NCIS: Los Angeles – TV adventures of our stylish security police

Summary:  We interrupt our series about the TV show “Castle” to answer a reader’s question. This analysis reveals dark aspects of US culture (with worse to come in future chapters), but are the lessons from “Castle” typical of American TV? To answer that we’ll look at one of the shows in the hit Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) franchise: “NCIS: Los Angeles”. It should be called Gestapo: LA.  Spoiler for the post: the answer is “it’s not only typical, there are darker shows.”

Daniela Ruah
Daniela Ruah as stylish NCIS: LA special agent Kensi Blye

Post your thoughts in the comments.

Contents

  1. The NCIS franchise: fun & effective
  2. About NCIS: Los Angeles
  3. About the the Gestapo
  4. Ending on a darker note
  5. Other posts in this series
  6. For More Information

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(1)  The NCIS franchise: fun & effective

The original “NCIS” has been a hit for 11 seasons. It spun off “NCIS: Los Angeles”, the short-lived “NCIS: Red”, and the new “NCIS: New Orleans”.

Goebbels, the NAZI propaganda genius, would have loved these shows. They’re fun to watch because they’re well-written and done by  skillful actors.  They’re useful because they have a powerful subtext.

Their popularity shows our acceptance of tyranny; perhaps even our eagerness for it. Watching these was one reason for my prediction that Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance would produce no substantial reforms.

(2)  About NCIS: Los Angeles

In NCIS: LA we see, and can react to, a prototype of an American Gestapo (i.e., in an early stage of development).

Their agents are a diverse group of attractive, young, incredibly skilled security agents. Each speaks many languages fluently, and has mastered many skills — except for Marty Deeks, the least of the team, the butt of their jokes, who is a LA street cop who has a law degree and passed the difficult California bar exam. Their supporting technicians are geniuses.

It’s important that Americans consider their gestapo agents to be superior men and women.

Each week our team hunts down unamerican terrorists (foreign and domestic)  — often gypsies, Jews, and people of color — stopping their nefarious plans to destroy America.

It’s important that Americans remain accustomed to seeing people of color as fit subjects for close surveillance (as New York’s Finest did with area mosques).

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Kensi & Deeks kiss
Romance makes the gestapo more appealing

Investigations routinely break into homes and databases (with the occasional, if rare, mention of warrants).  Interrogations frequently mention the certainty of anal rape in prison and the option of torture in Guantánamo Bay). Often the hunt ends with a hail of gunfire (perhaps Guantánamo Bay is full).

It’s important that Americans know their gestapo agents are above the law.

We’re a long way from TV shows like Highway Patrol (1955 – 1959), The FBI (1965 – 1974) and Adam-12 (1968 – 1975). There were unrealistic portrayals of these agencies, but benign entertainment. Unlike our shows today, where we’re applauding the precursors to our next — and probably quite undemocratic — political regime.

How accurately does NCIS: LA show the activities of our security services (especially the well-funded multi-agency Federal apparatus)? From the scraps of information in the news, about as usual for TV. Quite unrealistic (e.g., the frequent fire fights). But the NCIS: LA agents’ indifference to our civil rights — that they appear to have captured well.

(3)  About the the Gestapo

Gestapo was the abbreviation for Geheime Staatspolizei, the “Secret State Police”. An apt description for the secret agents of NCIS: LA.

The Gestapo was formed in 1934 from the political and intelligence sections of the German national police. The NAZI leadership retasked them, as our leaders have re-tasked elements of our law enforcement agencies. History shows these things spin out of control quite quickly.

(4)  Ending on a darker note

In the tradition of the FM website, we’ll end on the darkest note. The NCIS shows are fiction, but they mirror the evolution of local, State, and Federal security services. As they grow as outlaws, they’ll need to recruit people — people who are de facto enemies of the Republic under the Constitution. Read the comment threads to the posts about torture.; you’ll see people doing practice auditions for the American gestapo.

When the time comes, the government will have no difficulty recruiting.

(5)  Other posts in this series about “Castle”

Tomorrow we’re back to mining the TV show “Castle” for insights about ourselves. The next few posts are darker than the first four, but not as dark as this one. I think we’ve hit pay dirt in their series.

(6)  For More Information

See all posts about art, myth and literature.

Posts about our heroes:

  1. A philosophical basis for the Batman saga, 23 July 2008
  2. The problem with America lies in our choice of heroes, 12 November 2010
  3. Robocop is not a good role model for the youth of Detroit, 12 March 2011
  4. We want heroes, not leaders. When that changes it will become possible to reform America., 11 January 2013
  5. Our choice of heroes reveals much about America, 2 June 2013
  6. The Lone Ranger tells us about America, 6 July 2013
  7. Are our film heroes leading us to the future, or signaling despair?, 28 October 2013

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19 thoughts on “NCIS: Los Angeles – TV adventures of our stylish security police

  1. It may be like shooting fish in a barrel, but have you considered basing a post off 24? Now that it’s been brought back for a new season, it might be interesting to explore its popularity as time has gone on. At least as far as how terrorism has changed us, it seems like that show would be the gold standard.

