John Oliver excoriated Law & Order creator Dick Wolf for selling viewers on a “complete fantasy” version of New York police.
On Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the talk show host grilled Wolf for marketing “a defective product.”
As he is known to do, Oliver started with a seemingly unrelated subject. In this case, it was National Airlines’ “I’m Cheryl, Fly Me” ad campaign from 1971.
Oliver noted that Wolf actually created the sexist ads. He then gradually segued his show into a serious lambasting of the Law & Order franchise’s impact on mainstream culture.
Oliver blamed Wolf for propagating, on a wide scale, the false notion that the police can do no wrong.
“Underneath it all, [Law & Order] is a commercial … produced by a man who is unabashedly pro-law enforcement,” Oliver said. “And he is very good at selling things.”
Law & Order‘s Influence on the American Public
Oliver teed off the show by noting that the Law & Order franchise encompasses more than 1,200 episodes of “comfort TV.” He cited statistics showing ardent fans of the show are more likely to believe police conduct themselves professionally and properly.
The show has “shaped a generation’s understanding of the U.S. legal system,” to the extent that lawmakers, media personalities, and pundits often base their beliefs about how law enforcement functions on a fictional TV show.
“Law & Order is never going to grapple with the reality of policing in a meaningful way,” Oliver said. “Fundamentally, the person responsible for Law & Order and its brand is Dick Wolf. He knows exactly what he wants his shows to do and — importantly — not to do.”
To that end, Oliver ran a clip in which Wolf claims Law & Order and its spinoffs “are probably the best recruiting poster you can have for being a New York City cop.”
Oliver agreed, saying: “Right, because a recruiting poster is always going to be a propagandized, hero-washed version of the truth. A truth, which is — more often than not — very ugly.”
He added: “It’s completely fine to enjoy it … but it is important to remember just how far it is from anything resembling reality. [The show] present[s] a world where the cops can always figure out who did it, defense attorneys are irritating obstacles to be overcome, and even if a cop roughs up a suspect, it’s all in pursuit of a just outcome.”
Oliver said that, while the franchise is well-produced and entertaining, “underneath it all, it is a commercial. … Produced by a man who is unabashedly pro-law enforcement. … And in this instance, he’s selling a fantasy that many people in this country are only too happy to buy. Which is fine — as long as we don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s an ad for a defective product.”
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Author: Jordan Karlsson
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