Copaganda: Brooklyn Nine Nine in light of the BLM Protests

By Sylvia Chan
Published on December 5th, 2020

Brooklyn 99 (B99) is an American comedy TV show based on Brooklyn’s fictitious 99th police precinct. The very first episode introduces us to Jake Peralta, an immature detective. His colleagues are: Terry Jeffords, his sergeant, Captain Holt, his captain, Amy Santiago, Charles Boyle, Rosa Diaz, Michael Hitchcock and Norm Scully, his fellow detectives.

Before getting into B99 as ‘copaganda’, there are many aspects of it that are commendable. Unlike the ubiquitous TV show — flippantly heteronormative, casually misogynistic, and predominantly white-centered — Brooklyn 99 boasts a diverse cast of two Latino women (Amy and Rosa) and two Black men (Terry and Holt). Rosa is bisexual; Holt, a man in a position of power, is gay.

B99 also explores racial bias in the police, to some extent. In ‘Moo Moo’, Terry is detained by another officer outside his home as a result of racial profiling. He wishes to file a complaint against the officer, but Holt, the captain, refuses because he knows it will be detrimental to Terry’s career. However, he eventually agrees as he realizes he needs to support his colleagues in a way he wishes he had been supported in the past.

The idea of sexism in the workplace is also explored in B99 through a case where a woman pressed charges against a male colleague who sexually assaulted her.

However, in light of recent Black Lives Matter protests, as well as countless other systemic flaws targeting the black community, particularly in criminal justice, some have pointed out that B99 is ‘copaganda’ - a TV show glorifying the police by glossing over or ignoring issues within the police, and is incompatible with that belief that ‘All Cops Are Bastards’. This is the idea that the police institution’s very purpose is corrupt and racist, and that all members of the system are complicit. How does a ‘woke’ cop show fit into this narrative, especially when the target audience of B99 are staunch supporters of BLM?

Jake is wrongfully incarcerated in Season 5, and consequently becomes more hesitant in his job, out of fear that he may wrongfully condemn someone to the horrors of America’s prison industrial complex. This is explored in one episode, but is never brought up again. The protagonists just accept that ‘it is what it is’, so we aren’t supposed to care.

In another episode, Jake and Boyle are breaking up a brawl between two Santa Clauses fighting for territory. Boyle is hesitant to engage not because he is reluctant to use violence, but because ‘I’ve gone 42 years without a lump of coal, I’m not going to start now’.. After Jake flips a Santa to the ground, Boyle yells: ‘Hit him in his fat cherry cheeks!’ Jake then punches Santa, who poses no threat to anyone nearby, in the face. This is clearly an example of excessive use of force, yet we are just meant to laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of the situation.

A repeating motif in B99 is a friendship between Jake and Doug Judy, a black man and a former criminal that is explored for comedy. As humorous as this friendship is, it can be argued that it is unrealistic in America’s political landscape. Cops are not your friends. This is harmful to more impressional audience members who may, as a result of media like B99, develop misguided conceptions of cops.

Should Brooklyn 99 be held responsible for this unrealistic portrayal of police officers?

Most people (probably) do not consume mainstream media like TV to educate themselves or gain awareness of social issues. Media is generally consumed for pleasure, leading one to conclude that as long as it is enjoyable, even if it depicts acts of questionable moral integrity, its function is unchanged.

Despite that, there are usually underlying messages in mass media; Star Wars is essentially about resisting fascism, and Harry Potter is about combating ethnic genocide and discrimination. The audience won’t necessarily pick up on these elements, which can be obvious or otherwise, but there’s no denying that they exist, and can influence the audience. This is particularly dangerous when shows like B99 target a demographic more vulnerable to police brutality when the underlying message isn’t ‘resist fascism’, but ‘not all cops’.

Copganda, as written before, is essentially police propaganda. As also stated before, the police tend to be corrupt and abusive. Although what counts as ‘glorification’ is vague, it follows that all cop shows are intrinsically bad because officers are idolized and presented in an overly-positive light. A ‘woke’ cop show is in and of itself an oxymoron.

For a cop show to be break free from being ‘copaganda’, it would need to depict a realistic police institution where racial and gender bias is prevalent and the protagonists actively combat it. While Br99 certainly attempts to, through episodes like ‘Moo Moo’ and ‘Me Too’, it still cannot fully address the condition of America’s police while remaining a comedy - and it shouldn’t have to. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to create a comedic cop show that isn’t by definition ‘copaganda’ because of the very nature of the show with police as protagonists.

However, it seems like B99 might be heading in a more well-balanced direction. Recently, the writers and producers announced that they will entirely rewrite Season 8 in light of the Black Lives Matter protests. How, exactly, they intend to explore police brutality, violence, systematic racism and corruption in a ‘woke’ way, within the context of a comedy television show with police officers as the protagonists, remains endlessly fascinating. Until then, though, as allies to Black Lives Matter, we can only remind ourselves that Brooklyn 99 is not reality, and that all cops are bastards.

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