Amidst the bright lights, vivid sounds, and frenetic energy of Las Vegas, casinos employ over 15,000 psychological and experience-based tactics carefully crafted to separate the unwitting gambler from his or her hard-earned dollars.
I propose that in the last twenty-five years Hollywood has utilized similar tactics to separate the American citizen from his or her rationale, trust, and empathy for the men and women in blue.
Whether it is a deliberate attempt to dismantle law enforcement departments I wouldn’t assert but I believe its impact is now being felt through this new movement to defund the police and these new anti-police-centric riots.
I propose that we are not just seeing a rise in police officer shootings and deaths by officers, but that these shootings and deaths are confirming an inherent bias we don’t realize we’ve already developed.
I also propose that those most likely to accept this bias are the young. Not because they are young and idealistic — though thankfully there are many concerned with justice today.
But because they are the largest section of America watching the most mainstream movies.
Long before the tragic deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and a host of others, our skepticism and disdain for the police were being fomented most every time we ordered our buttered popcorn and sat down in those comfy theater chairs or tapped on a film on Netflix.
While there needs to be serious conversations around law enforcement reform, I believe we’ve been pre-conditioned for this moment in time.
In the movie Focus, Will Smith plays a con man who trains a young and beautiful recruit in Margot Robbie. At one point in the film, Will Smith’s character challenges an obsessive fellow gambler to a contest while watching a football game from the opulent luxury skybox above the field. The challenge?
Choose the number of any player down on the field and Will’s young recruit (Robbie) will tell the obsessive gambler which number he has chosen.
Margot Robbie’s character has no way of knowing which number to choose, nor which number the obsessive gambler has already chosen. It seems an impossible guess. But it’s a stacked deck. Unbeknownst to the obsessive gambler, a ringer was placed on the field, one that Robbie recognizes. To form, Robbie finally shouts out, “55!”
To which the gambler says, “No, no… no… no F-ing way!” That was the number he had chosen. The game was rigged in Smith and Robbie’s favor, but knowing that the man would choose, out of the entire line up of players, the number “55”? That wasn’t determined.
Or was it?
As Robbie leaves the luxury box flabbergasted, carting out the cash rewards from the winning bet, Will explains. The entire day had been a setup. From the minute the obsessive gambler had woken up he had been flooded with the number “55.” Every thing he saw, listened to, or experienced that day had been set up by Will and his conniving cohort in painstaking detail, from the room number, to the signs he saw, to the words he heard… all planned ahead of time.
It was only when the number presented itself, did his prior psychological conditioning kick in.
In the last twenty-five years in Hollywood, there has been a massive shift. Movies went from glorious masterpieces of story-telling cinema to agendas wrapped in cellulose or digital pixels. It wasn’t that movies were crafted around Aristotlean story formulas but shaped around pre-determined ideals. Nowhere was that more prevalent than in Hollywood’s police-film offerings. Sure, before 1995 we had movies that carried this agenda, from Serpico, to Unlawful Entry, to Internal Affairs, but Hollywood turned up the dial on this agenda in the last two and half decades. The agenda?
Gone were the days of clear good vs. evil — the James Bond or John McClaine “good guy” hero fighting against the evil and sinister criminal mastermind and his organization. Now, most often, the evil and sinister characters are the cops themselves. And it’s nearly everywhere, in nearly every film.
Let’s look at ten movies featuring the police in the past three years alone. (Note: If the statement is in quotes it is directly taken from the movie’s synopsis online.)
(2019) 21 BRIDGES: While chasing down a couple of cop killers, A New York detective uncovers and attempts to thwart a series of CORRUPT COPS.
(2019) BLACK AND BLUE: “After realizing that the murder was committed by CORRUPT COPS…”
(2019) AWAKE: A man is accused of committing a murder, only to find out that the killer is a CORRUPT COP.
(2019) POINT BLANK: “Pitted against rival gangs and CORRUPT COPS, an ER nurse and a career criminal must work together to survive the fight of their lives.”
(2019) BEYOND THE LAW: “A former mobster turned businessman and a police detective must contend with a DIRTY EX COP looking to bring the killer of his son to justice.”
(2018) BLINDSPOTTING: “His bond with his volatile best friend soon gets tested when Collin sees a POLICE OFFICER SHOOT A SUSPECT IN THE BACK during a chase through the streets.”
(2018) MONSTERS AND MEN: “A bystander films the death of a black man AT THE HANDS OF POLICE, which sparks rising tensions in a New York neighborhood as some are moved to take a stand.”
(2018) RIVER RUNS RED: “A vengeful judge takes the law into his own hands when TWO COPS KILL HIS YOUNG SON during a routine traffic stop.”
(2018) THE HATE YOU GIVE: “The uneasy balance between these worlds is soon shattered when she witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend AT THE HANDS OF A POLICE OFFICER.”
(2017) SLEEPLESS: “Undercover Las Vegas police officer Vincent Downs (Jamie Foxx) finds himself caught in a high-stakes WEB OF CORRUPT COPS, internal affairs, and murderous gangsters.”
I didn’t find these films by typing in “Corrupt cop films” into google. I simply typed into google:
This is what we are viewing in our theaters or watching in our living rooms or on our laptops. It is what is playing across our minds. More importantly, it is what is sticking in our subconscious. Yes, terrible things are happening at the hands, knees, and gun sights of our police departments, but are our reactions to these scenarios already pre-influenced?
Are we, like the gambler in the movie focus, simply shouting out “55!” without realizing that we have been conditioned to see the “corrupt cop” 55 number for the last twenty-five years? How many times have we seen the “corrupt cop” 55 number?
These are screen shots taken from Statista.com: Average number of movies watched in movie theaters monthly among adults in the United States as of February 2019
More succinctly, this new defund the police movement is mostly being carried by the young… and who predominantly goes to the theaters or turns on Netflix or Hulu… en masse? Taken from a study done by Science Daily in March of 2008:
“While most teenagers (60 percent) spend on average 20 hours per week in front of television and computer screens, a third spend closer to 40 hours per week, and about 7 percent are exposed to more than 50 hours of ‘screen-time’ per week, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s 48th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention.”
Now, there is far more nuance necessary than I can compose in 1500 words, nor is any of this stated as didactic, Cartesian fact. It is only being communicated as a potential component in considering the attitude we have developed against the police. Neither does this ever excuse the actions and even coverups of those that are called to serve and protect those of us under their watch.
This article is merely meant to help illuminate you to a strategy that you may not have considered. What you do with that illumination is entirely up to you. I won’t leave you with forced answers, but reissue a question that you can unpack yourself the next time you read the synopses of the movies scrolling across your Netflix wall:
Is Hollywood revealing culture… or creating it?
Lyrics from Cookie Jar by Jack Johnson (read entire song lyric here: https://genius.com/Jack-johnson-cookie-jar-lyrics):
“You can’t blame me, says the singer of the song
Or the maker of the movie which he based his life on
It’s only entertainment as anyone can see
It’s smoke machines and makeup, man you can’t fool me.
But it was you, it was me, it was every man,
We’ve all got the blood on our hands
We only receive what we demand,
If we want hell, then hell’s what we’ll have.”