The Moral and Ethical Dilemma of “The Shield” Intro

Posted: December 16, 2010 in Culture, Debates, Ethics, Greed, Morals, Opinion, Philosophy, Society, Television
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If you had the power to allow one murder to walk free in exchange for ten others to be behind bars; would you? This is the core moral and ethical dilemma behind the series “The Shield.” This is what I had to consistently ask myself throughout this show to defend the main characters actions I had grown to love. You had two separate groups of fans in this show; those who believed what the “Strike Team” had done were good, and those who believed their actions were evil. I am not going into great depth about the show because frankly this could turn into a twenty page critique of the show. This is just an introduction into an in-depth look into this show. In the end I hope to answer the question if despite their crimes, were these cops good or bad. I also want to analyze their moral and ethical decline, and to see how each character justifies their actions.  

It has been a few years since “The Shield” aired its series finale episode. I was in love with this show, and still to this day declare it to be the best television series of all time. I do not feel another show will ever capture such complex emotions and show such intense inner struggles in confronting what is morally right and what is morally wrong. The creator Shawn Ryan did a fantastic job of portraying the main characters struggle to walk the fine line between good and evil in the name of justice and self preservation. The members of The Strike Team consistently blurred this line with justifications for their actions. In their eyes they felt their actions were morally right because they were taking ten evil people off the streets in the exchange for the protection of one. The further this line between good and evil was blurred the further they walked away from their morality, until it became increasingly more difficult to internally justify their actions.

“The Shield” is about a small group of cops on the Gang Strike Team in Farmington, California. This was a close nit group of good cops who concocted a unique way to keep order in the city, ala mafia style. They knew Farmington was overrun by criminals, and was one of the highest crime cities in the state. They knew they would never win the war against the gangs, cease the distribution of narcotics, or win the war against crime. The Strike Team made a deal with the devil by allowing a local gang to run their operation in exchange for peace on the streets, tips to arrest their competition; and tips to arrest other criminals. In exchange for this the Strike Team collected a cut of the gangs’ profits and was heralded as heroes by keeping the peace. They were known for their police brutality, and this brutality was overlooked because of how affective they were. Beyond the working relationship with this gang, and the moral issues of police brutality the Strike Team operated within the laws they were charged to protect, at least for awhile. This first initial blur between walking the line between morally right and morally wrong cemented their destiny to the final conclusion of this series.

The question I had to keep asking myself throughout this shows tenure was this. “Despite their immoral actions for moral reasons; were these characters good or evil?” On one hand they were committing a crime by allowing this gang to operate, but their reasons behind it were morally justified. They were well aware that what they were doing was wrong and against the law. You could tell this by their quest to continually cover their tracks, and then to cover the tracks they just covered. You did get the sense that even though they knew their actions were wrong, they were able to internally justify them. As the series progressed they were continually having to confront these struggles between what they were doing was right or wrong. You could tell they were hesitant to take that next step past the moral and ethical line between right and wrong, although they almost didn’t have a choice in the matter. When they were confronted with this moral and ethical dilemma they continued to find new justification for why they were talking that next step further away from the moral line.

I believe each character prior to joining the Strike Team was a morally and ethically just police officer. It was only when they were teamed up, and took the first initial step past that invisible line between good and evil; is when things started to spiral out of control. This calls to question if we begin to blur the line between right and wrong will we as well suffer a similar fate? By the end of the series the characters had no resemblance to the characters from the first episode. Their continued justifications for their actions in the name of morality; just rotted them to their very core. Even after six years of watching the apprehensible actions this team perpetrated I was still stuck on the question of “are these men truly bad?” More times than not my conclusion was no, I believed their ends justified their means.

I still miss this show, and I doubt their will ever be another show to top it. It is a classic with so many things going on; on a much deeper level than what you see on your television screen. Their internal struggle to continually do bad things to accomplish good things was perfectly portrayed. You could feel, sense, and see the internal ethical struggle of what is good and what is evil in each character Add in their quest to cover up said bad things and in doing so caused them to further blur the line between right and wrong in the name of freedom. In the end they became what they first started to protect the city against. Their fears of being caught messed with their minds into walking further away from morality. All these things came to a climax in the final episode of the series which logically ended the only way it could, despite of what some of the fans may have wanted.

In the end when you measure up all the bad things the Strike Team did, you cannot discount all the great things they have done. This is the key dilemma to this show which is not so black and white on if they should be considered good or bad. My first two runs through this show I thought this was a good group of people who made bad decisions, but despite these bad decisions these characters were good. My wife on the other hand views these characters as evil. This I think is what interests me the most. I am excited to have a reason to re-watch this wonderful series. If you have not already watched this show I highly recommend it. This show is truly a work of genius.

  1. Johanna says:

    I have never seen this show but the question you ask is relevant to many issues today. It can also easily apply to the debate about fetal stem cells being used to cure diseases in adults. Is the sacrifice of a child worth the possible cure for thousands? (If you know me, you would know my answer to this question…) Does the end justify the means?

    • Tim Lundmark says:

      I know your answer to this question just as I am sure you know mine. I don’t believe life starts at conception, so I would say that if we are able to cure diseases and save hundreds of thousands of people from dying from cancer than I would say the choice is pretty simple. Imagine if your husband or child was dying of cancer, and you knew the cure was in fetal stem cell would you feel differently? I am interested in hearing your answer to that question.

  2. Johanna says:

    That’s easy for me Tim. I would spare the life of the child. While I would be heartbroken to lose one of my loved ones, I know that life on this earth is temporary while life after death is eternal. Life is short and you’re dead a long time. Human life is sacred because God has allowed us to become co-creators. Even the angels were not given this privilege. For this reason, I simply could never justify taking stem cells from an aborted fetus. However, stem cells taken from cord blood at birth or from adults is just fine.

    • Tim Lundmark says:

      Welcome to the community. I will now be debating two johannas on religion. I write a lot of religious pieces check some of them out I warn you though they may piss you off 🙂

    • Tim Lundmark says:

      So you would choose an entity that you cannot say without certanty is actually living over the life of your loved ones?? I think you say this now in the stance you are trying to make, but I have a hunch you would feel differently if yopu were confronted with such a horrible decision. I can say that if I knew my wife or children, or myself for that matter could be saved from stem cell research I would happily give up a few baby fetuses

  3. Johanna says:

    Tim, it’s still the same Johanna. I had to use a different e mail on my I pad. 🙂

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