restricted access CSI and the Art of Forensic Detection
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CS/ANDTHEARTOF FORENSIC DETECTION Deborah Knight and George McKnight We analyze CSI as an example of TV noir, but before turning to the series, it is worth asking: Just what sorts of narratives count as noir, and why? We find examples of noir in literature, film, and television, but wherever such examples are found, noir is a hybrid of elements. Film scholars have persuasively argued that noir is not and has never been a genre in its own right. Silver and Ward, for example, suggest that "the relationship of film noir to genre is a tenuous one at best" and conclude that noir is better understood as a cycle than as a genre.1 Others reject the idea that noir is even a cycle. Steve Neale, for example, argues, "As a single phenomenon, noir, in my view, never existed. That is why no one has been able to define it, and why the contours of the larger noir canon in particular are so imprecise."2 Noir combines thematic and stylistic features that can be exploited by a variety of genres, including mystery/suspense, detective, crime, science fiction, thriller, melodrama, gangster, and so on.3 In noir films, we typically encounter a dystopic world where either or both of two things are happening . Either there is something darkly corrupt at the heart of the social order, or the social order is threatened by the criminal or antisocial actions of certain individuals or groups. Consequently, the urban setting in noir films is increasingly identified less with community and more with individual self-interest and/or the systemic corruption of the American dream. Typically , a noir narrative involves a mystery or crime and requires a detective to solve it, although this need not be the case.4 What becomes necessary in noir narratives, then, is a figure whose actions can resolve the mystery and ensure justice, although such figures are often outside the law as traditionally represented by the police.5 161 162 Deborah Knight and George McKnight Here, we will examine crime detection in CSI and discuss how the show deploys various noir conventions, styles, and themes that make it a good example of TV noir. We begin by considering the noir trope of the corrupt city and discussing the sorts of storylines characteristic of CSI. Next, we identify it as a procedural noir, focusing in particular on the centrality of scientific procedure and method in CSI investigations. We then consider the nature of the investigative team, comparing the CSI team to both classical and hard-boiled detectives. We conclude with three case studies that illustrate some of the philosophical themes found in CSI programs, including epistemological ones, such as identity and self-knowledge, and moral ones, such as what counts as ethical conduct. The Corrupt City and CSI Storylines CSI is set in Las Vegas, a city represented as catering to extremes of selfinterest and desire. Las Vegas instantiates the noir trope of the corrupt city. It is the sort of place where even some of those charged with upholding the law have selfish motives. For instance, the sheriff is concerned only about the optics of a crime and how they might affect his career, not about justice ("Table Stakes"). CSI makes it appear as though Las Vegas is a city where everything is possible and, nearly everyone, whether citizen or tourist, with the money to finance it or the will to achieve it, seems to be pursuing his or her own ends, often by whatever means necessary. Many prominent citizens—for example, the owners of the casinos and even some of the most successful former showgirls—are rich and powerful. At the same time, most tourists can operate anonymously and thus do nearly anything they want without drawing attention to themselves unless they commit a crime. The city is driven by commerce and in particular by the casinos, which both encourage and reflect avarice, desire, and the quest for pleasure. In CSI, we find the reworking of a theme that has clearly been established in the genre of the Western. There, the community is considered metaphorically as a garden in the desert, holding out the mythic ideal of a society where law and justice have been established to replace lawlessness and arbitrary violence. In CSI, on the other hand, the city is concrete and glass and neon, so it is easy to conclude that the ideal of the garden has been compromised by commerce and human avarice. For example, we...


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Subject Headings

  • Detective and mystery television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Fantasy television programs -- United States -- History and criticism.
  • Film noir -- United States -- History and criticism.
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