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Detective Fiction and Detective TV

April 19, 2010

A class I took in detection got me mighty interested in watching detective tv series again. But for the past week, I’ve concentrated mainly in the police-detective genre, of the popular kind and the perhaps less known kind. The past week, I’ve been watching both “Wire in the Blood,” a British police-detective fiction and then particular seasons from “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” I have a bunch of other detective fiction which I intend to catch up on when the summer holiday comes, but merely watching these two, and their development of plot and characters, and even the large contrast between these two, is a fascinating journey in itself; trying to understand narratives that are engaged in acts of urgent production of cultural depravity and extreme hedonism that possibly leads to a literal dead-end, or impressionistic acts of abductive thought processes where acts of terror with horrifying consequences are slowly reconstructed and inscribed onto the body of the dead or semi-living.

AS the CSI-effect comes full-blown in the rising popularity of the gritty detective genre set in big cities saturated with evil, the past decade has seen the evolution of many representations and telecast of detective series that has gone beyond the brass and brawn of most police-show genres to emphasis more on the psychological and cerebral. Just think of how different 21st Jump Street and L.A. Law from Law and Order, CSI, Wire in the Blood, and Bones (among others). I am also thinking about popular tv shows such as Ms Marple and Murder SHe Wrote in relation to some of Alfred Hitchcock Murder mysteries. Elucidating the subtle ontological differences would be book-length analysis in itself for there is so many aspects by which one can look at their ontologies : the cultural, the scientific, the textual (books, film and tv included), the psychological, the ethical, the theological and even jurisprudence. If we look at how the series have evolved, we see a demonstration of how we should re-read the fine prints of the law to reshape our epistemological conception of right and wrong to what is more right or more wrong, how forensics can tell us histories of a corpse whose life story was hidden in its lifetime and how our knowledge of particular scientific fact help us adduce a seemingly irresolvable mystery (think Bones).

Of course, the sort of detection we see performed on television and films had already taken place for a long time between the yellowing pages of a book, whether in detective novels, medical thrillers or science fiction. Speculative fiction tries to go beyond that (even though at this point of writing, I am not sure how one reads speculative fiction as a genre separate from other genres which it would have drawn on) to redraw the boundaries of our epistemology through the expansion of our ontology.

Why do detective stories interest us? Maybe it is because we are both curious and afraid of the extremities that we are capable of. We want to know whodunnit and why he/shedunnit. We want to know how and why we are capable of causing suffering to another, sometimes without conscience and remorse. We want to understand to what extend nature and nurture shapes us. We are fascinated by the penal system that punishes but seems impotent in enacting real reforms. We want to know how much can we live outside the judicial system in order to protect our own interest.

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