The Guardian of Profit
primetime show The Guardian (Tuesdays, 9pm), which is being
praised by reviewers as "this season's highest rated new
show", offers viewers a lesson in "justice" tailored for
a world in which the rule of profit has come to dominate all aspects of
life. On the surface, the
show seems to give a "realistic" and "practical"
view of the contradictions of justice and contemporary life in
capitalism. Unlike the
other "justice" shows in CBS's Tuesday night line-up, such as JAG
with its ultra-patriotic, "morally upright", military lawyers
and Judging Amy with its well-intentioned and heavy-handed
liberal justices and social workers, The Guardian puts forward a
"middle" view of justice that is neither "right" nor
"left" but "in-between."
show is centered on the daily life of a corporate lawyer, Nick Fallin,
arrested for use and possession of narcotics and now sentenced to 1,500
hours of community service "using his skills as a corporate
attorney to work as a child advocate."
Nick, who unapologetically defends corporate interests and is
largely unsentimental about his community service, now is constantly
forced to confront ethical dilemmas in which he must
"negotiate" the boundaries of corporate profit, self-interest,
and the "social good" (specifically, the social welfare of
main premise of the show is that there is no clear difference between
the interests of capitalists and the interests of the oppressed and
exploited in society. Both
of these are considered to be "private interests," neither of
which can be completely differentiated from or privileged over the
other. According to one reviewer, what makes the show
"savvy" is that it "embraces the concept that everyone
wants and can use money, while acknowledging that money carries with it
corrupting influences" (White, Media Life 10/23/01).
Whether "money" and "profit" bring about
beneficial or harmful results depends not on the larger social and
economic arrangements and on one's position within them but on one's
private interests and desires. On
these terms, the best kind of "justice" is a "middle
justice" that is determined on a "case-by-case" basis and
involves "ethically negotiating" between various conflicting
the real goal of the show is to produce a viewer who basically accepts
existing social conditions as "natural" and
"inevitable" and concludes that the best one can do to ensure
"justice" is to navigate within unequal social and
economic relations to make individual and local changes.
More specifically, it works to produce a viewer who accepts
"market relations"—and the priority of corporate profit over
social needs—as the unquestionable and unchangeable foundation of
social life and restricts "justice" to within these relations.
instance, in The Guardian episode "Privilege" (aired
1/22/02), Nick violates attorney-client privilege, putting his law
license and his father's license and firm at risk, in order to expose a
capitalist client for repeatedly raping his 16 year old daughter and to
get her removed from her father's home into the care of the Child
Protective Services. However,
the 16 year old resents Nick for treating her as a "victim"
and entrusting her to public institutions.
Moreover, she does not want him to expose her father, because it
now puts her father's wealth, and therefore her own entitlement to a
multi-million dollar trust fund, in jeopardy.
According to her, the damage was already done and she had only
two years left (before leaving for college, never to return) to collect
the payment she "earned" in sexual service to her father.
situation is presented primarily as an ethical "dilemma"
between the "corporate attorney" turned "child
advocate" who calls on state institutions to intervene to protect
the rights of the child, and the "child" turned
"corporate profiteer" who insists on freedom of the individual
from state regulation and the right of individuals to
the possibility of economic and social well being (including freedom
from sexual and physical abuse) for all people is understood as a
"utopian ideal", which is constantly contradicted by the
"realities" of the market in which all relations are relations
of "mutual exploitation".
Corporate interests are represented as the guardian of social
welfare and the needs of children are represented as just another quest
for profit. The effect is
to blur the distinction between corporate profit and the social welfare
of children. The
"needs" of the child and the social and economic relations
that enable sexual abuse are represented as undecidable: who is to
decide who is the "aggressor" and who is the
"victim", who is the "exploiter" and who is the
these terms, there is no coherent position from which to change social
inequalities and no ground from which to produce justice for all: all
positions are ambiguous and "justice" for all is unreliable
and impossible. In such a
world, the only kind of justice that can prevail is an ad hoc
"middle justice" that cannot resolve social inequalities but
negotiates within them.
is concealed by blurring the boundaries between corporate profit and
social welfare are the actual conditions of social and economic
inequality for the majority in capitalism that compel children who are
subject to physical and sexual abuse in the family to tolerate it not
because they await a substantial "reward" but because there is
little alternative for their economic survival within social
relations based on profit for some not the needs of all.
larger lesson of this "negotiable" justice is that the best
kind of justice is the kind that is advantageous to the ruling class,
who own and control the social resources of society and, therefore, have
greater command over the legal system.
This is because "negotiation" allows the owners to pick
and choose what constitutes "justice" according to what is
currently most useful to its own interests in maintaining profit.
By representing conflicts over "justice" as
"negotiable" and never certain, The Guardian helps to
produce a viewer who will adjust to the ways in which
"justice" is actually being reworked today to help maintain
profit for the few over the needs of the majority.
For example, the production of "middle justice" by the
Bush Administration which suspends "attorney-client privilege"
and "due process", allows indefinite imprisonment of
individuals with no other evidence except their ethnicity, and shifts
$30 billion dollars a month away from public spending and toward an
"endless" war, all in the name of "defending
democracy", is a class decision to help stabilize the conditions
for transnational corporations to make a profit in the U.S. and abroad. In other words, this "middle justice" (giving up
democratic rights to "defend democracy") is the justice of
provides a "re-fashioning" of the social inequalities that lie
behind the "legal" and "ethical dilemmas" of today
that is useful to the ruling class.
It serves as a guardian of profit by helping to produce viewers
who will adjust to "justice" for corporations as the only
justice possible and retreat from the possibility of social and
economic justice for all people.
That is, justice that is not merely based on the freedom of the
few to make a profit but based on freedom of all persons from social
relations of inequality and exploitation, from dire economic need, and for
social well being. Such
conditions of economic need cannot be addressed on a
"case-by-case" basis by individual negotiation and local
adjustments rather, they require change of the underlying social relations
of economic inequality that subordinate human relationships to financial
consideration in the first place.
White, Elizabeth. "In 'Guardian,' CBS Has a Tuesday Winner." Media Life, 10/23/01