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« The Eyes have it (Sujatha) | Main | Philosophy and Faith (Joe) »

August 03, 2010


I saw this earlier and was probably going to write the exact same post! Minus the cool new vocab. I'm sure Fish is probably a bright guy, but how he missed the fact that the characters on the show are on the show because they're criminals (other than the cops and prosecutors) is beyond me.

I'm always embarrassed when Fish takes sports or film (or TV) for his topic, as he often does. Same goes for Stanley Cavell on film. I get so much pleasure from Fish's work--not quite so much, but some from Cavell's--and then he tries to lighten things up by writing about some baseball player named Dennis Martinez. Boring. Same here, I'm afraid. I don't think I've ever seen L&O, but I have seen a couple of the variants of CSI, and I gather their similar, kind of?

In his defense, however, I'm not sure your insights, Joe and Ruchira, do much to clarify the point you view Fish as missing. The depiction of wealthy people as criminals doesn't work to offset or explain their personal vileness. It compounds it. If Fish is right--and for one reason, I think he may not be--then Wolf's crafting of stories about obnoxious wealthy crooks simply means Wolf want viewers to sympathize with him about the obnoxious crookedness of wealthy people. Furthermore, at least one of the characters Fish highlights doesn't appear to be a criminal. The "Britney-Spears-type starlet" seems to be the victim. I can't say for sure, because I don't know how the episode turns.

But here's where I think Fish may be mistaken: for Fish, the search for meaning is always a search for intention. Thus, to find the meaning of L&O, either an individual episode or its lengthy run, one must discern somebody's intention (even that of a corps of writers). A resort to a semiotic reading of the series, or to an interpretation based on discourse analysis, say, can produce a meaning, but it won't be the meaning Fish seeks, which requires an author or authorial proxy whose intention in creating the work are the paramount guide to its meaning. (Think about the Constitution and its "authors.") Fish picks Wolf. Since Wolf, according to Fish, chose to depict rich people as condescending, crude cheaters, then one of the meanings of L&O is that rich people are condescending, crude cheaters. Hence, what bothers Fish is the prescription for parsimony "to be O.K. in Dick Wolf's world." But why should the significance of L&O be tied so absolutely to terms for favorable inclusion in the producer's "world"? Are television shows, movies, and plays to be judged by the degrees to which audience members empathize with the characters and, more so, feel a sense of belonging among them, simply because that's what one of the authorial figures intended?

For what it's worth, I think Fish's description of the criminals on L&O is inaccurate. I agree that most wealthy people appear as criminals and bad people, but that's not the same thing as saying that most criminals on the show are wealthy. There are plenty of middle class and poor criminals depicted, too. I would say that all groups -- again, excepting prosecutors and cops (for the most part) -- are depicted badly and as criminals. Good wealthy people don't get to appear on the show because they're not criminals, and generally, good people don't appear on the show for the same reason. (If he answered that, I'm just not remembering that part of the article, which I read a while ago.)

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