What Would Elliot and Olivia Do?

My name is The Chair and I am a Law and Order addict.   And my particular drug of choice is Elliot and Olivia.

So clearly I was in heaven this week. 

Me all week

For two hours I got to see the reunion of two of my favorite TV characters, the above detectives played by Chris Meloni and Mariska Hargitay, on L and O: Special Victims Unit and on Meloni’s new series, L and O: Organized Crime.

Yes, all their mesmerizing, simmering chemistry is still present as is their dedication to the job.  Of course, the rules of their job have changed since we met them a full 22 years ago but so have they.  More importantly, so have we.

EL AND LIV 4EVER

Today’s laws for policing are different.  On second thought, maybe it’s more that the laws on the books are now finally beginning to be enforced.  Cops wear body cams, DNA evidence is irrefutable and every eyewitness has a device to back up what they claim was done.

Together Elliot and Olivia bent the rules to protect the victims and the innocents, or at the very least ensure them some sort of personal justice.  Forever partners in stopping the bad guys, they managed to do this by channeling their deeply complex feelings for each other into cracking an infinity of awful, sickening and truly unimaginable crimes.

… and looked this good doing it

The deal, and the lure of their imaginary relationship in their imaginary world, is they figure out a way to go there and score victories for humanity and we get to believe that at the end of the day good can and often will triumph over evil. 

More times than I’d like to admit, Olivia and Eliot made me believe I might likely be safe and that life was not so much perfect but hopeful.  I think I can even speak for many fans and say most especially they also make us feel that even the worst trauma is potentially survivable.

She even triumphed over this haircut, which is saying something

If their stories are truly ripped from the headlines why can’t the outcomes of each episode also be within the realm of possibility? Why not believe things might be some degree of okay? 

For years and years, because let’s face it, when is Law and Order: Special Victims Unit NOT being broadcast (Note: At this point it’s older than most of my college students) we’ve known in our hearts it doesn’t ALWAYS work out that way.

On the other hand, given the antics of Olivia and Elliot, it also could.

I can hear this pic

Certainly there are worse things than to be addicted to and to delight in than the righting of wrongs for the disenfranchised by those good people, nee cops, working within our very flawed, but yet still somehow functional system. 

Or, well, has this kind of mythmaking now finally come home to roost and become part of our collective problem?

I wish that I could definitively state that my obsession for Elliot and Olivia/Olivia and Elliot (Note: Which one is it?) existed in real life and in real time and it was justice for the victim, balanced with adherence to the law, that makes me crazy with delight.

Because sometimes I really do believe this is so.

As I watched the trial of Minneapolis’ ex-cop Derek Chauvin live on TV for the murder of George Floyd this week this indeed seemed to be the case.

Law and order?

Chauvin’s the white guy we’ve now watched more times than we can now count, via iPhone footage, extinguish the life of Mr. Floyd, a large Black man who was suspected of trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill at a supermarket, a bill the clerk is now saying Mr. Floyd likely didn’t even know was fake.

Nevertheless, Mr. Chauvin and his fellow officers wrestled their handcuffed suspect to the ground, where Mr. Chauvin placed the full weight of his knee and, it now seems, entire body on Mr. Floyd, who spent the majority of nine plus minutes pleading for his life, screaming I can’t breathe and eventually crying out for his mama as he died.

All this as Mr. Chauvin casually looked up at the sky and out to the city streets, perhaps even wondering what he would have for dinner that night.  (Note: Yes, it seemed THAT casual).

That this needs to even be said…

But what he never appeared to be considering at all were the shouts of the crowd of innocent bystanders gathering around him, demanding he stop the pressure, stop ignoring their pleas and generally stop his slow and deliberate choice to break the very laws he was hired to uphold in the name of enforcing them.

Watching the testimony of those random bystanders this week – a 9-year-old girl, an off-duty female firefighter/EMT, a middle-aged martial arts expert, and a sixty something Black man who just happened to be walking by – all break down on the stand as they re-experienced the guilt they felt at not doing more in the moment to prevent Mr. Chauvin’s debacle of justice as he ended Mr. Floyd’s life, was difficult.

