This post originally appeared on VICE Canada.
I was lied to a lot as a child; at least that's how I choose to remember it. Every Saturday morning in front of a TV, I'd see these images of pianos and anvils falling on walking and talking animals. I'd witness the flying cars, floating cities, and robotic butlers of some unknown future. And watch as banana peels became death traps.
Over the years, I've come to accept these as childhood deceptions. Robots never did turn out as productive as William Hanna—animator of the Jetsons—thought they'd be. Animals are/were still privy to some disgusting, horrible deaths, and the banana peel? A legit death trap. Yes, I've learned to forgive Saturday morning cartoons like any Santa or Easter Bunny con. But looking back, I took one particular lie personally. One that came in the form of an obscure little 80s cartoon—C.O.P.S.
The skinny behind the show basically revolved around this ragtag group of specialty enhanced policemen that fought crime.
And I had a few questions for this show years later. One: How the hell did these C.O.P.S manage to avoid killing a single person? And two: What's was all this non-lethal force shit?
Yeah, it's a little silly. I hear that—It was a cartoon, relax. But I got my reasons. And don't get me wrong, I digged the show while it was on.
First released in 1988, made possible by Hasbro's obsession with action figures, you had this 65-episode-long concept that was a load of laziness from the jump. I remember it being fresh off the heels of the 1987 film Robocop, which brought on this fascination with all things "future" (without any of the satire). We're talking all that metallicy, gadgetry shit. And then there was that "this is the 80s" plot. These "do no wrong" cybernetic cops of the future going up against petty crime villains (C.R.O.O.K.S) in an episodic game of cops vs. robbers.
Being a kid, I hadn't reached that stage of cynicism that 9-5s and general life brings, so I ate a full serving of that soulless cheese. The catchy 80s tune. The cringe-worthy "it's crime fighting time" quotables, or the character gimmicks—like an officer named Highway who spends his time on a highway… it all made perfect sense. Also, don't get me started on those stupid villain names you just couldn't forget—Doctor Badvibes, Ms. Demeanor, and Turbo-Tu-Tone.
It was all forgivable, as most 80s shit should be, but as an adult, the disappointment feels more personal in its con. You have to understand that cartoons shaped a lot of the ways in which I viewed the world early in my life. I lived with a single mother who was busy in her own right as a two-in-one parent. So I stayed out of her way, gravitating toward TV. Kid-friendly content became both my entertainment and method for connecting with the world—a personal 24/7 news channel for info about how things operated. Simply put, my view of police officers stood at an all-time high. They could do no wrong, and C.O.P.S only reinforced that belief.
It was no different to the propaganda that was some cop content for adults in the 70s and 80s either. The perfect protector role so emphasized during that time period. The high standards for law enforcement were seen in several examples like those team cops that solved cases in 40 minutes or less. The solo detective dramas, placing a streamlined lens on cases that actually would make for long, boring processes of crime solving. And you also rarely got the sense that cops were just flawed humans rocking a badge and a gun.
C.O.P.S as an animation was just a continuation of all that to me, but with a cute child-friendly lens I couldn't see beyond. Despite the cops of my real world having a strange reluctance for non-fatal weaponry, their Hasbro counterparts caught criminals with stupidly convenient mishaps, retractable handcuffs, or giant fishnets. The point is, no one was injured or killed in the process. Compare that to reality, where it feels like I'm continually exposed to a bombardment of evidence that speaks to something different. The endless displays of police brutality and shootings that remind me of names like Andrew Loku, Michael Eligon, Sammy Yatim and Reyal Jardine- Douglas among others in Toronto. Along with this belief that "shoot to kill" is somehow prioritized in the name of the officer, instead of human safety.
My man Baldin P. "bulletproof" Vess took down perps who actually committed criminal acts. He didn't take folks like me aside on my own damn block on some thought-crime shit because I looked suspicious (too black). The sad fact is that the older I got, the more untrustful I became of the men in blue through experience. I've always respected the difficulties of their jobs, but that rosy blue picture that a cartoon painted for me didn't hold true.
I may no longer believe in the messages that the cartoons of my youth spoke, but that doesn't speak for the other folks that continually fall for them—though not in the literal sense. They've bought into this other lie rooted in the real. A belief that gives law enforcement the benefit of the doubt instead of just plain doubt. And I'm not pointing fingers because we've all done it in some fashion. It's easy. It's safe. And It's simple because we don't share the same realities nor the same pain.
Looking back to now, I can hardly blame my belief in the cheesy angelic good cop, who took down bad guys without harm. It's most of what I knew. But I now know more, and the excuses are gone. It only makes me wonder when other folks will stop buying into their own "cartoons."
Follow Noel Ransome on Twitter.