Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Cop shows that get too personal

John McFetridge would likely disagree with that sign's sentiment, at least if talk turned to TV cop shows.

His latest post at Do Some Damage has me shifting uncomfortably in my seat because it hits hard at the cop-show myths of the bad-ass loner and his apparent opposite, the empathetic hero. This entails questioning the primacy of the lone-wolf maverick hero and the assumption that being a police officer is a bad job, among other crime-television commonplaces.

(Ste. Catherine Street)

And once that's been done, what's left? If I wrote crime fiction, especially police procedurals, and I read McFetridge's piece, I'd be thinking, "Am I nothing but a human recycling machine?" I've read the man's three novels, and I now understand a lot better why they have group protagonists.

For reasons of full disclosure: I know McFetridge, he's a Detectives Beyond Borders friend, and we are fellow natives of the city that produces the world's best bagels. Connoisseurs know that if it's not from Montreal, it's just a hunk of dough.
***
Over on the other side of the world, if you happen to be in New Delhi on Friday, Blaft Publications and Tranquebar Press invite to the release of four English translations of novels by the late, great Urdu author Ibne Safi.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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22 Comments:

Anonymous kathy d. said...

Huh? Those are fighting words: "the best bagels in the world" are made in Montreal?

I'd wager that the Big Apple makes the best bagels -- H&H Bagels, Murray's, the famous delicatessens that sell "a bagel with a s[ch]mear."

None could be better! A fresh onion bagel with butter or cream cheese?

Now a key issue: Does Montreal sell good bialys?

April 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Montreal bagels are a different order of creation. I mean that; they are made differently from most other bagels -- a bit smaller, doughier, and sweeter, and I think they may get dipped in water briefly before being tossed in the oven.

I don't know the reason for the difference in preparation, whether it originated in the Old Country or here.

There is nothing wrong with the bagels you cited. H&H bagels are like a Cadillac or even a Jaguar. But Montreal bagels are chariots of the gods.

April 20, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

But do they make bialys in Montreal?
Fresh bialys just made, where the odor of onions permeates the air -- are also aforesaid chariots.

April 20, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Bialys were never a big part of my upbringing, and I'm not sure I tasted them before I came to the U.S. They are delicious.

One interesting bagel note: Montreal bagels were traditionally available in poppy- or sesame-seed varieties only. I never had garlic or onion bagels before I came to the U.S. for example. Nowadays, Montreal bagels come in many varieties, which I like to think of as a happy combination of American ingenuity and Canadian genius.

April 20, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Okay, a chance to read up on bagels at Wikipedia; there is a separate entry for Montreal-style bagels, which can be found here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Montreal-style_bagel

Quebec residents owe Chaim Seligman a thanks.

The Montreal bagels sound very good. I am willing to concede that.

"Bialy" also has a Wikipedia entry, and a reason why I am so fond of them is probably because my grandfather came from Bialystok, home of those excellent baked goods.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, I don't remember if I'd heard of Chaim Seligman. But I do know there is something distinctive about Montreal bagels.

I just glanced at an article on bagels, and I found no explanation of the origin of the word. The article did say, however, that the bagel was invented as competition for the bublik. I had never heard of a bublik before, but a woman who help organize Bouchercons is named Bobalik. Hmm ... Her ancestors or her husband's might have sparked the creation of the bagel. I'll have to thank her the next time I see her.

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

The information about Chaim Seligman's claim to fame is at the Wikipedia entry on Montreal-style bagels.

I had not heard of bublik either. My Polish grandfather's name is very close to that word, just an "r" instead of the "l," and a slight variation on the ending.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Peter, "dipped in water" before getting into the oven? The recipes I've seen call for them to be boiled briefly, then baked. See here.

That looks relatively easy, since I have a bread machine. I may try it.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Linkmeister, I once read an article about bagels that included an outline of the recipe. I forget precisely how or if water figured into it.

I wonder if your recipe is based on New York-style bagels. If you have a big oven, complete with the flames that one sees in Montreal bagel ovens, I'm impressed.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, the name was vaguely familiar. I knew Seligmans growing up, so that could be why.

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

How did this turn into a discussion of bagels?

I went and read John's fascinating blog. Though I'm not up on U.S. TV fare other than a few Law and Order episodes, I chime in because I love police procedurals. While shows may be subject to more PCness (they have a social responsibility), I have found less of the cliche in books. True, many detectives have to balance a tough job and a flawed personal life (I think the divorce rate for cops is still high), but the very balancing act lends depth to the characterization. Also, the characters are sufficiently distinct from each other not to seem like mere copies of the same thing. On the whole, the police procedural probably offers the all around best collection of quality mysteries.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

John and I are both from Montreal, so bagels are apt to feature in any discussion.

I watch almost no television, but I was intrigued by John's linking of the lone-wolf, alienated cop with the excessivre emphasis on caring. I had never linked the two, and he makes a persuasive, original case. (I have not read the article that sparked his post, so maybe the argument is not entirely original with him.)

