Clichés of the common crime show

These days, one can’t turn on the tube without finding a show about crime, cops, and the regular folks caught in between.  The number of shows in the genre is endless, but are they all really that different.  Here are at least seven stereotypical ways which may or may not do crime shows justice.

Cliché #1: The Acronymic Title

One way to know a good crime show is if it’s title is an acronym.  Crime shows take too long to be explained in full sentences, so abbreviations must often be used.  There’s CSI(any flavor), NCIS, CHiPS, NYPD Blue, Law & Order SVU, JAG, and ER (only kidding!).

Cliché #2: Perpetual Singleness

People in crime shows have neither children nor spouses.  Many, it could be shown, don’t even have extended families.  Much like patients on hospital shows who seldom if ever have visitors to their room, the crime show crowd does well to have a dog waiting at the door when they get home from a long day.  This leads to much brooding at days end set to the tune of some likewise brooding James Blunt-style emo music, which is understandable, cause you would emote too if you were in a crime show.

Cliché #3: The Crime Show Babe

Likewise perpetually single, the Crime Show Babe has difficulty concealing her weapon due to the tightness of her clothing.  Consequently, when she does find place to stow her gun and badge, it looks as if it’s an awkwardly unwieldy appendage.

The Crime Show Babe has uncanny fighting ability, and is usually able with a swift kick to render an opponent unconscious. There’s always some tension between the Crime Show Babe and her male counterpart, but alas, it will never work, due to Cliché #2 above.

Cliché #4: The Startling Beginning

Nearly every crime show these days begins the same way: two people are going about their ordinary day (often on jog around the lake), talking about ordinary things, when all the sudden, they stumble upon a body.  The girl screams, and the show’s opening sequence starts to roll.

One variation on this is the CSI-style pun to jump start the show.  The lead, while investigating the murder which happened in a funeral home, stops and quips to the camera: “people are just dying to get in.”  Cue the credits.

Cliché #5: Super Crime-show Technology

Let’s face it. The cops in crime shows have better technology than your local precinct. From 50-inch computer monitors to holographic crime-scene reconstruction displays, crime shows have the high-dollar gear — except for one glaring omission: the computer mouse.

For some inexplicable reason, the crime show world has yet to discover that tethered, two-buttoned wonder of a device that we in the rest of the world depend upon daily. Our valiant crime-busting friends must rely on pure keyboarding to track down the bad guys. No pointing and clicking here — navigation by typing is the way it’s done. Need to move something on the screen? Just type it a little to the left.

Cliché #6: Super Video Enhancement

Got a photo that’s a little blurry?  No worries, because the crime labs in crime shows have a super version of Photoshop that’s not available to the general public.  With just a few clicks of the mouse — er, I mean keyboard — one can read a license plate from a mile away in photo taken with a cell phone.  This action is always — without exception — introduced by the phrase “can you enhance that?”

Cliché #7: The Killer Confession

No crime show would be complete without the killer confessing to our heroes in the interrogation room.  No waterboarding necessary here.  The criminals are more than willing to explain why they did it, because surely then we will understand why they had to poison their best friend’s drink at the bar.  Somehow, it all makes sense in the killer’s head, but as our hero will tell them, “the only bars you’ll be seeing from now on are the ones on your cell door.”

That’s seven for the road.  Can you think of any more?

Jesus, branding, and the myth of neutral messaging

There is much to commend in Tyler Wigg-Stevenson’s Christianity Today cover story, “Jesus Is Not a Brand,” but this excerpt is especially noteworthy:

The difficulty with the pro-marketing arguments, however, is the failure to recognize that marketing is not a values-neutral language. Marketing unavoidably changes the message—as all media do. Why? Because marketing is the particular vernacular of a consumerist society in which everything has a price tag. To market something is therefore to effectively make it into a branded product to be consumed. The folks at have no problem with this: “Marketing is the process of promoting, selling, and distributing goods or services. It’s a business concept, but something very similar happens in the church. As much as we bristle at comparing evangelism to a sales pitch, there are certain similarities.”

