Suspect Apprehension: Perry Mason vs. Law and Order Svu

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Valerie E. Porter
Com 308 – Professor Sharp
Critical and Cultural Analysis Essay
May 5, 2011

Suspect Apprehension: Perry Mason vs. Law and Order SVU

[Introduction] Television crime and courtroom dramas have advanced in many aspects from the 1960’s through present day; visually and verbally. According to The Fifties Web, “Top ratings in the 1960’s,” Raymond Burr’s Perry Mason was one of the top ranked crime dramas in 1961 and 62. In today’s era Law and Order SVU is among the favorites. Law and Order SVU and Perry Mason are both hour long crime dramas that investigate crimes in one segment of the program and shed light on the courtroom drama in the remaining part of the show. The major difference in each is how the suspects are apprehended. Perry Mason exercises high dialogue and Law and Order SVU is more visual and action packed. As noted in “Excessive Style,” “American mass-market television underwent an uneven shift in the conceptual and ideological paradigms that governed its look and presentational demeanor in the 1980s.” “By the 1990’s television in the later years, became more ideological than just a form of escapism.” (Caldwell, p. 651) The way in which criminals are apprehended in these crime dramas depicts a closer relation to the evolution of real life. From the video tape of Rodney King to the fall of the Rampart Division, police officers over time have advanced more toward violence and major manipulation, i.e. corruption. [Thesis] The evolution of change within the structure of crime-courtroom dramas with the comparison of Perry Mason in the 60’s and Law and Order SVU in the present day can be a result of the real life changes in society. Perry Mason is a crime drama with high dialogue, less violence and minor manipulation, while Law and Order entangles a web of violence and police coercion that sometimes crosses the line to apprehend their suspects. [Point] The Perry Mason 1961 episode of “The Case of the Red Head,” Mason works diligently to prove the innocence of his client Helene Chaney (Gloria Henry) through interviews and unorthodox procedures within the boundaries of the law, with very little action or violence, which was common in that era. [Evidence] This episode introduces a woman, Chaney, who seeks the counsel of Perry Mason when she finds a gun in her room that does not belong to her. Afraid of where the gun may have come from, Chaney calls Mason and he instructs her to bring the gun to his office. While driving to his office Chaney is being followed by someone who she believes is attempting to run her off of the road. Chaney fires the gun at the other car and continues to Perry Mason’s office where she faints after entering. That same driver (the one she fired at) turns up dead on the side of the road and Chaney, conveying that she did not hit the driver when she fired, became the prime suspect. Mason solicits the assistance of his investigator, Paul Drake (William Hopper) and secretary Della Street (Barbara Halle) to investigate all aspects of the case. Mason questions several people in an effort to find answers. His investigation uncovers the fact that there are two identical guns involved in the case. Mason went to the scene of the crime and fired the gun into a tree and collected the bullet from that same tree to prove it was not bullets from the murder weapon. He also marked the gun in his possession in order to identify it in comparison to the other gun. He uses the bullet and marked gun to trick the real killer into a confession. [Analysis] This episode gives a clear example of how words and minor manipulation is used in this era of police drama. There was no violence or major visual activity outside of people communicating with one another. For example; Paul Drake uncovered by investigating records that there were two identical guns in this case. Mason, by interviewing suspects, discovered that Mervyn Aldritch, a character played by Ralph...
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