Is There a Stereotype for TV Medical Examiners?

A little while ago, I just happened to find myself watching a few episodes of various shows about people who examine the dead and solve crimes; namely Quincy M.E, Crossing Jordan, Dexter, and Bones. In doing so, however, I noticed that these shows have certain odd commonalities. They all revolve around characters who are Irish, have bad tempers, are quite obsessive, and have deep traumas stemming from the deaths of loved ones (Quincy’s wife; Jordan, Bones, and Dexter’s mothers).

Now, admittedly, there are some technical differences in the specifics for these characters. Quincy, a coroner/medical examiner, often gets involved with political/social injustices instead of just murders – which makes things more interesting, if you ask me. Jordan is also a medical examiner, but becomes sort of a would-be policewoman as the partner of her scrawny, effeminate kinda-boyfriend. Dexter is a blood spatter analyst who kills serial killers (until he goes kinda nuts in later seasons and kills all sorts o’ people). Bones, although not nearly so obsessed about her mother as Jordan, is a forensic anthropologist who becomes sort of a would-be policewoman as the partner of an FBI guy. She also takes some minor political stances in arguments with her partner, but rarely acts on them – and almost always contradicts them in later episodes.

Nonetheless, why the similarities? One could suppose that the aforementioned commonalities are based upon long-standing law enforcement stereotypes. The image of Irish law enforcement personnel in the U.S. has been around for over a century. By the late 1800s, it became rather common for immigrant Irish-Americans to become policemen. Although this is no longer the case, the stereotype lives on. Other cultural assumptions about Irish Americans, whether accurate or not (whether insulting or not), include the idea that they have bad tempers (probably related to the whole drunkard stereotype), that they hold grudges to an obsessive degree (although all cultures historically have feuds, vendettas, etc.), that they’re overly matricentric, and that they are heavily weighed down by Catholic guilt – despite being quite the party animals when they cut loose (also associated with the drunkard stereotype). Since these images/assumptions have been in movies and television from their inception, one could posit that they’re seen as ‘natural’ formulas upon which to fall back by TV producers/writers.

It’s not really such a bad thing for a people to be thought of as harbingers of justice and social protection, and these shows usually aren’t terribly offensive about it (except for Crossing Jordan, which was consistently offensive to the Irish). And I suppose that, theoretically, it could just be a coincidence that these factors seem to appear in throughout television – but I really doubt that it is.

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