Good Cop, Bad Pop
Nowadays, it seems cop dramas are unavoidable if you’re turning on the TV. Perhaps it’s the sensationalism that explains why we are so inundated with these kinds of TV shows; the more dramatic and shocking, the less the producers have to worry about the quality of writing or acting.
These programs also have constructed a sort of mega-masculine archetype of the male cops. They embody a lot of the aspects of what our society holds to be important in a man: righteous at any cost, strong, a real “individual” who puts his position of “protector” above all else, including his family or romantic life.
A clear example of this kind of cop is Jimmy McNulty of The Wire, portrayed by Dominic West. He has trouble following direction, which is both a liability and an asset at times because he will investigate off a “hunch” and ignore the bureaucracy that is often an obstacle to solving crimes. The viewer roots for him, a typical anti-hero character that has been enhanced greatly due to West’s acting and the series’ writing. As the show goes on, his personal life unravels but he becomes more and more determined to bust a drug ring even at the expense of his career and relationships with both his children and women.
At one point, he sees one of the suspects when he is out with his two boys, and he takes the children on a stakeout. It’s clear at this point that he has focused all of himself on catching the drug lords and not on being a father. Besides the questions of safety arising from taking his kids on a stakeout, the scenario also shows that even on his time off, he prefers seeking justice to being with his children.
The Killing, a more recent show, has a similar detective to McNulty, Sarah Linden (portrayed by Mireille Enos). She is also a parent and puts her pursuit of justice before raising her son. Neither she nor McNulty are emotionally available to their children or anyone else, really. Her character is what would be considered more typically “masculine” in our society–mostly fearless, unable to connect to people, and a workaholic. Obviously, these characteristics are not exclusively male, but they are more traditionally thought to be so.
The similarities between these characters are staggering. They put their jobs before their relationships, they can’t emotionally connect to their children, and they use sex as one of the few ways they can relate to others. Yet there’s something we hold so sacred in motherhood that makes Linden’s neglect come across as much more terrible. Granted, she began the show with full custody of her boy, which makes a difference as McNulty never had full custody. However, even when her child’s father (rightfully so) intervenes and takes him, there’s a residual sense of her wronging her son that isn’t as strong as the feeling of McNulty and his equally half-assed parenting. Seems to me, there is something so intrinsically important about having an involved mother, and I’m not sure if that’s an entirely misogynistic point of view. On one hand, the irreplaceable value of motherhood is shown, but on the other hand, there’s a message the most important thing a woman can do is to become a parent, and every other part of her life should take a backseat, always.
I wish we felt the same way about fatherhood that we do about motherhood. To see the value in both roles, and not let the roles define a person. Some people are not meant to be parents, and yet they are. When it is a woman letting down her child; however, it affects us more than an absent father. Rather than lowering the stakes on mothering so that it “equals” out, I think we need to hold the fathers in our society more accountable for themselves. Parents should also know that while being a parent is a very important role, it isn’t their only role in life because someday their children will grow up, and they will need lives of their own.