Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Catharsis Benefits of American TV Series.

One of the most amazing characteristics of American TV fiction is its ability to address controversial issues. This week was no exception.

Not only has Law & Order (better known in France as New York District – go figure!) become the longest dramatic series (along with Gunsmoke) on American TV, but it has opened its 20th season this week with one of the hottest topic in American current affairs : torture and whether the US government should be held responsible.

As always with L&O, the story takes different twists and start with the death of a war veteran. I don’t want to give too many spoilers but at some point district attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) decides to prosecute a lawyer who wrote a Justice Department legal memo authorizing torture, as well as his co-conspirators in the chain of command all the way up to Vice President Cheney.


"Jack, you want to prosecute a member of the Bush administration for assaulting
suspected terrorists? "
"The word is 'torturing.' And yes, it's about time somebody did."


The character of McCoy takes some heat for trying the case, and he is nearly accused of treason :

"We're looking forward, not backward, we're not looking to give aid and comfort to the enemy."
"What are you accusing me of?", McCoy replies
.

Interestingly by the end of the episode, it is the need for Order that has taken over the idea of the Law. (For more, please watch the show, it is worth your time).


I believe L&O is underrated by the media. It is not your typical cop-law show where the bad guy with the hideous face gets caught by the good cops and successfully prosecuted by the good lawyers. It deals with issues that are important to the country and hardly touched by most journalists. This episode called “Memo from the Dark Side” has been largely ignored and unannounced.

Of course, a TV series is not going to change an entire society and in real life no such prosecution has taken place (yet) but one should really command American writers and television for dealing with such hot button issues right on. I do not believe there is any other country in the world that’s capable of facing its demons so directly and so quickly.

It is certainly not so much the case of France which has barely started acknowledging its own use of torture in the Algerian war of independence 47 years ago. I have yet to see the day when the French dubious roles in Africa today will be on French tv fiction or movies.

I think the ability to deal with one’s demons through fiction is extremely healthy for its catharsis effect on a country. After all, that is why the Greek cam up with the word catharis (meaning "purification", "cleansing" or "clarification ralted to fiction.
Drama and justice are the two best ways to get over the dark side and eventually move forward. Otherwise, if you ignore it, it will eventually get back to you years later (the French certainly know something about that).

This speaks volume about the ability of America to make amend and recognize its errors. But now that this recognition is taking place, it may be time to get down to the justice side and make some of those people in high power accountable.






NOTE: I really wonder why the French had to change the name of the show to "New York District" while the Québécois call it simply "La loi et l'ordre"....

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