Thursday, 1 May 2008

Leading the Team

Hegemony is a representational strategy of power; it involves the uses of representations to control people (to manufacture the consent of the ruled to the rule of the rulers) and a fine set of examples of such controlling representations can be found in four current crime fiction TV shows.
The basic model of representational hegemony is that all social groups bar the elite are presented as unfit to lead or rule in one way or another. This is based on the elites power over the mechanisms of representation and of their prevention of of self representation by all other social groups. The elite are the only group with the social power necessary to make representations of and for society - the quotidian representations that normal people construct during interpersonal interaction are of insufficient durability and lack mechanisms for dissemination into the wider society.
In the past these extensive and widely distributed social representations have been far more direct and obvious. The stereotype of women as hysterical and therefore emotionally unfit to participate in rule was one such hegemonic representation. It was one part of a wider network of representations of women as subordinate (indeed as property) that denied women participation in the governance of their society and control of themselves. Racist representations that aimed to divide and terrorise were extremely common in all europeanised societies and are still a part of contemporary media discourse. This fostering of fear was and is intended to cut both ways. The racist representation terrorises the 'other' group by inflicting symbolic violence on them and by showing how close to physical violence they are. It also creates an ogre - the monstrous 'other' - with which the 'norm' group can be frightened.
Contemporary social representations are much less direct and overt and it is to one set of these hegemonic representations in crime fiction TV that we now turn. In Waking the Dead, CSI and its siblings CSI:Miami and CSI:NY, Without a Trace, Criminal Minds, and NCIS (a study in hegemony and interpellation in it own right & a borderline case as its teams is not as identity diverse as the other example texts) we find the same pattern of representation regarding leadership.
Although the team who constitute the central character group in the show are identity diverse - mixtures of genders and ethnicities on the whole as sexuality is carefully ignored - in each case the leader is the early or actually middle age white male; Boyd in Waking the Dead, Grissom in CSI, H & Mac in the other CSIs, Jack Malone in Without a Trace, and Gibbs in NCIS. In each case the legitimate authority of the white middle aged leader is repeatedly stressed and the subaltern status of all the other personnel on the team is reinforced. The hegemonic utility of this representational system (that is how this set of representations bolster the rule of the elite) lies in the clear delineation of leaders and led and the legitimacy of this division and the insistence that certain groups will all ways be found amongst the led.
In Missing Persons the first story of the current series of Waking the Dead - first broadcast in two parts 14th & 15th April 08 - the principle criminal protagonists were two tough, violent and very resourceful women one of whom was set upon a course of extreme violence until such point as she was faced down by the ever authoritative Boyd. The confrontation between Boyd and the former active service INLA member was a straightforward depiction of the triumph of his legitimate and rational authority over her rage and violence. That is to say it was a straightforward demonstration of who ought to be allowed to lead society and who ought to be controlled by society.
It is worth noting that this leadership representation is not limited to crime fiction the bricolage (see also here) of Sherlock Holmes that is House works on exactly the same basis and reinforces exactly the same representation of society. Finally part of the joy of Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes is in the fashion in which they subvert this representational system. Gene Hunt may well be the leader of the team but his leadership is not unquestionably legitimate and his authority is always suspect. Not least because he may well be a figment of the imagination.

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