According to French psychoanalyst Gérard Wajcman, the television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is set in a world where everything can be known. Nothing can keep a secret, and even dead men do tell tales. “This world of transparency and truth is our world. More accurately, it is a world born of the great promise of science.” The analysis of this series about forensic experts reveals the workings of reality and, in particular, the role of the dead in the quest for truth.
This article is a translation of “Les experts, une série qui fait parler les choses” by Timothée Froelich.
Source: Licence creative Commons _ Flickr –Tex Texin
French psychoanalyst and university lecturer Gérard Wajcman decided to take on the study of the American television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. He published his conclusions in the book Les Experts, La Police des Morts (CSI: Police of the Dead).
CSI: a series that excludes all lies
The concept of the series is based on discovering a certain truth by excluding all lies. Starting from the principle that only material evidence is relevant, the forensic experts leave language and speech out of the truth process. For criminalists, the confession has not constituted decisive proof since the late 1980s. It has been supplanted by the search for material clues. This was made possible thanks to technological progress, which offers an ever-wider range of analyses to arrive at ever more accurate conclusions.
Forensic police technicians, often also investigators in fictional series, like the French R.I.S, Police Scientifique, CSI, or Bones, put objects over humans. They even consider a corpse as a thing. For coroners, it is the condition sine qua non to make the corpse tell what it experienced. Body of Proof is a series where the heroine is presented as a medical examiner who can actually make the dead tell a lot of tales. This statement is not limited to the world of fiction. Perrine Rogiez-Thubert, a police lieutenant at the French Forensic Police Department, shared her daily life in the book La parole est au cadavre (The Corpse Takes the Floor). Only things and corpses speak the truth.
CSI is one of these series that use the corpse as a source of truth. Lie to me is another kind of series, where the liars are betrayed by their gestures and expressions. According to Gérard Wajcman, “all of these series are haunted by the need for certainty, a real obsession of American Puritanism.” They show that the truth always comes out, eventually. This desire for transparency can also be seen in the evolution of CSI’s set, which changes over the seasons. From a very conventional laboratory at the beginning, the scene is dominated by glass after a few years.
CSI: Addressing science without explaining it
The French psychoanalyst also states that CSI is “a series about the forensic police, thus about scientific knowledge, but from which you learn absolutely nothing.” Even if the devices displayed in the show are real and even if the actors know how to use them, the spectator is not given a single explanation. The science is accessible only to an informed audience able to decipher the few technical sequences in an episode and left to dream about this “showcase”. According to Perrine Rogiez-Thubert, this is how some experts were able to find out about new technologies, like the use of 3D images, even when they had barely arrived in the field yet.
“This series highlights science but, at the same time, gives it a kind of obscurantist logic.”
The modernization and scientification of police methods made it possible to improve their efficiency and continues to do so. This evolution caused a split, leading the police “from the reign of beings to the reign of things.”
Based on Gérard Wajcman’s words at the lecture Police entre fiction et Non-Fiction (Police, Between Fiction and Non-Fiction) in March 2013 in Paris.
To find out more:
Les Experts, la police des morts, Gérard Wajcman, éditions PUF, 2012
La Parole est au Cadavre, Le Quotidien d'un Officier de Police - Perrine Rogiez-Thubert, Demos Eds, Collection Criminologie Et Société, 2011