NCIS – Now Come Indispensable States

I saw an episode of the truly egregious “NCIS” last night. Via the wonders of imdb, I found it was this one, with a guest turn by Bob Newhart. (Season 8, Episode 12, “Recruited“).

I’ve seen enough of these – and of other shows like CSI – to know what to expect. Uber-competent and improbably good-looking and impossibly well-funded people get personally involved (one case at a time, no overlap, no messy paperwork, no trials) and by the end of the hour All is Right with the World.

What occurs to me is this. Just at the time that the welfare state stops twitching after being shot to death by Reagan and Thatcher and Blair, just when everyone is told that they are absolutely on their own we are presented with the wish-fulfillment of a Father Figure who will make everything all alright.

The technicians, played by Mark Harmon or William Peterson or whoever (usually there’s a fit older white guy at the centre of these things) are the new priesthood, forensics as their faith, with a carefully multicultural team.

In this episode, in the space of a few days, they help a young gay kid reconcile with his homosexuality (and join the Navy, to go and kill foreigners at his political leaders behest), get Bob Newhart to reconcile to Alzheimers’. And catch the Killer, natch.

The welfare state maybe absent, but the Forensic State, the Punitive State, the Tough Love State is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.

See also

Cold Case (the State is retroactively concerned and competent),
Without a Trace (the State is pro-actively and almost pre-emptively involved even when there’s not even a body).
Bones etc etc etc

Smart, Qualified People Behind the Scenes Keeping America Safe: ‘We Don’t Exist’
Onion, 25 August 2010


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3 Responses to NCIS – Now Come Indispensable States

  1. Jo says:

    Interesting idea, have you ever read G.K Chesterton’s “A Defence of Detective Stories”? A quote:

    “…the romance of police activity keeps in some sense before the mind the fact that civilization itself is the most sensational of departures and the most romantic of rebellions. By dealing with the unsleeping sentinels who guard the outposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that the criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates. When the detective in a police romance stands alone, and somewhat fatuously fearless amid the knives and fists of a thieves’ kitchen, it does certainly serve to make us remember that it is the agent of social justice who is the original and poetic figure; while the burglars and footpads are merely placid old cosmic conservatives, happy in the immemorial respectability of apes and wolves.”

    The private investigator could be tied into a particular notion of nature as chaos and civilisation as order, with the detective as the person who can walk between the worlds. But this is based on the idea that civilisation=order and nature=chaos. Which is not entirely unproblematic. Even if it’s very useful as a way of structuring the world when you live in an industrial society.

  2. dwighttowers says:


    I didn’t know about the Chesterton thing, and I’m really glad you brought it up. It (and your comments) tie in with the thing I’m thinking about at the moment – how we create visions of “the Jungle” and of nature to justify what it is that we do. So this whole “thin blue line” (not the Rowan Atkinson thing!) is crucial.

    All best wishes

  3. Pingback: The Delirious Fascist Aesthetic «

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