In some ways, they were like a fine cast of supporting characters from one of the most harrowing of SVU episodes.  People who would clearly carry this trauma their entire lives but without the benefit of either Olivia or Elliot’s personal touch.  At the very least they wouldn’t have the business cards they offer with their direct lines and the assurance to call anytime they run into trouble in the future, or if they just want to talk. 

If only they were real life superheroes

As each angle of the Floyd/Chauvin tapes played, and with each recounting of events, one found oneself hoping for a different outcome for Mr. Floyd, his witnesses and even for Mr. Chauvin, all the while knowing this was impossible.  It was like the worst kind of rerun because you so wanted it to be series TV and not be real.

Still, every one came across as an imperfectly perfect dramatic TV moment, a hope vs. fear scenario told in real time. 

The latter is what I learned to do years ago as a young writer and a recurrent lesson I try to impart to my students.

The way the lesson goes is most stories are not so much mysteries but a suspense tug of war between what we WANT to happen and what FEAR will inevitably happen. 

It does get tricky

We KNOW the odds are stacked against justice prevailing but we HOPE justice will win the day.  We FEAR the chances our hero has to figure this all out in time to emerge victorious with a win are slim but we still KNOW, or at least, HOPE they have a shot.

It’s the writer’s job to believably represent that constant push and pull in the story by a masterful reveal of the facts and choosing how much and at what point to reveal them.  If done properly the audience will stay with us and fearfully hope for the outcome they (Note: And we, the writer) want because that outcome is only right and possible.

After all, we can look back on our own lives and count at least a few times where things fell into place and we got lucky with a confluence of events and our actions.  Why couldn’t that happen for the hero we are rooting for here?  Why can’t the type of people unlucky enough to witness the death of a man like George Floyd, as he’s being physically restrained by a cop like Derek Chauvin, emerge with some sense of triumph after their harrowing day on the witness stand recounting what is likely the most harrowing day of their life?

If it happens all the time on Law and Order, might it happen just this once on this day? 

I know Liv… I know

It’s unfortunate the witnesses on that Minneapolis street on May 25, 2020 don’t have the caliber of writers Elliot and Olivia had, and have, executing their outcomes.   

For that they will have to depend on us, or at least our surrogates – the jury.

Twelve people and two alternates, eight of who are white and six of whom identify as people of color, including four who are black.

Let’s hope they are all as committed to justice as we Law and Order junkies presume to be.  And let’s pray they are not just there to hold up the status quo rules of some rarefied and benevolent system that we fans have talked ourselves into believing exists just because it makes us feel better.

Law and Order Theme

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Truth to Power

There was a Law and Order episode on this week where a young and ambitious female investment banker accuses her firm’s billionaire client of rape and is eventually offered a $5 million a year job at a competing firm that will require her to keep a low profile. Which ostensibly means dropping her case.

This being the fictionalized world of both Law AND Order, the young woman, who was indeed raped and rightly accusing the slick billionaire of sexual violation, eventually decides NOT to take the money (Note: A guaranteed $20 mill over four years) and instead stands up publicly to him in court. When asked why on the witness stand she proclaims – parroting the words of our beloved Lt. Olivia Benson, nee Mariska Hargitay – it is because “I will not allow him to steal my dignity one more time.”

I light mine every night. #SaintOlivia

The proclamation of dignity vs. submission, and the forfeiting of personal wealth and power for a greater good (i.e. standing up to criminal behavior and thus saving other potential victims) is, to say the least, reassuring. As is, as always, the show’s subsequent final credit, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER DICK WOLF.

But life is not an episode of Law and Order where people are convinced to do the right thing because we all want to live in moral clarity. Where we all have a conscience that moves us to the better choice. Where good wins out in the end over evil. Or at least over selfishness, money and immoral actions.

You can’t appeal to people who are sociopaths. Who don’t live in aspirational morality. In trying to “do the right thing” and “be better.” To make the right choice that will benefit not only us but the most people.

Those who live primarily in selfishness and self-aggrandizement, whatever their reasons, are playing a different game. Putin, Trump, or whoever you like. When power and money and ego are at the center of your world you are working for yourself.

Gag me

You might occasionally note to the outside world that you are NOT working for your own inner world and might even convince yourself of that from time to time. But inside you instinctively know better. You have a knee jerk reaction about what makes YOU feel good. About yourself. About what you exude. About what you can provide for LOYAL FRIENDS and FAMILY MEMBERS around you. Even about what you can provide for “your people.” In your country.

