• Summary
  • Contents
  • Subject index

Policing the Media is an investigation into one of the paradoxes of the mass media age. Issues, events, and people that we see most on our television screens are often those that we understand the least. David Perlmutter examined this issue as it relates to one of the most frequently portrayed groups of people on television: police officers. Policing the Media is a report on the ethnography of a police department, derived from the author’s experience riding on patrol with officers and joining the department as a reserve policeman. Drawing upon interviews, Perlmutter describes the lives and philosophies of street patrol officers. He finds that cops hold ambiguous attitudes toward their television characters, for much of TV copland is fantastic and unrealistic. Moreover, the officers perceive that the public’s attitudes toward law enforcement and crime are directly influenced by mass media. This in turn, he suggests, influences the way that they themselves behave and perform on the street, and that unreal and surreal expectations of them are propagated by television cop shows. This cycle of perceptual influence may itself profoundly impact the contemporary criminal justice system, on the street, in the courts, and in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.

Front Stage and Back Stage
Front stage and back stage

The stage is a lived metaphor. Flesh-and-blood cops are “real” in the sense that they exist outside of the diegesis of a television set or a cinema screen. But they are also, in many ways, performers concerned about their star status, the flow of the script, remembering their lines, and many other dramaturgically analogous manifestations. Even before the current emphasis on “community policing,” a study found that “72 percent of a policeman's work day is spent in some form of communication activity” (Erikson, Cheatham, & Haggard, 1976, p. 299). My purpose in this chapter is to describe the dimensions and the ramifications of the process of communication with the cop as performer. In particular, these observations ...

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