Crime shows have always been a beloved genre of television because of the suspense, action, and excitement which has always drawn in many viewers. However, not all shows in this genre are the same. Though there are some series like The Wire that show many different perspectives within crime, usually shows and movies tend to follow one of two different perspectives. The first is that of the cop and the second is that of the criminal. Cop shows like Criminal Minds show how police act in their quest for justice, while shows like Ozark demonstrate a criminal encountering obstacles to achieve their end goal.
Most cop shows feature either a young cop who’s eager to make the world a better place, or an experienced, tough cop who’s trying to capture the criminal at any cost. Either way, both of these characters typically fit the conventional idea of a hero, which is why so many people love to root for these characters. In reality, it’s a lot more likely to hear mixed opinions about the morality and even the necessity of cops. Yet if you ask someone how they feel about the main character of a cop show, their answer may be much more one-sided. What causes this extreme disconnect? One reason is that many cops in real life don’t fit this exemplary and righteous persona. It makes sense that people would be disappointed by this misrepresentation of how police are, and how this supposed good samaritan behavior differs so much from reality.
Shows that come from the perspective of a criminal are actually very similar to those from the perspective of a cop. Both go through obstacles and successes and both have the viewers cheering for them by the end. However, TV programs from the perspective of a criminal also have a great disconnect from reality. Oftentimes, people watching criminal shows find themselves rooting for the criminals, even when they commit extreme evils. Why do people support these characters on television and persecute them in reality? The answer is simple: it’s easy to support a character when you’re seeing everything from their perspective.
One of the key differences between these criminal shows and reality is that viewers are able to see the criminals’ entire backstory; their tragic past, how they think, and what led up to them eventually doing what they did. In contrast, when we see on the news that someone is being arrested for a crime, we never get to see their backstory or anything about them. We don’t get to know their motives or family or the ins and outs of their everyday life. They are reduced down to one picture, one story. After all, it’s much easier to judge a person, rather than sitting with them and trying to empathize. All we know about these people is that they are apparently “criminals.”
There are also shows that feature the “Robin Hood effect.” This is when the main character is technically doing “bad” things but is doing them for a moral purpose. An example of this is the popular show Money Heist. It’s easier to understand how the audience can support these characters because they don’t have bad intentions.
Both of these characters are idealized versions of reality, the fantasy of Hollywood that poorly translates into the context of real life. Neither of them reflect how people really feel and act when faced with these kinds of situations. This brings up the question of whether it is better to have media reflect the real world, or if having a romanticized version of reality will help us aspire to a better future.