But the definition of “your people” has less to do with who you will lead by their birth into your world and your responsibility to them, and everything to do – once again – with loyalty. But to the state – which in your mind – means to YOU.

This skewed view of the world means that anyone who disagrees with you, and those who most certainly look down on your world view, are not your problem. You will go around them or mow them down. They are not your responsibility. In fact, in many ways, they are your enemy. Because they are getting in the way of the agenda you seek to execute and provide. Essentially for your FOLLOWERS.

A 90s cartoon that is all too real now #help

This is essentially how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon thinks. His uber nationalistic view. His determination to tear down the international liberal world order he sees as poisonous. He doesn’t want his kids to go to school with “Jews” because, as his ex-wife stated, he doesn’t like their “values” and “whining.” Bannon’s background is militaristic, two terms in the Navy, and someone who was educated at Harvard, weaned by Goldman Sachs out of the military and then went to work in Hollywood, selling syndication rights for multi millions of dollars for Seinfeld (Note the irony), which made him personally rich. And then opening his own consulting firms where he made hundreds of millions in international deals worldwide with clients such as a Saudi Prince who was one of the richest individuals in the world.

A striking image

Bannon actually was educated among Jews, made money for and with them and then somewhere along the line (or perhaps he always felt this way) decided they were a turn-off once they provided the experience and means he benefitted from in order to enable him the platform to hang with the big boys and create his own international power platforms. Which he did quite ably. He boosted alt-right racist and sexist ideology at Breitbart News in order to blatantly challenge an accepted morality that the majority of the world operated on. Who knows how he really felt at the time? Was it a means to the end or did he really believe this stuff? Perhaps both. Perhaps either one. What seems clear at the moment is that it almost doesn’t matter. What is clear is that what he sees is the big picture of power. And like Trump and Putin, it is a world where there are pockets of power that he and a handful of others control.

… and all too easy to get drunk on that power

There is not an overall mass morality. The MORALITY is survival and power, POWER and SURVIVAL – of the FITTEST. The idea of what is “right” – whether it’s okay to “rape” a woman, deceive a small group of people who don’t understand, or an entire state or country who won’t ACCEPT, this order, is immaterial. It’s not particularly in the picture. It doesn’t fit into HIS world view. And really, HE doesn’t appear to have much conscience about it. Certainly, HE doesn’t fit into a Law and Order episode “arc” or morality.

Fin, for the win

The sooner we can all accept this, that we’re not playing the usual game, the more effective and psychologically better off we’ll be. You can’t intellectually argue with this kind of ILLOGIC. You can only accept this is THEIR view of the world and work with those who share a more traditional similar morality or right and wrong to save the world. You cannot expect THEM to play under your RULES. You can’t play poker with people who by themselves decide deuces are wild and one-eyed Jacks are higher than an ace without telling you. Or perhaps inform you after the fact and expect you to play under these rules. Which they assumed you should have known. Or always knew and are now lying about.

Some say it’s a matter of perception

What this means is hardball. It means resistance. We can’t act like a hurt school boy or gal who is in a relationship with the absolute wrong person but thinks if they only reason with the person that they love and they know (deep down) LOVES THEM, they can get them to change. This kind of continued, emotional, prolonged attempts at negotiation are the very definition of insanity.

What we need to do is distance ourselves and breakup with a person who doesn’t hold our values. We need to be very, very strong and not be seduced by whatever seductions or appeasements they may offer. We need to be vigilant, as we would with any person, or people, who we are ENABLING to ruin our lives. Contrary to what we think, in LOVE and in political power struggles of self-determination, the CHOICE is always ours. We DO have the POWER.

You got that right, Chairy.  #MaxineWaters #TruthtoPower

Here are two links immensely helpful in shedding light on this psychology. One is by Molly McKew, a woman I caught on cable news who has spent her adult life consulting with leaders opposing Putin.

The other is a detailed history of Bannon’s worldview formation and strategies that recently ran in the Washington Post.

Real information is THE most powerful weapon of the 21st Century. Don’t be clouded by populist rhetoric or shiny new promises. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. So to speak.