FBI portrayal in the media

FBI portrayal in the media

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been a staple of American popular culture since its christening in 1935. That year also marked the beginning of the popular "G-Man" phenomenon that helped establish the Bureau's image, beginning with the aptly titled James Cagney movie, "G Men". Although the detective novel and other police-related entertainment had long enthralled audiences, the FBI itself can take some of the credit for its media prominence. J. Edgar Hoover, the bureau's patriarch, took an active interest to ensure that it was not only well-represented in the media, but also that the FBI was depicted in a heroic, positive light and that the message, "crime doesn't pay," was blatantly conveyed to audiences, especially boys. The context, naturally, has changed profoundly since the 1930s "war on crime," and especially so since Hoover's passing in 1972. [cite book| last = Potter| first = Clair Bond|title = War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men, and the Politics of Mass Culture|publisher = Rutgers University Press|date = 1998|location = New Brunswick, NJ|id =ISBN 0-8135-2487-3; cite book|last = Powers|first = Richard Gid|title = G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture| publisher = Southern Illinois University Press| date = 1983| location = Carbondale, IL| id = ISBN 0-8093-1096-1]

The FBI's role

Any author, television script writer, or producer may consult with the FBI about closed cases or their operations, services, or history. However, there is no requirement for the FBI to cooperate and it does not edit or approve fictional works, or provide any special consultation service. In contrast, the CIA has an "Office of Public Affairs" explicitly for this purpose, ostensibly because it wishes to ensure accuracy in media depictions of the Agency. Some authors, television programs, or motion picture producers offer reasonably accurate presentations of the FBI's responsibilities, investigations, and procedures in their story lines, while others present their own interpretations or introduce fictional events, persons, or places for dramatic effect.

There have been many fiction and non-fiction portrayals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from which the following is only a small sample.

Books and novels

*In 1936, British crime writer Peter Cheyney introduced G Man Lemmy Caution in his novel, "This Man Is Dangerous". Another novel featuring Caution is "Can Ladies Kill?" (1938).
*In many Tom Clancy books the FBI plays a major role.
*In 1986, Margaret Truman (daughter of former President Truman) wrote a novel entitled "Murder at the FBI", dealing with the murder of two FBI agents.
*Many characters in Thomas Harris's novels are Special Agents of the FBI, including protagonists Will Graham and Clarice Starling.
*In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Pendergast novels, the featured character Aloysius Pendergast is a Special Agent of the FBI.

Radio and television

One early portrayal of the G-Men image was a 1935 radio program produced in collaboration with J. Edgar Hoover entitled "G-Men". Hoover wished to depict the FBI's successes as the product of teamwork rather than the heroics of individual agents. His concept, however, did not translate well into mass entertainment. The show was soon re-conceptualized and re-named "Gang Busters" and was quite successful, with a 21-year run and spin-offs as a movie serial in the 1940s, a big little book, a DC comic book, and a television series in the 1950s.

Two other popular radio shows based on the activities of the Bureau were "The FBI in Peace and War", and the Bureau-approved series "This is Your FBI".

In 1965, Warner Bros. Television produced a long-running television series called "The F.B.I.", based in part on concepts from their 1959 film "The FBI Story". The series, which ran until 1974, was taken from actual FBI cases, told through the eyes of fictitious agent Louis Erskine (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). Epilogues to most episodes included Zimbalist stepping out of character to warn viewers of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives" (this was years before Fox's "America's Most Wanted"). After the show was cancelled, WB TV continued to produce TV movies based on the FBI. Recent disclosures of memos by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the real FBI had casting control over the show. Both Bette Davis and Robert Blake were banned from appearing citing "confliting policial" differences on crime in general [cite web|url=http://www.recorder.ca/cp/Entertainment/050920/e092059A.html |title=FBI's muckraking files reveal dirt on celebrities from Sinatra to Liberace|publisher=Recorder.ca] . In 1981, the show was completely revived with entirely new cast and production crew as "Today's F.B.I.", with Mike Connors, but it only lasted one season. A remake of the original series, to be called "The F.B.I.", is in pre-production by Imagine Entertainment for airing on the Fox network in the Fall of 2008.

From 1990 to 1991, the television series Twin Peaks featured the fictitious FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, beginning with the investigation of the murder of small-town homecoming queen Laura Palmer, and included repeated references to the FBI.

The Fox TV network has produced some of the longest television shows based on the FBI to date. From 1993 to 2002, the popular television series "The X-Files", which concerned investigations into paranormal phenomena by two fictional characters known as Special Agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. This also spawned two feature films; ', in 1998 and ' in 2008.

Beginning in 2001, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agency in the TV drama "24" works with and is patterned closely after the FBI Counterterrorism Division. A new show "Standoff" has premiered about negotiators in the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). Today, "America's Most Wanted" still runs people on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

In 2005, Fox aired "Bones", a forensics and police procedural drama in which each episode focuses on an FBI case file concerning the mystery behind the human remains brought to a forensic anthropology team at the fictional Jeffersonian Institution by FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth.

In 2002, Pax TV aired "", based on the real life of and about the world's first deaf FBI agent of the show's title. The show ran until 2005, but only ended up producing 57 episodes.

