Friday, June 01, 2007

Why I just can't watch Law and Order


I stopped watching Law and Order a while ago. I did this although it’s lauded as one of the best tv shows of all time.

Of course the American media’s opinion of such things matter little to me. After all, “Gone With the Wind” a film notoriously hated by most black folks, is still the favorite American film of all time. But Americans are romanticizers, and often their romantic tendencies tend toward racism and stereotypes. (Hey, didn’t the Nazi’s romanticize themselves also?) But I digress.

My biggest pet peeve with Law and Order is how they treated black people, religious people, and black religious people. I think I can count on one finger the amount of times a crime happened to a black person that didn't involve race.

I suspect this is the kind of thing that happens when a team of liberal executive producers set out to teach people about law and order and truth and justice. Aside from the congratulatory nature of Law and Order in which the producers always seem to be praising themselves for tackling tough issues and for not being afraid to show the tough issues, the big problem is that they seem to have no idea that simply showing black folks as real people is the highest form of non-racial thinking.

Educated blacks on Law and Order are either folks who are:

 people who have been picked on by blacks for not being black enough and who are struggling to find themselves outside of the black world. Into this category falls the folks who plainly say they are not Christians. (Christianity being the stereotypical religion of Black folks) They might be Jewish or Muslim. Or –if they are really deep—they might even be atheists. If they happen to be Christians, they tend to be Roman Catholics.

 “defenders of their white colleagues.” These are people who shout at paranoid black folks who think the cops are doing them wrong. They are there to show that black folks exist who know that whites mean them well. I remember DA Robinette, the only educated black person who didn’t defend his white colleagues. He left the prosecutor’s office to become a defense attorney for poor blacks. After that he was written out of the series. The executive producers obviously didn’t know what to do with a character like that.

 Educated black folks who are just plain old slick. Black lawyers are shown as angry. Angry. ANGRY. The implication is that black folks with education who think about race are dangerous to the system. They’re also mouthy. Hey, there really are people who think about racial injustice who aren’t foaming at the mouth. We blacks are pretty easy-going, generally.

 The tragic outsider. Something like the tragic mulatto of past literature. Often victims of society, because they are unlike the typical black uneducated kids from the hood who are always shown as smart and un-streetwise, they inevitably get killed off by black thugs or whites who were using them and couldn’t understand that these innocent blacks just weren't drug dealers or what-not.

Then there is the way they treat religious people. Again, they treat religious people as if we are all from a different planet and we – if we are not dangerous to ourselves or to the world at large—should be gently patronized and allowed to live in our deluded state.

They generally categorize religious people of all faiths into the following categories:

 a religious person who is an innocent deluded person --usually a black person or an observant overly-submissive Catholic woman (read ignorant and she don't know no better)
 a criminal (killer of gays, bomber of clinics, embezzler of funds.)

 A faithful religious person who is often victimized by people of other religious faiths. (These are often Muslims and Jews. Christians are rarely shown as people who suffer for their faith.) Sometimes these characters are blacks who are bullied by Christian blacks. (The Law and Order folks think they're deep when they do stuff like that.)

 A religious person who “thinks” and therefore doesn’t blindly follow the rules of his religion whenever those rules are challenged by American law and common sense. (Prosecutor Jack McCoy falls into this category.)

I allow that Hollywood is a town where screenplays are built on stereotypes. But the weird thing is that we always see this in the news also. It’s as if the media goes out to search for certain types when discussing religion to make Christians look like real idiots. But again, I digress. Back to Law and Order.

I got tired of seeing the following on every episode that dealt with religion: (Besides, it became far too predictable for me to know who the bad guy was)

If they wanted to show that Christians were racist, they’d have a character who was a white Baptist with a southern accent. This character is also often stealing money from his church or having an affair with the church secretary.

If they wanted to show that "reasonable" religious persons existed, they’d have a youthful character or a young seminarian who is a Methodist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or Lutheran. This character would be going through a kind of spiritual crisis of belief which would show that anyone who does NOT have a spiritual crisis simply does not know how to think deeply. I suspect this has a lot to do with our love of a good uniform. Baptist and Pentecostal ministers, after all, tend to wear regular clothing.

If they wanted to show a depth of unrealistic religious fundamentalist faith, they’d have a character who was a middle-aged or young needy emotional person who is evangelical. Said character (like his black counter-part who was too aware of race) was often the type to do mass murder for a cause: destroy abortion doctors or gays or some such victimized group.

If they wanted to show a sex-crazed religious person or a child molester, they’d have a character who was a Roman Catholic, or a repressed Bible-believer Baptist. The implication here is that repression of the sexual appetite, cruelty, and hypocrisy all go dangerously together and if people stopped intruding on other folks sex lives, they would be saner themselves.

They also engaged in some questionable pro-religion stereotypes:

If they wanted to show that a person had wealth and class, they showed a rich Episcopalian. Issues of class aside, this kind of stereotype always dripped May Flower. Let us remember folks that the MayFlower was not the first ship that came to the United States. Let us also remember that the Dutch ship The New Amsterdam brought settlers to these shores way before the Mayflower came.

Law and Order also got sentimental about Roman Catholicism. Holy priests fighting street crime, nuns standing beside beautiful Gregorian chants and stained glass. I suspect they did this because of some Irish-Catholic connection. The myth being that the great protectors of New York streets are often Irish firemen and Irish cops. My hubby was born Irish-Catholic so I won’t argue with him on this stereotype. I’m not up on the statistics. My mother, a West Indian nurse who worked in Brooklyn, used to behave as if all the nurses in Brooklyn were black. All the good ones anyway.

Law and Order also had some shows with some noble gay religious person. Either a young handsome moody-looking dark-haired Roman Catholic, or an older distinguished gay priest who was being blackmailed.

There are more "angry" or "street-talking" or "uneducated" or "pious" or "over-educated" or "slick" or "salt-of-the-earth mammy (or uncle)" or "spiteful powerful and vindictive" black folks on that show than I meet in a typical month in my neighborhood. And if I saw one more black woman crying over her dead child saying, "Mah baybbbeeee, mah baybeeee!" I was gonna scream. So yeah, as John Lennon sang, “I just had to let it go.”

Carole McDonnell

Carole McDonnell’s fiction, devotionals, poetry and essays have appeared in many publishing venues, in print and online. She is the author Wind Follower a Christian speculative fiction novel which will be published by Juno Books in June 2007.
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