I, too, have found less of the cliche in books. But the lone wolf is certainly a feature of much crime fiction. That's why I think John argument may of interest to readers as well as watchers. John's own novels really do have a distinct feel. They many protagonists on both sides of the law, and one comes to know them, thought the personal never threatens to overwhelm their professional roles (if one can use that word for bikers and dope smugglers).

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes, on the bagel question, being that half of my family came from Bialystok, Poland, where bialys originated, and being a bona fide New Yorker, bagels are a part of this city's culinary and cultural history.

Good bagels matter! And learning about Montreal's bagel history is interesting and a contribution on the study of this vital food.

It's not only history of a unique bread product, but also part of Jewish history, as well -- and food, as with many cultures and religions, is intrinsic to it.

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"...the lone-wolf, alienated cop with the excessive emphasis on caring."

A dissection of this trope is at the center of Leonard Cassuto's 2008 book Hard-Boiled Sentimentality: The Secret History of American Crime Fiction.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, it was a matter of great sociological interest when good Montreal-style bagel bakeries started appearing in Toronto, staffed by people who had learned their craft in Montreal to accommodate the many Montrealers who moved to Toronto after the mid 1970s.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Elisabeth. It would be interesting to see if Cassuto makes any connection between hard-boiled sentimentality and the trope of the bad, alienated cop.

I don't think it's a secret that sentimentality and hard-boiled crime fiction have walked hand in hand. Look at our man Chandler, after all. But I like the way McFetridge and the piece he cites connect this to the protrayal of police work as a crappy job:

"It’s actually a pretty good job. And lots of cops are very, very good at the job.

"So how come on TV it’s always a crappy job and the only cops who are any good at it are damaged people with lousy personal lives and broken families and for whom it’s always personal?

"Partly, I think it’s because we’re still stuck on the lone hero trope
."

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You see, I.J.? Not everyone talks about bagels here.

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"So how come on TV it's always a crappy job and the only cops who are any good at it are damaged people with lousy personal lives and broken families and for whom it's always personal?"

Well, of course Chekov didn't have TV but he did work in one of its precursors, live theatre, so doesn't his famous observation:

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

hold sway here?

And network/broadcast TV isn't so much about programming as it is about advertising. Eyeballs on products. A medium where the discovery of a murder victim is time for a commercial, where a tense confrontation between the cops and the suspect is time for a commercial, where the solving of the crime is accomplished in 42 minutes (or whatever it is these days when commercials are factored into the hour). If cop shows replete with well-adjusted, happily married family men like Ed McBain's 87th Precinct detectives Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, and Arthur Brown sold cars and laundry detergent, surely they would be on the air.

Unlike TV of the 1950-70s that tended to be produced for broad swathes of the viewing audience, very, very few TV shows are produced now with a wide audience in mind. And most of them, name any subject, are largely produced for a male audience between the ages of 18 and 34 who are high school graduates and tend to spend money rather than save it, have to have the latest gadget, are subject to peer purchasing pressure, etc. etc. This audience (the ones McFetridge ran into in the john in the theater after the movie) is not interested in nuance, shades of gray, and certainly not portrayals of "boring" adult men with loving wives, kiddies, and who enjoy being cops.

There isn't some vast conspiracy to keep fictional cops that real cops would recognize off TV; it's just that we're stuck with shows that narrow-minded Hollywood bean counters think that mindless, spendthrift young males want to watch. If an aging female like myself happens to like Program X (and I watch almost no commercial TV) well, then, that's just gravy. The show wasn't designed with me in mind but if I want to watch, go ahead. Maybe I'll switch to the detergent (or whatever) being advertised; that's what TV shows are for.

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Tolstoy, not Chekov. It's from Anna Karenina. I don't know if it makes a difference to your argument that the line appeared in a novel rather than a play, Probably none. And now, down to cases.

I wonder who the audiences are for the critically acclaimed TV shows, the Sopranos and Wireds of the world. And you very well could be right about the change in television audiences from a decades back to now. All the good stuff is on cable or in books, I guess.

One reason John is worth listening to on the subject is that he writes for both media: novels and television. It would be interesting to compare a television episode in which he had major input with his novels to see if that trademark group focus is there. If you like McBain, you just might like McFetridge.

April 21, 2011  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Tolstoy, not Chekov. It's from Anna Karenina. I don't know if it makes a difference to your argument that the line appeared in a novel rather than a play"

And here I had it fixed in my mind that it was a line from Chekov's The Cherry Orchard. Ah, well, with that incredible gaff behind me I bid a fond adieu to posting!

April 21, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ha! I've made a gaffe or two in my time, yet I bravely post again. Hasta la proxima!

April 22, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

Don't leave, Elizabeth. It was a lovely quote, no matter who said it. :)
Besides, I like to feel comfortable here posting off the top of head.
And the point is exactly right (and may explain why I don't like McBain). Ordinary lives are never interesting. You need a bit of drama in books. For that matter, I recall the male cop on Law & Order had serious marital problems once.

April 22, 2011  

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