RARA-AVIS: Reality Shows

From: Kevin Burton Smith ( kvnsmith@thrillingdetective.com)
Date: 07 Mar 2008

Mark wrote:

> On the other hand, a lot was made of the fact that Platoon was
> directed
> by an actual Viet Nam vet. Did that make it more realistic than other
> films on that war (sorry, police action)? Not being a vet myself, I
> have no direct knowledge, but I found the movie far too literary and
> steeped in heavyhanded symbolism to take seriously as realism. Young
> impressionable soldier is torn between following the good leader and
> the
> bad. And scar aside, in Stone's world, you knew which one was good
> because he smoked dope. Please.

It's like books written by cops. Having spoken with a lot of them over the years (relatives, friends, friends of friends), it's clear that their thoughts on the law, criminal justice, law enforcement and everything else are often as varied and even bone-headed as anyone else's (including my own). There are good cops, bad cops, mediocre cops, smart cops, dumb cops. Most are just normal men and women. The only real consensus among any of them is that they all work too much for too little money and don't get any respect.

Hardly an attitude exclusive to police officers. The kid at Mcdonald's probably has the same attitude. Or a doctor. Or a professor. Or a parking lot attendant.

So the "realism" of any cop book has more to do with the reader's already established view of what it's really like to be a cop than anything else. If it reinforces what you already believe, it's
"realistic." If it doesn't, it's far-fetched.

And that would probably include readers who are cops as well. Once upon a time, I came across a survey in TV GUIDE or somewhere which asked cops which TV show they viewed as most representative of a policeman's lot. Evidently the occasionally whimsical low-key comedy of BARNEY MILLER was considered one of the most "realistic," easily out-pacing such gritty and more traditionally "realistic" fare as HILL STREET BLUES, POLICE STORY, DRAGNET and NYPD BLUE.

One cop friend of mine considers Wambaugh's novels pure fantasy; lots of non-cops consider them the real deal. So, does that make Wambaugh not a "real" cop. Or is it my friend who's reality-challenged?

And so it goes... John Grisham's a lawyer; so is Scott Turow, so was Erle Stanley Gardener. Is anyone going to claim they all wrote
"realistically"? Or even the same sort of books?

"Reality," like Hell, is other people.

And speaking of Hell, in the Carmen Sternwood category, I'd like to nominate Brittany, not Paris. Paris needs a spanking; Brittany actually needs professional help.

Kevin Burton Smith www.thrillingdetective.com

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