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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Police Dramas US vs Canada

In movies and on television I have come to realize that there are very different ways in which crime, violence and police behaviour is depicted in the United States and Canada. The contrasts, I believe, reflect our cultural differences.

As a rule, I no longer watch American movies that deal with this topic.  Canada has had little or no movies made with such themes. The only one I can recall is a comedy thriller, Good Cop Bon Cop.  When I used to get our movies on videos I deliberately avoided American movies of this genre, it was easy to avoid them..  They  invariably  had a scene on the jacket of someone or a group of people holding a gun or in some violent scene of gun play.  I readily moved on to other dramas or comedies.. These movies were more likely to have been made in Australia or Britain or Canada (if any at all were made.)

A better place to compare this genre of drama in Canada and the United States is  on television.  Both  produce  police dramas. They seem to hold a fascination for people in both countries. I must admit I watch a number of them myself.. They fascinate me for reasons I am not sure. Each countries dramas distinctive and reflect the different cultures.

Here are some of the differences I have noticed..

1. In the US police drama  is a  battle between good and evil. There are few shades of grey.  The police are at war with the bad guys. In the Canadian drama the police are more likely to be solving crimes that are a problems for society but which often are the result of more complex behaviour than just evil. The "criminal" may be ill, a product of a very back background or family situation, the crime may be an accident or a miss understanding. The police are not at war with the bad guys but merely trying to limit the damage to the benefit of individuals and society.

2.Canada has some funny police drama quite often based on our regional quirkiness. The best example of this currently is The Republic of Doyle which takes place in St John's Newfoundland. Years ago, Da Vinci's Inquest which was based in Vancouver, which I found amusing.  And do you remember, Due South, with the quirky Canadian  Mountie and his bewildered Chicago police partner.  It seems Canada can laugh at crime and the police. Americans like their police dramas to be very serious.

3. American police dramas are very high tech.  A lot of the plot is unraveled in a lab. We see this in the CSI version of police dramas, in NCIS and in Criminal Minds.  Canadian drama are solved by basic police work, built on experience. The science and technology is in the background. such as in Flashpoint and the new drama Cracked.. Years ago, I used to enjoy Cold Squad, in which cold cases were solved by revisiting the evidence with fresh and experienced eyes but with seldom new high tech science.

4. Canadian police drama have very little shooting in them. They virtually never have great shootouts such as the Hawaii  Five O I watched the other night where the bad guys actually had assault rifles.  In Canadian drama the police do not engage in gun battles. If they do shoot it is a single shot the ends the incident. The police who end up shooting someone are traumatized. They need and get counseling and in future episode reference are made to the troublesome burden of having once killed someone. We see this in Flashpoint where if shooting takes place it is by a single sniper type policeman, who continues to be troubled by it.. It is a rare occurrence that a policeman has to use his gun, negotiations often are used..  The new series, Cracked, is based on this. It is a team of a psychiatrist and a top policeman who are called to investigate crimes that involve mental illness.  The policeman has previously had to kill someone. This  traumatic event saw him taken off the tactical squad. Along with a personal life in disorder, this shooting affects his character which his doctor  partner assures his boss he is "cracked" but not broken.  In American police drama's the police  in a matter of fact way used their guns and even engage in running gun fights with people. Having to use a gun is seldom seen as an ongoing trauma more the officer.

5. Canadian police are quite often depicted as working in disciplined teams.  Flashpoint is the best example of this. When this drama first showed up I thought they had made a drama with an I to the American market.since the police are a large team  dressed in all the latest battle gear that tactical police seem to fancy these days. They  even carry a modified version of an assault rifle but seldom use it. They have specialist on their team like a computer communications person, a sniper, a bomb specialist,  and  individuals who can rappel and use lots of specialized equipment.  They are the ultimate disciplined team tied together with wireless ear pieces and a leader who gives all the instructions.  For all their hardware not all episodes involve violent confrontations or hqve guns fired.. They have had attempted suicides, mistaken kidnappings and occupations.  In American police dramas the police operate in small groups, quite often pairs.  There is a  well assumed police culture of how partners are supposed to be together as a bonded team. This unit is often  acting on it own in solving the crime. They can, and do, break the rules in an undisciplined way which is OK if they get the bad guy in the end. We see this weekly on Blue Bloods where the main police character seems like he can hardly bear to stay within the rules in his passion to get the bad guy.

