'Miami Vice': Watch out for the Feds

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Last Memorial Day, instead of watching military parades and listening to speeches by war mongering politicians, I watched some of the "Miami Vice" Marathon put on by The National Network (TNN). Having been a "Vice" aficionado when the show was in its heyday during the 1980s, I have been pleased to see TNN put on reruns. The "marathon" replayed some of the best shows, including the one that featured Lee Iaccoca in a cameo role.

("Vice" often had guest stars outside of the small screen, including Phil Collins and Bill Russell, who played starring roles — and did so quite well. Vice-President George Bush wanted to appear as well, but he wanted to play himself, not a drug dealer, as producer Michael Mann had envisioned.)

There were many reasons why I liked this show so much. First, it was a groundbreaking show, both in its style and its camera work. It was also shot on location in Miami, as opposed to a studio on Hollywood (as is the case with NYPD Blue, another favorite show of mine), with the whole backdrop being quite spectacular.

I must also admit to being a big fan of Don Johnson, whose present show "Nash Bridges" is another one that I regularly watch — it is even shown in the same Friday night time slot as "Vice" was nearly two decades ago. Johnson, who played the role of Vice Detective Sonny Crockett, and his partner, Phillip Michael Thomas, who was Tubbs, was a wonderful performer who, to be quite honest, looked perfectly natural tooling about in his expensive Italian suits and driving a Ferrari.

As I think back on the show, however, I realize now that one of the most important things that "Miami Vice" did was something I did not really understand until much later. Unlike previous cop shows, "Vice" did not portray federal law enforcement agents as heroes. Instead, they often were portrayed as crooks at worst and bumblers at best.

Because Crockett and Tubbs were vice cops, they often had to deal with drug dealers, which put them in constant conflict with officers from the FBI and the newly formed Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). In one memorable show, Joe Don Baker starred as a corrupt DEA officer who goes over to the other side and is only stopped when Crockett kills him.

As for the FBI agents, they are constantly portrayed as willing enablers of the worst kinds of crooks, especially since they were constantly interfering into legitimate local law enforcement and placing many drug dealers in the Witness Protection Program, which provided a cover for even more crime. Of course, "Vice" did not portray all local cops as Dudley Do-Right angels. Many were as corrupt as the criminals they chased or in cahoots with them (along with being tied into the most corrupt agents of the FBI and DEA).

Modern cop shows have followed in the same footsteps, whether the show be "NYPD Blue," "Law and Order," or "Nash Bridges." Today, it is not unusual for television to show federal law enforcement agents as being corrupt or bumbling (or both).

(Unfortunately, producers of the Big Screen have not followed suit. The popular movie "The Fugitive" depicts local police as trigger-happy idiots who are all too anxious to send innocent people to prison, while one of the heroes is Phillip Gerard, played by Tommy Lee Jones, who is a U.S. Marshall that finally helps crack the case. Harrison Ford, who plays the wrongly convicted Dr. Richard Kimble in "Fugitive," also stars in "Air Force One," where he plays the President of the United States as an action hero. A more appropriate name for that movie is "Air Farce One.")

This is a far cry from the earlier television series like "FBI: The Untold Stories" or "The Untouchables" in which federal agents were seen as brilliant and incorruptible. To generations like myself who were brought up on the belief that the FBI was nearly infallible, the conduct of this agency for the last decade is still hard to fathom. "Vice" helped make the transition to our modern understanding of federal agencies a little easier.

This is not to say I liked everything about "Vice." I wish that its producers had better demonstrated the futility of the War on Drugs as effectively as it portrayed the corrupt incompetence of federal law enforcement agents. Perhaps, that will be the next courageous step that a producer may take. If "Miami Vice" could take the shine off an FBI badge, perhaps someone in the near future can unmask this entire corrupt and futile drug war.

William L. Anderson, Ph.D. [send him mail], is assistant professor of economics at North Greenville College in Tigerville, South Carolina. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

© 2001 LewRockwell.com

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