The Guardian of Profit

Jennifer Cotter


Urban Post-Theory, Class and the City
Kimberly DeFazio

Family, Capital and the Left Now
Julie Torrant

Are Marxian categories adequate to understand "Gender" and "Caste" questions?

"Destiny" is the Articulation of Class Power
Rob Wilkie


CBS's 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." 

The 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 children). 

The 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 private interests.

But 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.

For 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. 

This 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 self-representation.  Here 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 "exploited"?   On 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.

What 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.  

The 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 transnational corporations.

The Guardian 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.


Works Cited

White, Elizabeth.  "In 'Guardian,' CBS Has a Tuesday Winner." Media Life, 10/23/01


Print Version