CBS has aired a number of shows that portray the FBI. In 2002, "Without a Trace", about the fictional FBI missing persons unit in New York City. In 2005, CBS launched two series: "NUMB3RS", about FBI agents who collaborate with a mathematics professor who is the brother of the Lead Special Agent in Los Angeles, and the other called "Criminal Minds", about the agents of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). In 2006, CBS launched the short-lived drama "Smith", where FBI agents were in pursuit of a group of professional thieves. CBS' show "NCIS" often features FBI collaboration and/or good natured jurisdictional arguments.

The 2006-2007 anime "Death Note", based on the eponymous manga series, features eleven FBI agents brought in to help the Japanese police solve a string of murders.

The 2007 Spike TV series "The Kill Point" featured the FBI in early episodes, one agent being fatally wounded in a shootout with the antagonists and another briefly taking over the role of primary negotiator in the ensuing hostage situation.

The FBI play a prominent role in the seventh season of "24".


Warner Brothers 1935 "G Men" was a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate crime movies by transforming the "gangster movie," where criminal protagonists were shown as leading exciting, affluent lives and living above the law, into stories where the heroic G-Man, or FBI agent, triumphs against the nefarious criminal underworld. The title of the movie is from a term allegedly coined by Machine Gun Kelly and appropriated by J. Edgar Hoover as a name for his federal agents that would strike fear in the hearts of criminals. According to the FBI's own history, Machine Gun Kelly "was caught without a machine gun in his hands [and] cringed before [the federal agents] and pleaded, 'Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!'" [*cite book| last = Whitehead| first = Don|title = The FBI Story: A Report to the People | publisher = Random House| date = 1956| location = New York |pages=101] James Cagney was recruited for the lead role as the well educated and incorruptible Brick Davis. "G Men" was essentially intended as a corrective to the film that catapulted Cagney to fame, The Public Enemy. Just as he adopted G-Man as a badge of honour for his men, J. Edgar Hoover also attempted to re-invent the "Public Enemy" label by referring to the most notorious criminals as "public rat number one." [cite journal|last = Hoover|first = J. Edgar|title = Modern Problems of Law Enforcement|journal = Vital Speeches of the Day|volume = 1|issue = 22|pages = 682–686| publisher = City News Publishing|date = 29 July 1935] The G-Men concept was extended in the 1940s to include the Junior G-Men film serials. The Dead End Kids, a group of wisecracking New York street toughs who appeared in numerous films, were transformed into amateur detectives, helping the FBI solve cases.

In 1952, Columbia Pictures released "Walk East on Beacon!", a motion picture regarding the activities of the Bureau in their hunt for Communist spies in the city of Boston, starring George Murphy. Released during the height of 1950s anti-Communist hysteria in the United States, by its pedantic narrative, its presentation in the style of a documentary, and its basis in a story written by J. Edgar Hoover published in Reader's Digest, the film can only be viewed as propaganda of the most blatant fashion.

In 1959, Warner Bros. and director Mervyn LeRoy produced a film about the FBI entitled "The FBI Story". It told the history of the FBI from the point of view of a fictitious character, Chip Hardesty (played by James Stewart). FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover served as consultant on this film, which forced director LeRoy to reshoot several scenes that did not meet with the FBI's approval.

A movie produced in 1988 named FEDS, gave an insight into how women train at the FBI Academy. This movie is in limited release and can only be found on VHS.Also that year Mississippi Burning was released. A film that chronicled a fictional account of the investigation into a civil rights murder case.

The 1991 Orion Pictures movie sequel to "Manhunter", "The Silence of the Lambs" starred Jodie Foster as an FBI Agent Trainee in pursuit of a serial killer. The film received five Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress - Jodie Foster. The movie spawned another sequel, but Jodie Foster did not retake her role.

The 1992 film , a prequel/sequel to the television series Twin Peaks, included the character Special Agent Dale Cooper as well as several other FBI agents, but to a more limited degree than during the television series.

was released in 1998, following the characters of agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully.

The 2007 film Saw IV featured two agents (Peter Strahm and Lindsey Perez), both of them falling victim to the Jigsaw Killer.

Video Games

In the "Grand Theft Auto" video game franchise, the FBI is portrayed in-game and drive black SUVs or town cars, wearing black ties, white shirts, and blue jackets with the letters "FBI" on the back. In gameplay, they appear during certain missions and when the player has reached a five star wanted level, appearing before the United States Army hunt the player. In "Grand Theft Auto IV", they are instead called FIB, as a parody of the FBI.

The game Destroy All Humans features parodies of 1950s era FBI members (known as Majestics) acting in a similar role to the GTA series (appearing if the player causes too much mayhem). They wield the same technology as the alien protagonist, Crypto.

The character "Gman" from the Half-Life series is so named for his resemblance to a stereotypical member of the FBI (suit, tie and brief case) as well as his strange demeanor and conspiratorial nature.

In the game Saint's Row, after getting 3 "stars", the FBI come with a black SUV with sirens and lights. When they come out of the SUV, they are white males with all-black suits with guns.

In the game Psychonauts, one level is set in the mind of an incredibly paranoid milkman. The level is crowded with men with long coats and hats who pretend to do normal chores in and around their house, but fail miserably(which in turn is rather funny).


External links

* [http://www.archive.org/details/GmenComplete Public domain 1940 Junior G-Men serial from the Internet Archive.]

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