Saturday, 10 May 2014

The creators of American crime dramas seem terrified of rural areas - i.e. the places with the lowest crime rates

I’m still pining for the TV series, True Detective, which ended three weeks’ ago. Not because of the plot – which was fairly standard paedophile-ring fare – but because of the stellar acting performances, the script, the atmosphere, the visuals and the music. But, throughout its run, something had been troubling me. It was only when it ended that I realised that it was the programme-makers antipathy towards traditional, settled, rural society.

Remote farms harboured evil, inbred, perverted simpletons. Evangelical churches, charities and children's homes were all run by groups of predatory paedophiles. Corrupt local police spent their time abetting the crimes of local big-wigs. The impression one received was that evil triumphs in those dark, non-urban corners of the country where the federal government's influence is at its weakest.

It struck me that this pretty accurately mirrors the world-view of California/New England/Washington DC liberal leftists, for whom the Great American Hinterland is still a mysterious, threatening, largely meaningless space where Bad Thinking of the traditional, insular, non-internationalist, racist, incestuous, get-off-my-land-mister, Tea Party variety rages unabated. In other words, wickedness breeds unchecked in those places where folks vote Republican (or – even worse – Tea Party Republican).

The odd thing about these fears is that the areas where crime rampages out of control in modern America are almost invariably those inner-city fiefdoms controlled by enlightened Democrats in cahoots with numerous government agencies.  According to FBI figures, the 10 most dangerous American cities in 2013 were Camden, NJ, Flint MI, Detroit MI, Oakland, CA, St. Louis, MO, Cleveland, OH, Gary, IN, Newark NJ, Bridgeport, CT, and Birmingham, AL. I’m not saying they’re criminal hell-holes because the people who live there keep voting for Democrats – but the evidence would seem to suggest that it doesn’t help. It’s also interesting to note that cities like these are bucking the national trend, which is seeing crime fall across the US - while the citizens of Obama's Chicago and other big urban connurbations (especially those with strict gun controls) are merrily slaughtering one another, the rest of from-my-cold-dead-hands America is getting more peacable.

True Detective wasn’t alone in perpetuating the myth that it’s those pesky white rubes who are the real danger: I was amused when the serial killer/criminal mastermind Red John in the top-rated California-set show The Mentalist turned out to be… a local sheriff! Apart from a few notable exceptions, whenever the forces of law and order in a cop show fan out from the cities where they’re based to investigate some agrarian aggro, it almost invariably turns out to be the fault of a respectable, supposedly philanthropic, church-supporting, right-wing businessman (or his offspring) whose family have been prominent in the area for several generations (that’s when it isn’t the fault of the leader of a some new-fangled Christian cult, of course). The message is obvious: racially and culturally homogenous small towns and rural areas where the federal government and its various agencies aren’t able to keep a 24/7 watch on the doings of the sinister locals tend to be hot-beds of crime, corruption and coercion.

When US cop shows focus entirely on cities, the messages tend to be mixed. Law & Order is so screamingly left-wing that it loses no opportunity to blame urban crime on everyone but the perpetrators – i.e. the white middle classes are somehow just as guilty as the inner-city ethnics who actually commit the vast majority of urban crimes. The various CSI offshoots are far more right-wing (i.e. bad people rather than bad institutions or the poor distribution of wealth or insufficient welfare are responsible for crime), but socially liberal in a very Hollywoody sort of way – i.e. the breakdown of the traditional family and traditional mores isn’t really a problem (whereas we know damned fine that it is).

The last time I travelled across America, I had been so well conditioned by liberal TV dramas and films that my nervousness increased the further I and my pregnant wife got from a major city: I spent a lot of time checking the rear-view mirror to make sure we weren’t being tailed by serial killers or corrupt local cops. About half-way through our journey I realised that I only truly started relaxing while heading away from cities into the friendly, welcoming – and much safer – rural hinterland. I suspect the makers of US crime dramas need to get out more.


  1. Some parts of urban America have cleaned up their act,or more likely shifted crime to another area.I remember driving through Detroit in the late 70's after a recent, and for Detroit a fairly minor race riot,and felt how shall one say..unloved..I have a feeling I would still feel that way. Parts of Manhattan around the NY Port Authority were also distinctly edgy in those days,but now more like a theme park.

    1. I found New York in the late '70s fairly terrifying - including the NY Port Authority environs - come to think of it, inside the Port Authority was distinctly unappealing as well. When I was last there about five years' ago, it felt much safer than London, helped by the number of cops on the beat and the fact that they seem to pay people to clean the streets occasionally (two things that will never catch on here in London). Never did get to Detroit and I have a suspicion I wouldn't have much enjoyed the experience.

  2. And while we're on the subject,whats happened to the Belmore Cafeteria?Bleedin' gone thats whats happened.

    1. Had to look this up - where Travis Bickle and his colleagues hung out?

  3. This excellent blog deserves better than my flippant attempt to get a rise out of the readership.For me the midwest, or bible belt as it is sometimes sneeringly described as by the liberal Beltway Washington elite encapsulates all that is best about America:freedom of speech and thought,generosity,a sense of truly belonging despite its relatively short history.One could go on.
    If America found a way to reinvent the this potentially hugely dynamic and yes Republican stronghold in a more meaningful way apart from the obvious economic one,and promote or repromote the essential theme of this excellent blog ie that freedom from crime,personal responsibility,and dare I say it respectability are not the usual negative stereotypes found in the left-wing media,then its young,sometimes misunderstood,rootless young people would not have to drift to the urban centres of coastall US cities in search of goodness knows what.Although (tongue in cheek) an exception could be made for Hollywood (if one is totally in denial or talentless or both)or Las Vegas (if you're feeling lucky chump),and possibly NYC and San Francisco for all the obvoius reasons.And by the bye do give Chicago a miss.
    God Bless America.

  4. 30 years ago, I spent a weekend in Roanoke, Virginia. I was between work assignments and didn't want to spend my free time in Washington. In the hotel, formerly a hospital for civil war casualties, four middle aged ladies doing a jigsaw puzzle remarked upon my accent and asked if I was German. I had a drink at the bar with Wayne, a trucker, and his wife who had won a weekend break in a competition and were both intent on celebrating their good fortune. Of the invariably polite and courteous people who chatted to me, no one had much of an interest in events outside a 10 mile radius from where they lived, except for Mrs Wayne who told me that 'a girl can't hardly have her hair fixed in Chicago without something happening real bad". The TV news was entirely focused on local events.

    I didn't think so at the time but now I wonder whether that's about as near to a happy life as any one could wish for.