6.In American dramas street people ( minority young men, prostitutes, drug dealers, mentally ill, homeless) are often treated with disrespect.. They are bullied and at times even physically assaulted to get information out of them.  In Canadian shows street people are normally treated with respect. Often they are asked if they are OK. by the police who seem to have some understanding of their troubles in daily life.  They care for them for more than what information they may share..

7.  One contrast, that I find particularly unsettling is how the police view the law. In American police dramas comments by the police often reflect a disdain for the law when it get in the way of getting the bad guy .A policeman might suggest of only he were left alone in the room with the suspect he would get information out of him. Or the police might bemoan the fact that their case was thrown out of court even if their bad police work. was not within the technical rules. They even at times suggest some people do not deserve to have some rights. The law in Canadian dramas is never referred to in a disdainful manner. .

In general, I find police dramas in Canada more focused on relationships.  It is through relationships that crime can be solved, even more so than technology or rough tactics by the police. It is not only relationships between the police but often relationships with  "criminals" and witnesses and street people. Guns and violence by the police is rarely seen as part of police work.

I think the contrast between police dramas in the United States and in Canada reflect the differences in our cultures: the place of violence and fear, the respect for law, the treatment of people and the expectations of how the police should behave.  Our countries two cultures are really quite different in fundamental ways.


At 11:03 p.m., Blogger Anvilcloud said...

There was a time when Canadian productions looked like Canadian productions. Flashpoint is done really well; however, I don't know if it has American appeal or not.

Nothing beats the Brits, however. Good guys sometimes die or walk the grey line. We just watched a Waking the Dead episode tonight where the cops actually walked away from a bad guy, knowing that even badder guys would soon execute him. They allowed this to happen because they knew they couldn't touch him.

Anyway, your analysis was great.

I must add that most British mystery novels beat the heck out of most American ones. However, I am just reading the latest of Louise Penny's mysteries featuring Inspector Gamache. They are set in Quebec and are quite wonderful. Even though they are written in English, we know that the characters are really speaking French, but somehow it works great.

At 2:45 p.m., Blogger troutbirder said...

It's a sad but realistic comparison that's for sure. I don't watch American television at all. Except for Minnesota Twins baseball....

At 4:34 p.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

I'm like Troutbirder ... seldom, if ever, watch TV and definitely not the "shoot 'em ups".
We in the U.S. don't come out in a very good light in your commentary, Phillip, and I'm hoping it is only in the TV versions and not real life, but I doubt it.

At 12:40 a.m., Blogger Ien in the Kootenays said...

Canadian police dramas are more like European ones. I am not sure about The Republic of Doyle, which looks more action-oriented. I only know it from trailers. We have just started watching Murdoch Mysteries, set around the turn of the previous century. Delightful.

At 2:32 p.m., Blogger Owen Gray said...

My wife and I loved Bon Cop, Bad Cop, Philip. It is truly funny and truly Quebecois.

At 4:45 p.m., Blogger possum said...

OK, I confess, I watch NCIS - BUT, I am in love with Mark Harmon. In truth, compared to most other mystery programs, there is not quite as much blood and guts on NCIS as the others. Otherwise, I prefer reading a good book to watching TV. But if I do watch TV, I watch mostly Brit Wit shows, or The Big Bang - a real nutty comedy which I actually understand, which makes it even funnier. It does not center around a bar room - imagine!

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At 10:31 p.m., Blogger Mary said...


Great analysis of the difference in the two cultures. So far apart in some areas, so near in others. But I totally agree with your opinion.


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