There are indeed similarities. But evangelism and sales are not the same. And we market the church at our peril if we are blind to the critical and categorical difference between the Truth and a truth you can sell. In a marketing culture, the Truth becomes a product. People will encounter it with the same consumerist worldview with which they encounter every other product in the American marketplace.

Wigg-Stevenson’s premise, of course, is that “marketing” is not a concept that can be imposed upon the church in the same way in which it is imposed upon business.  The problem with this (and the reason why many will dismiss the article) is the frighteningly large number of churches whose polity more closely resembles a TQM-management textbook than the biblical model of the church.

Given my own experience in both the church and the marketing/branding field (my undergrad major was advertising, and I’ve worked for a firm that branded people among other things), I think the points raised by Wigg-Stevenson are even more prevalent and dangerous than the level-headed tone of his article betrays. The world’s methods may often be amoral in some sense, but they are by no means neutral.  Whenever I shape a message into a form or medium, my message takes on some of the inherent properties of that medium whether I like it or not.

I’ll have more to say about this topic later when I finish reading Lucas Conley’s OBD: Obsessive Branding Disorder: The Illusion of Business and the Business of Illusion, but until then, you would do well to read the whole Wigg-Stevenson CT piece.

Books you should read in 2009

It’s a new year, and it’s as good a time as any to evaluate your personal reading curriculum for the year.  Two of the books listed below I had the privilige of reading in manuscript form, and one I’m only halfway through myself — so even I have some reading to do…

The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
Seldom is one able to determine, in the midst of reading a book, that the work is something great — something above the level of the ordinary.  While the term “greatness” shouldn’t be thrown about lightly, especially for a modern novel, it certainly applies to The Road.  The harshness of its post-apocalyptic setting perfectly frames the limitless love of a father for his son.  Make no mistake, it pains me greatly to praise so highly a work that Oprah Winfrey has likewise blessed, but I wholeheartedly recommended it for anyone who likes to read a book before the film becomes a national phenomenon.

Dolor for Misdeeds, by Colby Willen
A novel about “misdeeds” that were long ago swept under the rug, or so thinks the protagonist until the rug is taken away. Willen’s storyline examines the dolor (mental anguish) that comes from unrequited guilt. Can our mechanisms of justice make thing right, even if wrongly executed? If I didn’t know the author so well, I’d begin to suspect that he knows the mental effects of long-buried crime a little too well. This first novel from my friend of many years is recommended reading for anyone who has ever covered something up.

Memoirs of an Ordinary Pastor, by D.A. Carson
This short biographical work is the most powerful nonfiction book I’ve read in years.  Theologian and scholar D.A. Carson’s memoir of his father is an extraordinary book about an ordinary man.  What makes it extraordinary is its poignant display of how greatness cannot be measured by the sizeof one’s audience or the perceived success of one’s vocation.  True greatness is measured by faithfulness, of which  Tom Carson — with all his imperfections — is a vibrant example.  Recommend reading for all ordinary people.

How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History’s Greatest Communicator, by Joe Carter and John Coleman
In today’s world, arguments supposedly advance a position. People today have conversations, not arguments. Arguments are  George W. Bush — conversations are Barack Obama. Arguments are lawyers, fights, and referee reviews. Conversations are a frappuccino with friends. The fact is that argumentation is a device of communication we use everyday, whether we like it or not (don’t argue with me on this point!).  Of course, it is bad argumentation that gives the device its bad rap, and to whom better to look for communication advice than the Word of God himself.  Carter and Coleman ably analyze the communication methods of Jesus via classical categories and show how it might look if we used more Christlike methods of communication.  It’s a helpful book for anyone who uses communication in their daily lives.

Home, by Marilynne Robinson
I’m just over halfway through, but Robinson’s follow-up to her Pulitzer-Prize winning Gilead is shaping up to be worthy in weight to its predecessor.  It’s a book that examines family, failure, and faith through the eyes of people who don’t find themselves very good at any of them.  So far it’s heavy with sadnesss, but not burdensomely so due to Robinson profundity of language. Recommended reading for anyone who has ever had black sheep in their family.