Following a wave of public spectacles during the ‘90s, also known as criminal trials, the aims and abilities of the U.S. legal system were put into question. Popular culture came to the rescue, first with a series of cop shows (NYPD Blue, Law & Order), followed by courtroom dramas (Boston Legal, The Practice), and finally, crime scene dramas. The CSI franchise ostensibly reclaimed the rightness of the justice system with its behind-the-scenes look at the science and technology of crime-solving.
CSI: Miami, which debuted in 2002, chronicles the work of a forensics unit led by former homicide detective Horatio Caine (David Caruso). Whereas the original series features the quick pace of Las Vegas, CSI: Miami emphasizes the tropical surroundings and racial and cultural conflicts of southern Florida. The recently released second season DVD underlines this celebration of forensics. Featurettes and audio commentaries showcase a benevolent police state that not only holds all criminals accountable, but also does so through the brilliance of police officers and the accuracy of cutting-edge technology.
In “Death Grip,” an early show during the second season, Duquesne (Emily Proctor) calls in an Amber Alert, which leads to a series of shots taking viewers from inside the cell phone to a look at the freeway sign displaying the alert. The featurette, “CSI Miami: Visually Effective,” which focuses on the series’ signature “deep-inside” shots, demonstrates the making of this and other shots and emphasizes that they not only educate viewers in crime fighting methodology, but also serve as a bridge between fantasy and real-life crime fighting.
Throughout the audio commentary for “Blood Brothers,” the second season’s first episode, writer Ann Donahue asserts that she uses textbooks, ranging from physics to criminal justice. In her estimation, CSI Miami is not just a show about half-naked South Beach women or drug cartels, but about crime fighting via science. Whereas other shows sell excitement through sex and violence, CSI: Miami emphasizes evidence. Donahue praises the show’s inward (“evidence”) shots for educating audiences about crime labs.
“The Trace Lab Tour,” the second featurette, takes viewers on a tour of a real-life crime scene laboratory, pairing explanations of particular technologies and devices with shots from the second season. Notwithstanding its use of expensive visual effects, this extra argues that CSI: Miami considers “real” crimes and the means to solve them, from the questions the CSI might ask to the replica technology. Partly promotional, it also reflects the show’s salute to wars on terror, drugs, and crime that disproportionately affect communities of color.
Both CSI: Miami and the DVD extras reify such trends, arguing that policing and surveillance are objective examinations of evidence, dismissing concerns about racial profiling, harassment, and outright hoaxing. In her commentary for “Blood Brothers,” Donahue suggests that Miami is “at the crossroads of the United States and South America.” Following in the tradition of Miami Vice, then, CSI: Miami uses its location to imagine crime through brown bodies, both the Latino drug dealer and gangster. As well, CSI: Miami reflects U.S. fears of immigration as a foreign “invasion.” Donahue says the series “gives voice” to widespread frustration over today’s immigrants, who “if here, need to play by the rules.”
Women appear to be other folks who need to play by rules. When not serving as eye candy, women are victims here, fulfilling a role named in The Color of Rape. Here Sujata Moorti asserts that on television, white men protect white women from criminals (rapists), especially men of color. Television “highlights how social understandings of gender and race are influenced by historical conceptions as well as institutional discourses such as medicine or the nation-state and inscribed onto the female body” (Moorti, 11). CSI: Miami follows in this tradition, as Horatio typically secures justice for women subjected to violence in Miami’s “danger zones.” Like too many other cop shows, CSI: Miami legitimizes both the war on terror and the prison-industrial complex.