CSI’s State of Denial
by Chad Harriss — Alfred University
August 02, 2007 – 03:01
In this scene from CSI’s "A Bullet Runs Through It," Grissom makes his oft-repeated denial by saying that he is not a police officer but is instead a scientist. I have found this stance interesting since the claim was first made seven years ago during the program’s two-part pilot episode. Louis Althusser (1969) tells us that the Repressive State Apparatus (RSA) is comprised of the government, military, police, courts, prisons etc. More importantly, Althusser says that the RSA is a unified public institution that functions via violence or threat of violence. Science, on the other hand, would seem to be part of what Althusser refers to as Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs). ISAs are not unified and may be either public or private institutions that function ideologically rather than violently. Grissom’s denial tells viewers that the CSIs are non-violent and independent of the RSA. For me, like the citizen in the scene, this consistent denial is a bit of smoke and mirrors; after all, CSIs are issued guns and badges. In effect, this scene illustrates how the RSA can use the dominant discourses associated with certain ISAs, like education, to mask the genesis of its power. In the CSI world, the RSA no longer functions primarily via violence or threat of violence but instead wields its power via knowledge or threat of knowledge. How might CSI’s depiction reflect or reconstruct viewers’ understandings of the modern American State? Do viewers tend to agree with Grissom’s distinction or are they more like the citizen in the scene?