Put the words” cop” and “propaganda” together and you get copaganda, a phenomenon in which news media, Hollywood, and social institutions promote triumphant and glorified portrayals of police officers in an effort to deter criticism and sway public opinion for the benefit of law enforcement, often at the expense of Black people.
Copaganda has been defined as “media efforts to flatter police officers and spare them from skeptical coverage,” The Ringer reported.
Here are five things to know about Copaganda.
Copaganda films and TV shows tend to depict police battling crime-ridden communities, most often shown as Black communities.
Take the popular and long-running true-crime show “Cops” which had run 33 seasons since its 1989 debut. The cop reality TV show “embraced racial stereotypes, depicting predominantly white police officers arresting primarily Black and brown suspects, leading viewers to believe that people of color committed more crimes than they really did,” Keya Vakil reported for Courier. “The world of ‘Cops’ was quite literally, very Black and white: Police officers were the ‘good guys’ and their suspects were depicted as the ‘bad guys’ who deserved what they had coming to them.”
The portrayal of police in copaganda vehicles are unrealistic, critics say.
“You could say that it’s a fantasy of what a police department is, but it’s depicting itself as the real thing, and it gives cover for the violence that the real thing is doing,” writer and Northwestern journalism professor Steven Thrasher told Louisiana ABC TV affiliate KACT. “I have been pepper-sprayed and threatened by police many times. So I don’t find police particularly funny.” Thrasher referred specifically to “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” a cop comedy that aired from 2013 to September 2021.
Besides trying to make light of law enforcement tactics, many cop TV shows have a diverse cast, which, said Thrasher, is also unrealistic.
“Diversity can be a catch-all word that doesn’t necessarily mean better conditions for quote-unquote diverse people or equity for quote-unquote diverse people,” Thrasher said. “And in fiction and nonfiction, I think seeing people of color as soldiers, as police officers, is supposed to give the idea that things are better for people of color.”
In reality, a little more than 15 percent of law enforcement professionals are Black, KACT reported.
“Oftentimes comedic-copaganda is the way in which the genre is affixed to Black entertainment/entertainers (both on the big screen and the small screen). It’s well written. It’s funny. But it’s still copaganda,” L E F T, PhD (@LeftSentThis) tweeted.
Copaganda goes way back. “Copaganda is so old, you can find it in Nick at Night reruns. The media has been regurgitating police PR since the days of Andy Griffith, and now in the era of ‘Brooklyn 99,’ it is just being used more often and more effectively,” Daily Dot reported.
Copaganda can be found all throughout Hollywood products, film and TV shows.
“The past 60 years have seen shows like ‘Dragnet’ (1951–59), ‘The Untouchables’ (1959–63), and ‘Adam 12’ (1968–75) establish a formula where, within an hour of story, good lawmen, also known as square-jawed white cops, defeat bad guys, often known as poor people of color,” Vanity Fair reported.
The list goes on: “Hawaii Five-O” (1968–80), “Kojak” (1973–78), “Hill Street Blues” (1981–87), “Miami Vice” (1984–89), and “Cagney & Lacey.” (1982–89).
These were “for the most part, told from the point of view of white cops occasionally interacting with people of color who were, at best, one-dimensional criminals, colleagues, bosses, sidekicks, and best friends. Even when blackness was not equated with criminality, it was often supplemented by an inhuman lack of depth or presence,” Vanity Fair reported.
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Copaganda has been used to spread the word that law enforcement are the good guys. In essence, it’s free public relations. “This type of storytelling…amounts to millions of dollars in free PR for the police,” Salon reported.
PHOTO: The last ride of Boston Police horses, March 15, 2009. Horse have been used by police in Boston since 1620. The unit was disbanded to save funds. By Patrickmorrisseyphoto, https://www.istockphoto.com/portfolio/Patrickmorrisseyphoto?mediatype=photography