“Morality and fiction are two distinct notions”

A police officer in New York City, November 1, 2020.

EIt is to television what the little black dress is to a women’s wardrobe: practical, versatile, the detective series constitutes a totem for the small screen, born with it and appreciated on all continents for its dramatic effectiveness. An episode of a so-called “procedural” detective series is indeed the assurance of a mystery, an investigation and an outcome brought by a team of legal professionals in less than an hour.

More quickly assimilable than its literary equivalent, this cocktail of false leads, sweat and blood has regularly kept viewers in suspense for decades, without having to change its formula in depth, and – supreme virtue for private channels – lends itself gladly to advertising cuts. It is easy to understand, with such attributes, that the genre has set itself up as an essential meeting point for the television medium, to the point of incarnating in the collective imagination a certain idea of ​​the institution it presents, of the teams of field up to the high ranking officers.

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Yet it is this link between the police and their serial representation that is today under fire from critics in the United States, where systemic racism and the brutal repression of consecutive demonstrations have erupted in the face of the world. in this election year. In this deleterious climate, exacerbated by the tenant of the White House who hammers his calls to order on Twitter in unintentionally citing the original title of the series New York, judicial police (“LAW AND ORDER! “), it is a real crisis of representation that we are witnessing live: while they wanted to be the entertaining reflection of a profession conducive to fiction, detective series are today called on the dock. What happened to make the mirror shatter?

The grievances are numerous. Listed in a report by the American civil rights organization Color of Change in January, and taken up by a whole section of criticism across the Atlantic, they concern, pell-mell: the fact that breaches of regulations committed by police figures are regularly minimized by their hierarchy; the almost systematic justification for the use of force in the series; the low number of black victims in the surveys shown on screen; not to mention the uniqueness of the point of view which focuses on the agents of the law, at the center of the intrigues episode after episode and season after season, be they borderline, violent, even openly racist.

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