HOL­LY­WOOD’S ‘GOOD GUY WITH A GUN’ FAL­LACY

The Sunday Independent - - EDITOR'S CHOICE - ALYSSA ROSEN­BERG @AlyssaRosen­berg

THE EN­TER­TAIN­MENT in­dus­try has played a huge role in pro­mot­ing the idea of the in­vul­ner­a­ble ac­tion-hero cop, to the detri­ment of civil­ians and po­lice of­fi­cers.

In 2015/16, when I set out to ex­plore how Hol­ly­wood had por­trayed polic­ing over the past 100 years, I no­ticed stark changes in the way the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try han­dled sto­ries in which cops used their guns.

Ini­tially, Drag­net and Naked City por­trayed such in­ci­dents as rare and deeply re­gret­table. Fic­tional cops were pro­foundly grieved when they shot and killed crim­i­nals. These shows in­evitably vin­di­cated the of­fi­cers’ de­ci­sion-mak­ing, but still sug­gested the cir­cum­stances were un­usual and a se­ri­ous break­down of or­der. Cops weren’t sup­posed to reg­u­larly face life-or-death vi­o­lence.

These as­sump­tions did not last, worn down by the crime wave that be­gan in the 1960s, and later, by the de­mands of Hol­ly­wood’s re­lent­less ap­petite for block­busters.

In movies such as Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, cops were pit­ted against in­creas­ingly vi­o­lent an­tag­o­nists. Fac­ing off against hy­per­vi­o­lent drug deal­ers or mur­der­ous thieves, they could dis­pense with the hand-wring­ing about whether it was wrong to kill their an­tag­o­nists. And the iron law of fran­chise-mak­ing meant that, while these cops might get blood­ied and smoke-stained, they’d never be in mor­tal peril. If our he­roes were to be killed or dis­abled in the line of duty, what would be­come of Hol­ly­wood’s se­quels?

In the real world, there are no ac­tion co-or­di­na­tors de­sign­ing mass shoot­ings to en­sure that only dis­pens­able ex­tras are killed and that bul­lets al­ways whiz past our he­roes. Shoot-outs are shat­ter­ing in real life.

Be­com­ing a cop gets you a badge, a gun and train­ing, but it does not guar­an­tee that you will be a su­pe­rior marks­man or have su­pe­rior fire-power. (The same risks ap­ply to civil­ian who imag­ine they might be­come heroic good guys, given the chance.)This fan­tasy of the po­lice of­fi­cer – or any armed civil­ian – as an un­kil­l­able one-man army is a fairy story. Pro­mot­ing the “good guy with a gun” as a so­lu­tion to the US mass shoot­ing night­mare will not give us fewer or less deadly mass shoot­ings, but more mar­tyred cops, sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of our po­lit­i­cal stale­mate. Politi­cians should stop telling this lie. Hol­ly­wood should re­con­sider mak­ing a profit out of it.

The Wash­ing­ton Post

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