crime fighting, action seeking law enforcer The 'uniform carrier' – a burn out, cynical street cop who will not advance in promotion. Avoids real /policing trouble but talks about it.
The 'professional' – an upwardly mobile officer who is very idealistic, rarely stays long in the same job and can present themselves in the most desirable manner to superiors. Throughout the past fifty years there have been many hugely successful police drama's, which have all served to portray the police in very different lights. Dixon of Dock Green (BBC, 1954 – 76) focused on the general day to day duties of a community-orientated police officer where 'crime was tackled in a calm and orderly fashion' (Delaney, 2003). Following on from this was Z-Cars (BBC, 1962 – 78), which had quite a different approach.
Instead of focusing on the individual officer, the series was far less cosy, dramatising the crimes and 'emphasised the concerns and issues of sixties Britain' (Delaney, 2003). By the end of the sixties, British police dramas were accused of being out of date and out of touch with reality which resulted in the emphasis shifting away from the individual officer to a more focused look at the police force as a whole. In 1975, The Sweeney emerged which used a 'ruthless and not always lawful approach to pursuing villains' (Delaney, 2003) and marked a change in the styles of how policing was represented.
Crimes covered were far more serious and more organised and the series began to highlight the police officers role as either a moral human being or a hero. However, The Sweeney 'failed to address contemporary issues at that time' (Delaney, 2003), in particular police corruption, which at that time was a major problem. Throughout the eighties and nineties, there was a procession of TV drama's that focused on the police officer as a 'sleuth detective (Delaney, 2003), Bergerac, Taggert, Cracker and A Touch of Frost to name a few, all glamorised the police officers role yet at times also proved rather eccentric in their viewpoints!
In 1985 however, The Bill began and breathed a new life into police dramas. Focusing from the officers point of view, The Bill covered many controversial topics including 'officers suicide, death by car bomb, death by firearms, an officer charged with manslaughter, crooked coppers, gay coppers and coppers murdering coppers' (Marcus, 2004).
Whilst these TV dramas show a shift in the nature of the portrayal of the police, they all fail to provide an accurate portrayal of the job and allow misrepresentations to be the entertainment factor. 'The police and criminal justice systems are overwhelmingly portrayed in a positive light in popular fiction, as the successful protectors of victims against serious harm and violence. This continues to be so, although with increasing question of police success and integrity' (Reiner, 1997).
Reiner claims that 'in both news and fiction, there is a clear trend to criticism of law enforcement, both in terms of its effectiveness and its justice and honesty. While in the past the unbroken media picture was that crime does not pay, this is increasingly called into question in contemporary news and fiction'. A report by the Home Office carried out by the Operational Policing Review (cited in Manning, 1997) looked at the weakening in public confidence of the police.
Individual police officers and members of the public were asked to choose between two ideal characters; a Dixon of Dock Green character called PC Jones who 'spent most of his time working with people in local communities to help prevent and solve crime' (Manning, 1997), and a Sweeney type character called PC Smith who 'spent his time chasing around in fast cars and arresting criminals' (Manning, 1997). They concluded that the public preferred PC Jones whilst police officers preferred the mould of PC Smith.