    1. Well, if you had to summarize what Jack Bauer, the shows protagonist, is all about, it would be: he does whatever is necessary. Him torturing people for information is a basic tenet of the show, for example. The whole show is a pretty good caricature of the post 9/11 national security mindset, except it’s serious.

    2. Buzz,

      Thanks for the summary.

      This mirrors in more extreme form the broader trend of the past decade in such shows. Commonplace to threaten people, even innocent people from home the police/Feds seek just information, with anal rape in prison. Equally so to threaten them with rendition to Guantanamo or someplace worse, with no civil rights.

      We have become comfortable with the idea of tyranny. All that remains is to insert the bridle into our mouths.

    3. Maybe the real trick to wielding power is controlling who people consider “them” and who they consider “us”. Government at various levels have convinced “us” that terrorists and/or Muslims are the “them” we should fear. Likewise, it seems as though the success of the 1% crowd might boil down to convincing sufficient numbers of the 99% that “them” is the bottom 20, and the top 1% is “us”, despite the demonstrable fact that the middle class is *far* closer to the bottom than the top.

    4. After all, nothing is ever really a problem as long as it “us” doing it, or it’s only happening to “them”. It’s only a problem when “they” do it, or it’s happening to “us”.

      (Sorry, submitted too hastily)

    5. thanks. I have, for some time, been disillusioned with the propagandist tones of these ncis type shows, the cops shows and related.

      the law is constantly broken in the name of the law and we beat you up because we love you.

      or such as The Closer. a neurotic whiny btch tricks low info voters into confessions. and when she can’t trick the smart ones, she frames them. yeah, good times.

      the worst are shows like Blue Bloods. horrible. yes, the NYC cops are just this side of Irish saints. hagiographic porn.

      and the worst part, is the people buy this crap without any reasoned analysis of what they are being taught to believe.

      Orwell was right, in the end, we will be fellating big brothers c*ck. and thanking him for the privilege.

    6. Al,

      I would like to say that your view is too dark, or too extreme. But I can’t. I agree.

      But Hollywood — with its long alliance with the military and police — does a wonderful job of packaging the horrifying content. “A little sugar makes the medicine go down”.

      I don’t know where all this will end. But I know we can change game, if we can only muster the will to do so.

  2. I have never watched castle occasionally do watch NCIS mostly the original and this may be off topic as it relates to previous post “What we do here…”. Recently you gave me advice on Twitter ““@FabiusMaximus01: @chaykr Write your representatives. Get involved politically, contribute time & money. That’s the UR-solution for many of our problems.” Recent articles have made me question that advice. You are good at pointing tour problems and I respect that but based on things like the following quote from an article about “America Dumbs Down” I wonder if you have looked at the effectiveness of that advice “A study by two Princeton University researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released last month, tracked 1,800 U.S. policy changes between 1981 and 2002, and compared the outcome with the expressed preferences of median-income Americans, the affluent, business interests and powerful lobbies. They concluded that average citizens “have little or no independent influence” on policy in the U.S., while the rich and their hired mouthpieces routinely get their way. “The majority does not rule,” they wrote.

    Smart money versus dumb voters is hardly a fair fight. But it does offer compelling evidence that the survival of the fittest remains an unshakable truth even in American life. A sad sort of proof of evolution.

    http://www.macleans.ca/politics/america-dumbs-down/

    Thanks

    1. Charles,

      That study merely confirmed what I and a legion of others have written for years: Americans have become unwilling to work the a Founders’ machinery — the apparatus that makes the Republic run.

      If we don’t run the Republic we should whine when others do.

      My prescription is that we again take up the burden of self-government.

      The operational question for those interested in pushing such a reform — or any substantial democratic reform — is How to interest Americans in this project. After years of exploring alternatives — and several large-scale failures trying to do this on a local scale — I concluded that to succeed we must first understand the cause of American’s apathy.

      Hence this, the latest attempt to do so: exploring hit TV shows for insights into our values, character, and thinking. I believe we have hot pay dirt. More on this in the future posts.

  3. Not sure I buy that. IMHO Americans hate other people’s representatives but love their own. Maybe they are misinformed but they keep sending the same people who disagree with them back to Congress. I for one will no longer vote for anybody from the two major parties but I do vote and believe that nothing will change until more or most people stop playing the game.

