Re: RARA-AVIS: Hardboiled Politics

Date: 21 Jul 2003


Re your points below:

> I see Yuri's point about police procedurals being
> more Leftist than Faschist because *most*
> procedural cops follow rules or bend them
> occasionally.

There's a whole spectrum of political thought between
"fascist" and "leftist." And the bulk of police procedurals, while generally to the left of "fascist," are definitely to the right of "leftist," and, for that matter, to the right of center.
> Jim Doherty gives us a list of cops who
> definitely do not fit the leftist mold, but I
> think Jim tries to equate the writer's politics
> with his books.

Don't you think a writer's politics are going to have some affect on the books s/he writes? Let's face it, THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO didn't turn out the way it did despite the fact that Marx was a subscriber to "Rush 24/7."
> Wambaugh is definitly anti-facist in his
> approach. He seems to hate dirty cops--at least
> through the few books that I remember.

Again, being "anti-fascist" isn't the same as being
"leftist." I'd like to think I'M "anti-fascist," but I don't think anyone could say I'm "leftist."

> Dirty Harry and Bullit are cops, but their
> stories are *not* police procedurals but about
> the renegade cops and they follow the PI formula
> more than the general police procedural.

A police procedural is nothing more or less than a piece of crime fiction that depicts police work with realism (or at least with the appearance of realism). To say that a given work is not a police procedural because the hero's a renegade is to assert that no such person exists in real life.

Read the source novel for BULLITT before you dismiss that film as a procedural. The hero of Robert L. Fish's MUTE WITNESS, NYPD Det. Lt. Clancy, is a fairly typical procedural cop, middle-aged squad commander in a Manhattan precinct, marking time until retirement. His personality is not particularly rebellious. But his actions in the book are precisely the same as his movie counterpart's.

Bullitt becomes a "renegade," therefore, less because he bucks his superiors to get the job done, since Clancy does as much without losing his "procedural" status, than because he's a young, hip swinger who wears turtlenecks and corduroy sportscoats. Hardly a profound political statement.

In any case, the rank structure, the equipment, the nomenclature, etc., of SFPD, as depicted in the film, is fairly accurate, and there were SFPD technical advisors on hand. SO the producers WERE trying to give the appearance (and to some degree more than just the appearance) of realism. So it was, by definition, a police procedural.

As for Dirty Harry, the one single act that turns him into a renegade, torturing Scorpio to find out where he's hidden his kidnap victim, was a fictionalization of something a real-life cop did in an actual kidnapping case that the film DIRTY HARRY replicated for the script. Thet juiced it up some for the movie
(in real life, the cop just screwed his gun up against the offender's ear and demanded to know where he'd buried his victim; he didn't step on a bullet wound), and changed some of the salient details (in real life the victim was rescued), but the basic situation was taken from real life.

Which brings me back to my original point. Unless the cop is doing something that a cop would NEVER do in real life (not just something he SHOULDN'T do in real life), the fact that he's is coloring outside of the lines doesn't, by itself, automatically render the story a non-procedural.

Only fundamental inaccuracy in the technical details, with no attempt to put across even the illusion of verisimilitude, does that. ANd, as with BULLITT, DIRTY HARRY got most of the technical details right.
> I compare Dirty Harry to Matthew Scudder--the
> main diference is that in his stories, Dirty
> Harry still had his badge. Their approach is
> virtually identical.

You could say that Joe Friday's approach is, in many ways, similar to Pat Novak, or Johnny Modero, or one of the other hard-boiled PI's he played on radio before he struck gold with DRAGNET. But, as accurate as that observation might be, it wouldn't make Joe any less a procedural cop, nor Pat, Johnny, et. al., any less PI's.

Dirty Harry's a procedural cop because he a policeman in (at least in the first film) a fairly accurate depiction of police work in San Francisco. Juiced up for drama, of course, but all fiction is. Fiction is about the exceptional days, not the routine ones.
> Yuri explained that police procedurals are
> leftist in that the follow, for the most part,
> the rules of society.

I don't see how following the rules of society is automatically leftist. Or even implicitly leftist. To me it sounds conservative. And that's why, to me, the police procedural is a fundamentally conservative form, to the degree that it has any politics.


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