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Cops: Packing and Policing the Real

Cops: Packing and Policing the Real

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Published by Chen-ou Liu
Cops, debuting in 1989 and flourishing in the early 1990s and still remaining on the schedule, is one of the most popular and long-running reality-based crime shows. Moreover, numerous copies of it have been created. It has been called the "prototype" for the new reality-based genre of programming.

Cops consists of "real-life" crime events, and is filmed in ride-along fashion with law enforcement officials, providing rather a voyeuristic, video-cam perspective on police work. It uses a variety of mechanisms to naturalize its footage as "reality": "unpredictable and unscripted" reality to ready-to-air "stories" with "thematic unity." This "reality" is constructed from the viewpoint of frontline officers immersed in cop culture, which resonates well with "law and order ideology." Cops represents the illusion that viewers get from its program instead of an objective slice of reality. Thus, getting a critical understanding of how Cops constructs mediated reality and reinforces "law and order ideology" are the main foci of this paper. This essay was published in Cultural Studies Monthly, 76, Jan. 2008
Cops, debuting in 1989 and flourishing in the early 1990s and still remaining on the schedule, is one of the most popular and long-running reality-based crime shows. Moreover, numerous copies of it have been created. It has been called the "prototype" for the new reality-based genre of programming.

Cops consists of "real-life" crime events, and is filmed in ride-along fashion with law enforcement officials, providing rather a voyeuristic, video-cam perspective on police work. It uses a variety of mechanisms to naturalize its footage as "reality": "unpredictable and unscripted" reality to ready-to-air "stories" with "thematic unity." This "reality" is constructed from the viewpoint of frontline officers immersed in cop culture, which resonates well with "law and order ideology." Cops represents the illusion that viewers get from its program instead of an objective slice of reality. Thus, getting a critical understanding of how Cops constructs mediated reality and reinforces "law and order ideology" are the main foci of this paper. This essay was published in Cultural Studies Monthly, 76, Jan. 2008

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Published by: Chen-ou Liu on Apr 27, 2012
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07/17/2013

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Cops
: Packing and Policing the Real by Chen-ou Liu (
劉鎮歐
)
Abstract
 Nowadays it is undeniable that reality TV has moved to the center of television culture. Various criminologists also note that western society isfascinated with crime and justice. The extent of programming on televisionthat has content dealing with some aspect of crime is overwhelming, and thenumber of reality crime shows has increased over the past decade.
Cops
, debuting in 1989 and flourishing in the early 1990s and stillremaining on the schedule, is one of the most popular and long-runningreality-based crime shows. Moreover, numerous copies of it have beencreated. It has been called the "prototype" for the new reality-based genre of  programming.
Cops
consists of "real-life" crime events, and is filmed in ride-alongfashion with law enforcement officials, providing rather a voyeuristic, video-cam perspective on police work. It uses a variety of mechanisms tonaturalize its footage as "reality": "unpredictable and unscripted" reality toready-to-air "stories" with "thematic unity." This "reality" is constructedfrom the viewpoint of frontline officers immersed in cop culture, whichresonates well with "law and order ideology."
Cops
represents the illusionthat viewers get from its program instead of an objective slice of reality.Thus, getting a critical understanding of how
Cops
constructs mediated
1
 
reality and reinforces "law and order ideology" are the main foci of this paper.Methodologically based on the cultural studies approach and Fiske’sconcept of codes of televison, this paper will first explain the conception of reality TV, the popularity of the reality-based crime program
Cops
, andFiske’s concept of codes of televison; then closely look at its new programformat, blurring the distinction between informational and entertainment programming, to understand how it represents "raw reality", its own versionof "the real"; then focus on exploring how, while
Cops
purports to present"raw reality", it reinforces "law and order ideology" through varioustechniques that prompt viewers to identify with and share the point-of-viewof the police; finally conclude by engaging in a struggle for meaning, whichfights against the values of the dominant ideology and of the social system.
Keywords
: Reality TV, reality-based crime programming, observationaldocumentary,
Cops
, mediated reality, infotainment, media logic, fear of crime, codes of television, law and order ideology, intertextuality, polysemy.
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Introduction to Reality TV
Whether or not one is an avid fan of 
Temptation Island 
or acompulsive viewer of 
 Big Brother 
or a loyal supporter of 
Survivor 
, there isno denying the impact that reality TV has had on us as a television watchingsociety. This "reality- based" programming has rapidly increased over the past ten years, and is still very much a part of the daily line-ups from whichwe as viewers have to choose. Reality TV is a compelling mix of apparently"raw", "authentic" material with the news magazine package or informational program, combining the commercial success of tabloid contentwithin a public service mode of address. At the level of construction, realityTV is characterized by (Dovey, 2001:135):
camcorder, surveillance or observational actualityfootage;
first-person participant or eye-witness testimony;
reconstructions that rely upon narrative fiction styles;studio or to-camera links and commentary fromauthoritative presenters;
expert statements from emergency services personnel, police sources or psychologists.Dovey (2001:135) notes that these elements are often framed by amagazine, melodrama-like or game show format. Popular use of the term"reality TV" may also refer to programs that use "ordinary people" framedwithin a variety of "first-person" or confessional modes of speech, such astalk shows and docusoaps
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