  4. As FM has pointed out in the past, our domestic security apparatus more resembles an evil set of Keystone Kops than the efficient clever insightful experts depicted on TV and in the movies.

    An even more disturbing TV show is PERSON OF INTEREST, in which the American surveillance apparatus gets depicted as a wise infinitely intelligent all-knowing database aware of every possible crime in America. The reality could not be more different.

    In the real world, merging databases generates enormous numbers of errors and garbage information (because a person may be represented as “A. Nonymous” in one database but as “Alfred Nonymous” in another, and the system mistakenly concludes they’re two different people). America’s domestic security agents have shown repeatedly that they couldn’t find a terrorist in a hall of mirrors.

    And so instead America’s domestic security agencies have degenerated into becoming copyright cops for America’s giant multinational corporations, as for example the DHS, which has now devolved into spending all its time shutting down websites with pirated Disney movies and intercepting shipments of fake sports team jerseys that violate the sport team’s copyright.

    America’s whole “war on terror” is a joke. Our security agencies can’t find terrorists, so they waste their time harassing U.S. citizens for downloading movies.

    I find it particularly fascinating that you never ever see any of these kinds of cases on any of the NCIS series, even though this is essentially of what America’s domestic security agencies now spend their time doing.

    1. Thomas,

      “Our security agencies can’t find terrorists”

      Perhaps they have the ability to find terrorists, but there are none to find (i.e., too tiny a number to find among 300 million Americans). This explains the great effort the FBI and NYPD expend to make terrorists — finding not-too-bright young men, carefully encouraging them and aiding them to stage daft terrorist raids.

  5. Because the crime dramas on network TV follow similar formulas, I find myself agreeing with the above analyses without having watched these particular shows. I had a similar observation regarding the supersmart technical support; throughout network TV there are characters who are extremely brilliant in one way or another (the main characters of Bone, the Mentalist, House – none of which I watched for any length of time, mind you) and often have asberger’s like symptoms. (Strangely, none of these characters themselves seem to watch much TV.) This leads me to believe that humans of today are dazzled by the possibilities of their minds, and combined with the snappy looks of many of the characters, are fond of primping themselves in the mirror of the collective psyche.

    I would distinguish a bit, however, between the generic shows on network TV with some of the higher quality shows on cable such as Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones which depict authority in a more subtle, skeptical and oftentimes darker light. The Netflix series House of Cards portrays political power in a particularly cynical fashion, while Orange is the New Black delves into the personal histories of characters caught in difficult cirmustances, sometimes making poor choices, and being taken advantage of by authority figures and impersonally crushed by power structures.

    A potential resource in regards to some such shows may be the Philosophy of… series of books about various movies and TV shows, widely available at most bookstores. I haven’t read any of them, though, mainly because there is so much other great stuff to read.

  6. The “Terminator” series (originally a 60s “Twilight Zone” episode) was premised on the idea that corrupt politics, government, military and corporations were incapable of controlling the timeline (because of “disruptive” time travel) and thus were incapable of stopping the cycle of corruption from spinning out of control, with the result that most of the human race and civilization was wiped out by robotic species with advanced AI.

    Seems to me that the Terminator series reeks of the problem at its deepest level: the shattering of the grand narrative of progress via capitalism and the collapse of reason and meaning, with the result that life becomes dehumanized, and lacking in purpose.

    The democratic (representative/participatory) apparatus in the USA was never intended to be populist, it was a scheme by commercial interests to seize power from aristocrats and ecclesiastic elites. Lip service was paid to populist sentiments, but real populism has not been in operation in the USA for a long time. A recent history of LBJ carefully documents how the establishment absorbed the last remnants of agrarian populism into the system of state-capitalism. The commercial rulers have used their power and money to make sure that populism is marginalized and exploited (e.g. Tea Parties). All populist tendencies are subsumed within the framework of global capitalism, and thus the USA has become, as it was destined to be by history and geography, the British Empire II.

    See Walter Russell Mead’s “God and Gold” {at the Council on Foreign Relations}. Video here. Text here.

    1. Fubar,

      Thank you for the additional background on the Terminator films!

      There was another similarity to the past, to the DC Comic “OMAC – the one man army corps“. He’s a janitor converted by science into a super-soldier, a Captain America of the future. The bad guys send a robot assassin into the past to kill his grandfather. OMAC follows. The robot located the target in Grand Central Station; it and OMAC fight. This attracts Superman, and together they destroy the robot.

      They learn that the target was not OMAC’s ancestor, and leave with this mystery unresolved. The last frame shows a janitor, who cleaning the floor behind the target. OMAC was originally a janitor, like his ancestor.

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