A few years ago, when I was still living in Philly, I slept most weekends at my parents’ house, visiting friends around the town where I grew up. I’d get home Friday evening and find my mom and dad tuned in to Blue Bloods a new CBS show starring Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg as members of a multi-generational family of white New York City cops.
While I never watched an episode from beginning to end, it didn’t take long to pick up on the show’s dynamic: The heroes, white male police officers, spent each episode protecting society from criminals, who were almost always minorities. Not only that, but they were played by actors cast according to the most stereotypical ethnicity for their crime. Car thieves were invariably black or Latino; a mugger, drug dealer, or liquor store robber would be black; chop-shop owners might be Asian or Mexican.
There was an episode–forgive me if I don’t remember which season, but I think the second–in which Tom Selleck’s patriarchal character is shot on his front stoop in a drive-by shooting. You don’t see the shooter initially, just a black van and a shotgun barrel emerging from the window, and the bulk of the episode is dedicated to finding the shooter.
“It was either the blacks or the Mexicans,” I told my parents.
“Why would you say that?” My father demanded, incredulous at my assertion. I explained because those are the two races most stereotypically associated with drive-by shootings, and that’s how the show worked.
(I should point out here that my parents are very liberal people, especially when it comes to racial equality, though perhaps not the most sophisticated TV viewers.)
I then went upstairs to my room. Half an hour later I heard my mother call up, “It was the Mexicans!”
Writing at Slate, Laura Hudson does a fine job outlining the real problems with Blue Bloods. It’s not just about bad writing, which is harmless on its own. This kind of repeated narrative reinforces the beliefs of viewers who see America a certain way–specifically, that white people are a force of civilization among a barbaric mix of minorities, and that police are noble and infallible and criticisms directed their way are universally the tactic of an anti-police agenda.
These are the kinds of views reinforced by right-wing pundits and Fox News; the views that lead to pro-police rallies in response to outcry over unjustified murders-by-cop; the views that inspire police to pen essays about how their every command must be followed without question, and perpetuate the absurd myth of the “thin blue line,” the idea that without police our society would collapse into anarchy.
This kind of television is anything but harmless. Shows like Blue Bloods affirm and even inspire a value system that marginalizes and oppresses millions of people, and it’s about time someone called them out on it.