Law and Order: SVU

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Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (debuting in 1999, also known as Law & Order: SVU or simply SVU) is a long-running American police procedural TV series about the Sex Crimes Unit in a fictional version of the 16th Precinct of the New York City Police Department.

The show is notable for its ostensibly sympathetic depiction of zealous and sometimes corrupt detectives as part of the child abuse industry and child sexual abuse prosecution apparatus. SVU detectives frequently ask suspects whether they are members of NAMbLA, and many episodes of SVU are based on high-profile real-life cases such as that of Michael Jackson. It is hard to determine whether some of SVU's more blatant examples of emotional reasoning and civil rights violations are intentionally ironic on the part of the show's writers.

SVU bases its depiction of "deviant" psychology on the modern "uncertainty" discourse of sexual perversion as an epidemic and widespread threat to social institutions, primarily childhood. Episodes typically begin with the following voiceover by Steven Zirnkilton:

"In the criminal justice system, sexually based offenses are considered especially heinous. In New York City, the dedicated detectives who investigate these vicious felonies are members of an elite squad known as the Special Victims Unit. These are their stories."

Owing to this uncertainty discourse, one particularly ironic feature of SVU is the clichéd and predictable psychoanalysis that often leads to implausible suspicions and false positives.

Ratings and proliferation

SVU is currently the highest-rated series of the Law & Order franchise, and is one of NBC's top rated shows, frequently placing 30-15 on the Nielsen system. Original versions of the show are frequently aired on the British Channel Five, and twelve shows were even re-shot for a successful run in Russia.

Commentary

"Does 'Special' Mean Young, White and Female? Deconstructing the Meaning of 'Special' in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," in the Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 14(1)

""Law & Order: SVU" frequently portrays detectives using renegade tactics in order to get confessions and convictions. [...] The use of such tactics (excessive force, control talk, violations of police procedure) are rarely questioned or frowned upon, instead they are treated as a normal part of policing. On “SVU” there is an average of 1.12 civil rights violations per episode; the most common violations are use of excessive force and failure to read a suspect their Miranda warnings. These violations were never punished in the 2003-2004 season of “SVU”. On the rare occasion that a violation of civil rights was mentioned by a character on the program it was in the form of a verbal warning to “calm down” so that the case would not be jeopardized. More typically, civil rights violations were shown as part of doing business with heinous criminals. The importance of civil rights to the United States justice system are almost never mentioned on “SVU”, instead violations of these rights are normalized and the implicit message is that suspects and offenders have too many rights. Combine this with frequent control talk, which implies an “us” versus “them” mentality, from police officers and the impression you are left with is that police officers need to resort to any means necessary to protect “us” from “them.” (Cavendar & Fishman, 1998; Eschholz et al., 2004).
[...]
The images typically presented on “SVU” and other crime dramas are of an extremely efficient police department that can be relied on to get the job done, even if it requires bending the rules and violating a defendants civil rights (Sparks, 1995; Eschholz et al, 2004). The normalization of civil rights violations is combined with the use of control talk that emphasizes the positive function of the police and the criminal justice system as agents of control in protecting society from a variety of evils, while demonizing offending populations (Cavender & Fishman, 1998). The end result is a reduction of the understanding of crime causes to evil offenders and a reduction of crime solutions to policing and tough sentences."

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