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The Law of the Father, the Law of the Land: Power, Gender and Race in The Shield


This article examines the construction of gender and race in the television series The Shield (FX 2002–). The article argues that while The Shield seems to offer an ostensibly progressive vision of a multi-cultural society in which race and gender represent no barrier to the possession of legitimate authority, the series premises the possibility of such access to power on the continuing possession of “real” power by a paternalistic white, male figure, thus presenting a regressive conservative vision of gender and race relations in contemporary US society.

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1 John Sumser, Morality and Social Order in Television Crime Drama (Jefferson, North Carolina and London: McFarland and Company, 1996), 154.

2 Ibid.., 154, 155.

3 Ibid.., 155.

4 For example, 24 (Fox 2001–), Deadwood (HBO 2004–).

5 Season 1 DVD: Special Features (Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment, 2003).

6 Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot.”

7 Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot.”

8 See Kristal Brent Zook, Color by Fox: The Fox Network and the Revolution in Black Television (New York: Oxford University Press 1999); and Donald Bogle, Prime Time Blues: African Americans on Network Television (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001).

9 Nama, A., “More Symbol than Substance: African American Representation in Network Television Dramas,” Race and Society, 6 (2003), 2138, 24.

10 See Astrid Henry, “Orgasms and Empowerment: Sex and the City and the Third Wave Feminism,” in Kim Akass and Janet McCabe, eds., Reading Sex and the City (London: I. B. Tauris, 2004), 65–82; and Susan Zieger, “Sex and the Citizen in Sex and the City's New York,” in ibid., 96–111.

11 Auster, Albert, “It's Friendship … Television Quarterly, 28, 3 (1996), 27, 6.

12 See, for example, A. D. Collier, “ER Star Eriq LaSalle”, Ebony (August 1999), 52; Herman Gray, Watching Race: Television and the Struggle for “Blackness”, (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995); Brian Lowry, “NBC: Last Minute Deal Locks in Friends for Fall,” Los Angeles Times, 15 May 2000, F.1; Broadcasting and Cable, “New Study by the Screen Actor's Guild Found that African-Americans on Television are ‘Ghettoized’ and Underrepresented on both Fox and NBC,” Broadcasting and Cable, 28 February 2000, 69; Zook.

13 Herman Gray, “Black Representation in the Post Network, Post Civil Rights World of Global Media,” in Simon Cottle, ed., Ethnic Minorities and the Media (Maidenhead and Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2000), 118–29, 123.

14 Nama, 24; emphasis in original.

15 Ibid.., 24.

16 Numerous ethnic minority characters, constructed as educated professionals, populate the diegetic worlds of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, CSI: Miami, CSI: New York, Law and Order, Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, and 24.

17 Zook, 107.

18 Nama, 25.

19 Ibid.., 33.

20 Quoted in Bogle, Prime Time Blues, 437.

21 Micheal C. Pounds, Race in Space: The Representation of Ethnicity in Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, (Lanham, MD and London: The Scarecrow Press, 1999), 173.

22 Fuchs, Cynthia, “Terrordome,” Flow, 2, 3 (2005), 2, available at; accessed 3 May 2005.

23 Season 1, Episode 3: “The Spread.”

24 Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot.”

25 Season 1, Episode 6: “Cherrypoppers.”

26 Season 2, Episode 1: “The Quick Fix.”

27 Season 2, Episode 6: “Homewrecker.”

28 Season 3, Episode 6: “Posse Up.”

29 Season 3, Episode 9: “Slipknot.”

30 Season 4, Episode 1: “The Cure.”

31 Season 4, Episode 5: “Tar Baby.”

32 Season 1, Episode 2.

33 Season 1, Episode 5: “Blowback.”

34 Season 1, Episode 7: “Pay in Pain.”

35 Season 2, Episode 1: “The Quick Fix.”

36 Season 3, Episode 2: “Blood and Water.”

37 Season 3, Episode 4: “Streaks and Tips.”

38 Season 4, Episode 5.

39 Season 4, Episode 7: “Hurts.”

40 Street slang meaning police.

41 Season 4, Episode 8: “Cut Throat.”

42 The ongoing Internal Affairs investigation and Dutch's affair with Mackey's ex-wife threaten his standing as both symbolic and literal father.

43 Season 2, Episode 2.

44 Although not actually Mexican Independence Day, Cinco de Mayo is commonly confused with that celebration of Mexican autonomy, and that is the symbolic function of the reference in this quotation.

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Journal of American Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-8758
  • EISSN: 1469-5154
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-american-studies
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