Television provides a perspective of society, granted a circus-mirror one with some distortion. Viewing reruns of the 1960’s (1967-1975) detective series Ironside brought into focus how much society had changed in 50 years, especially in the background of a modern equivalent, NCIS. Both series featured gruff crime-solving top police officers but working in completely different worlds.
The visual difference is the world around them. Ironside’s San Francisco has no Japanese or European cars or any vehicle smaller than a small yacht or more aerodynamic than a box. Apparently, the traffic and parking situation in SF was much better than as he has no problem finding a parking spot for his van, which resembles a Brinks armored vehicle. As for the clothes, no show is complete without one set of psychedelic colored garments just to remind us that hippies existing in the 1960’s. Curiously, there is almost no mention of the Bay Area gay community. Apparently, this was a bit risqué then
The social interactions reflect a major shift in the status quo. Ironside has quite a different rapport with his assistants than Gibbs with his chief aides. Politically correct has definitely changed over more than half a decade. Gibbs may be direct and blunt in his critique of his team but it is directed at their work. He certainly does not question their genetic background and is even supportive of women in his own way. By contrast, Ironside is downright abusive to his female and black assistants. At least once an episode, he remarks that if she stops being so female, she should might make a good cop. Today most women would not put up with such verbal abuse and sue the department. Even worse, Ironside treats Mark, his personal aide, not much better than a slave, feeling free to wake him up any time and constantly questioning his intelligence. Mark in return often expresses resentment but for some reason does not quit the job or tell Ironside what a jerk he is. In the 1960’s, apparently, female and black officers still had to prove themselves and were willing to accept such abuse, at least in TV land. What is more disturbing in a way is that, as a kid, I didn’t find this dialogue offensive. Audiences have changed also.
In terms of police work, the series are a world apart. In NCIS, McGee and DiNozzo have instantaneous access to all sources of information due to the computer while the lab can supposedly identify traces of anything. Alas, Ironside and his team had to use their feet (and chair) and head. They had to physically get all information and figure out whodunit on the basis of motive only without any micro tools. Life was much slower but much simpler too in TV crime. The criminals themselves in Ironside’s day were much less likely to call for lawyers or be involved in organized crime. Ironside also felt much safer as AK-47’s were not typical tools of the criminal trade.
The world has truly changed since Raymond Burr was replaced by Mark Harmon. In terms of race relations and social tolerance, it has become better. On the other hand, TV land criminals were much less of a public threat in the days before Ben Laden and friends. I am looking forward to seeing detective shows 40 years from now. What will there be, robots?