According to the definition the Oxford School Dictionary, represent means “1) to show a person or thing in a picture or play etc. 2) to symbolize, stand for, 3) be an example or equivalent of something;” whereas representative is defined as “a person or thing that represents another or others”. In this essay, I shall relate the definitions to various examples of police shows from the history of the police genre, and how they represent real police to us as an audience.
All media texts are constructed to make us think a certain way about any given subject and to convey certain views and opinions. We, as an audience, are expected to suspend our disbelief and believe that the actors are real policemen and women. For example if a police officer on TV breaks the rules we will believe that real officers also do.
The Heinemann English Dictionary defines genre as “a style, variety or category especially in art, film and writing”. In the Police/Crime genre the conventions and iconography we would expect in a police series/drama include the police uniform, police car and siren. The characters we would expect to see are: good – the police – and bad – the criminals. The narrative (main storyline) we would anticipate would be along the lines of a criminal commits a crime and the police catch and arrest the criminal.
Within the crime genre there are four different formats: the series, which is broadcast once or twice a week; the serial which is also broadcast once or twice a week, although the storylines carry on from episode to episode; the occasional drama where the single story is long and broken down into two or more parts, is not shown regularly, and the main characters are the same in each story; and the hybrid, in which the show has elements of other genres such as comedy, soap opera, horror etc, and have a large regular cast who play the central character from time to time.
The genre is a safe genre, in the sense that although there are criminals in the world, we know (or we believe) that the police will always catch the offender, which is not the case in the real world. The crime genre has changed immensely from when it began. The first crimes that were published were gory crimes such as murders and hangings, which were initially published in eighteenth century broadsheets.
Crime fiction initially began in the 1820’s with the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, which were centred around crime in the inner city; which was extended through the century by the work of Arthur Conan Doyle, who created the character of Sherlock Holmes. The crime genre was firmly established in the twentieth century by British writers such as Agatha Christie who wrote about crime within the middle class. One of the first crime shows in the UK was “Dixon of Dock Green”. Dixon was the ideal policeman- helpful, loyal, hardworking, trustworthy and a reliable policeman.
The crimes shown in the series were minor crimes such as break-ins. By the seventies, Dixon was long gone. A new show had come along, called “Z-Cars”, which illustrated the paranoia of the decade. The police seemed more human and the crimes that were shown epitomized the felonies committed in the seventies but the more serious crimes that did occur were not shown. The crimes were more serious and violent. The police were bureaucratic, professional and also made greater use of new technology, which is represented in the opening titles such as police cars, sirens etc.
From this series, more natural and feminised versions of the crime show were created, such as “Juliet Bravo” and “The Bill”. In the latter part of the twentieth century, the crimes depicted in genre became more serious and more violent such as rape and murder. Organised (gang) crime was becoming increasingly more common. The criminals that were shown in the series’ were now becoming ethnic minorities such as black and Asian people. This was producing conflict between the ethnic minorities and crime drama’s producers and writers, who had to create criminals from all cultures and backgrounds.
As “Dixon of Dock Green” was one of the first crime shows in Britain, it was the basis of many others. The scene when Dixon talks to his sergeant begins with Dixon addressing the audience; he is direct to the camera, which immediately places us on the side of the police. The style is very different to that of “The Cops” as there is no element of the documentary style as both the actor and viewer are equally conscious of each other’s presence. We jump cut to the crime scene were a white middle-aged council member reports a break in. We don’t meet the criminal; there is no violence or confrontation.
The interest lies in observing how Dixon finds the culprit, which we know he does because at the beginning he speaks retrospectively. The police station is the centre of the community and the people there are committed to serving the local people, which we can tell from Dixon’s conversation with the sergeant. The genre is ‘safe’ as a viewer’s sense of security is confirmed – Dixon will restore order in the community. It is black and white; there are quite a lot of cuts and edits, which adds to the fact that this is not a documentary.
The main aim of “The Cops” was to create a show that portrayed the police as realistically and as naturally as possible. The producer, Tony Garnett wanted to show that the police are everyday people, with normal fears and worries. Society has placed the police in a difficult position as the police do not solve every crime and catch the villain, nor do they always make an arrest, as there is not always an easy solution to every offence. The police have a lot of pressure on their time, and one of the aims of the show was to show this and to show what it is like to be on a shift at a police station.
When casting the show, unknown actors were cast as the leads so the audience would not associate them as actors, but as police. A variety of diverse actors were chosen for the characters – men, women, different races, ages, etc. The writers spent time with genuine police to see what they would actually see in a shift – the situations they would be in and the types of criminals they would see. The actors improvised during the auditions- to see if they appeared natural, and practised getting in and out if police cars with the uniform on- to see if they could appear natural and realistic, as though they did it everyday.
These aims of the producer are made apparent through the uses of music, lighting, camera, dialogue and issues introduced. The issues introduced are mainly to do with private & public lives and the conflict between them. For instance when Mel is in the club with her friends when she realises she is late for work. One more issue that is raised is appearance. On the way to work in the cab she had to remove all her jewellery. Relationships at work are also another issue raised- for example flirting, friendships, person grudges, jealousy etc.
The camera used is handheld, is not on a tripod, follows characters around and moves around like someone’s head would in a conversation, involving you in the action as an onlooker. There are a limited editing and number of cuts, and the cameraman has to refocus the camera, as each subject they are filming is a different distance away. These all add to the idea that it is real and these events are all happening in real time. There is no background music and no music in the title sequence. There is only music when we would expect music e. g. – the nightclub.
Within the first scene, there is swearing, colloquial (slang) and informal language is used and the main topics of conversation are sexual, work, and social lives. There is both diagetic and non-diagetic sound – e. g. we can hear what the actors on screen say and we can also hear things we cannot see – TV, other actors. The lighting used is natural, no extra lights or filters have been used to alter anything. During the interview between Roy and Nicko, the following issues and conflicts are introduced. Everything exists in relation to other things, like opposites. For example black cannot exist without white and good without bad.
These cause conflicts. Traditionally in crime shows the conflicts are good vs. bad, police (law) vs. criminals (disorder). As an audience, we are usually on the side of the police. Other conflicts in more modern shows include experience vs. innocence, bending the rules vs. playing by the rules. In the scene Roy’s behaviour blurs the boundaries of right and wrong. He believes he is doing the wider community a favour. Although, this is what he thinks, this almost certainly won’t change Nicko’s behaviour. He will probably have to steal again to replace the drugs Roy took.
Roy doesn’t do his job to its full extent. Roy’s behaviour is vindictive and unprofessional; and has implications for civil liberties. Overall since the beginning of the genre, the police were represented as hardworking, trustworthy – all the things we would expect the police to be. The crimes started off as murders etc, but then became minor – break-ins etc. As time went on, the police became more human, and did not always play by the rules. The crimes were also becoming more serious like murders. They were not the crimes we would want to see, but more realistic and closer to real life.