Fox’s APB Is Deeply Problematic

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APB is the latest in Fox’s crop of tech-thriller shows that attempt to channel cyberpunk concepts while simultaneously discarding what fundamentally makes them cyberpunk. The show, created by David Slack, was based on an article that ran in the New York Times called Who Runs the Streets of New Orleans? by 

APB is about Gideon Reeves, a wealthy tech entrepreneur, who witnesses the death of his mentor at the hands of a robber. When the city’s police force, Chicago in the show, fails to follow up on the murder due to lack of staffing and resources, Reeves goes on a mission to take over the police force, effectively privatizing it. In doing so, Reeves is put in direct opposition to the city’s mayor who is blamed for Chicago’s inept police. In the wake of being granted control of one of Chicago’s precincts, Reeves befriends Theresa Murphy (who was kind to him when his mentor was killed), and successfully retrofits the department with high-tech gizmos which increase the force’s effectiveness. Most officers don’t immediately take to a rich white knight taking over the force, but by the end of the second episode, everyone seems to be on board. The show doesn’t shy away from asking if Reeves will get bored with playing cop but suggests that he won’t when he makes an inspiring speech to the contrary. APB also quickly broadens the scope of its premise by expanding the demand for the APB app in Chicago, which the police have begun using to more quickly respond to reported crimes.

APB suffers from a number of problems, including the fact that the show is actually pretty well-written (more on this later). First, thematically APB deviates significantly from its RoboCop influences. RoboCop is a movie about the dangers of militarizing and privatizing a police force for profit, even if the justification of heavy crime is present. APB instead paints this same scenario with a sterilized brush, showing that this new police force isn’t for profit (even though it is bankrolled by a billionaire), but justice in the face of record crime rates and the ineffectiveness of the Chicago Police to fight this. APB even paints over the reality of the New Orleans example. Sidney Torres, the real life Reeves analog, did indeed take on the mayor and take over the police force to take on crime in the wake of police ineffectiveness. In this case, Torres was inspired to do this by the burglarzation of his house, rather than the murder of a close friend and mentor, though. In reality, Torres’ police force never expanded beyond the small enclave of the richest neighborhood in the New Orleans’ French Quarter. This is something Amsden seems to gloss over in his article too, which paints this rich white knight in holy light, just as APB does. Unlike Reeves, who when challenged about the possibility of being bored by playing cop redoubles on his commitment, Torres gave up and started to whine about other philanthropists in the area not pitching in. Stephen Perry, president of the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, did take over the funding of the department as Torres turned to overseeing the renovation of a second home across the street from his French Quarter one and frequent travel, although this new commitment was only to cover the next five years (as of 2015).

I feel obligated to mention that APB isn’t a badly written or cast show, unlike Fox’s recent show Minority Report which was a travesty all around. The writing is tight, especially of Reeves’ speeches which are moving (even if in the context of APB, they are also frightening), and the character archetypes on display in the show feel authentic. Reeves is a self-absorbed, arrogant Silicon Valley inspired entrepreneur. Murphy is a non-white, female cop with a powerful sense of justice who leads the show. Something beautiful to behold in the white dominated sphere of police television. Many members of the supporting cast are also excellent, such as Pete McCann (played by Abraham Benrubi) who is an ex-pro wrestler turned Ph.D. engineer. There are cool scenes that invoke the DIY ethic that is so important to the cyberpunk ethos. For instance, in one scene Reeves improves a prototype drone deep into the night so that it will be ready when it has to be. The reason that I find the good writing in this show distressing is that it is in defense of themes that do not ring true. RoboCop was created in the 80s when crime rates really did peak. APB does not have the same excuse; crime rates are way down. Despite this, we have seen mass militarization of our police force and increased use of technological solutions, such as drones. APB‘s message that a well-funded (read privatized), militarized police force is a good thing, simply isn’t true in the face of facts. Especially, when we see increased police violence against minorities

The context in which APB has entered the public sphere makes it difficult not to look on it as propaganda. Whether or not it is intentional, it is also suspicious that a show like this would air on the highly conservative Fox Network. Like I said, the show isn’t badly done, but thematically I find it problematic. Problematic to the point I have a hard time recommending it. I think that you would be better off revisiting its cyberpunk influence, RoboCop (you can find a copy here).

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5 Responses to “Fox’s APB Is Deeply Problematic”

  1. Good read. I had this show on my list but having read this I think I’ll give it a miss. If I want to see excessively militarised police and tech billionaires arrogantly reshaping the world, I just have to look out of my window.

  2. Justthisguy

    Seems to me what ROBOCOP ( and the TERMINATOR franchise before and after it ) got wrong to what APB comes just shy of getting right is the idea of using NONLETHALLY fitted tech to fix our problems. Not just crime, but nearly ANY issue that the right mix of technologies creatively and humanely employed can rectify faster than YEARS, even decades if not a couple of centuries now, of “band aid” quick fix, piecemeal, unwholistic solutions have FAILED to eithe permanently stop or not themselves make ultimately worse by “finger in the dam” patching.
    If I was in Gideon Reeves financially, scientifically resourceful shoes, I’d reorganize the police or any other such elements of law and order with new training that would see most if not all doing their jobs as Gideon and Ada do, with occasional touches of ROBOCOP :
    Remotell monitoring of areas and remote operation of non or only semiautonomous streetlevel enforcement robotics, etc, that are never armed with anything more potent than sonic disruptors, noncombustible smoke/flashback devices, stun nets, etc. There are ways this type of overhauling can be done. The problem seems to be that, as a species as well as in some more extreme individual cases, humanity seem either uninterested in or even illogically fearful of bringing up their science game to end so many years of EXCUSES for why we can’t NONVIOLENTLY eradicate all “unnecessary” evils like war, hunger, terroristic violence, and even the majority of crimes ( other than those commitied out of insane passions ) and the injustices ( most the result of I’ll advised notions of what boils down to both corrupt and insidiously institutionaliased greed, such as refusal to give back any or more than token but ineffectively small to midoling portions of insanely inflated wealth ( that cause all these.
    To pUT together two now famous aphorisms, “If you” won’t be party to “the solution, you are part of the problem” because “if you aren’t with” those trying to actually FIX things properly, “you are” thereby operationally “AGAINST” them.

    • Isaac L. Wheeler (Veritas)

      I agree that your vision, and the one presented in APB, seems good on it’s face. But the problem is that that technology will be abused by those in power. The only way a system like that could be just and protect individual freedoms, is if it was a distributed system operated by all people, much in the same way that smartphones have become ubiquitous. However, the government and the intelligence apparatus or corporations for that matter are not about to sacrifice that control to people. So instead, this system would be used for oppression.

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