FBI portrayal in media
|Federal Bureau of Investigation|
|Common name||Federal Bureau of Investigation|
|Seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation|
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has been a staple of American popular culture since its christening in 1935. That year also marked the beginning of the popular "G-Man" phenomenon that helped establish the Bureau's image, beginning with the aptly titled James Cagney movie, G Men. Although the detective novel and other police-related entertainment had long enthralled audiences, the FBI itself can take some of the credit for its media prominence. J. Edgar Hoover, the Bureau's "patriarch," took an active interest to ensure that it was not only well represented in the media, but also that the FBI was depicted in a heroic, positive light and that the message, "crime doesn't pay," was blatantly conveyed to audiences. The context, naturally, has changed profoundly since the 1930s "war on crime," and especially so since Hoover's death in 1972.
The FBI's role
Any author, television script writer, or producer may consult with the FBI Office of Public Affairs about closed cases or their operations, services, or history. However, there is no requirement for the FBI to cooperate and it does not edit or approve fictional works. The Office of Public Affairs may, on a project by project basis, provide assistance to help ensure accuracy (http://www.fbi.gov/aboutus/faqs/working_with_fbi.htm) Some authors, television programs, or motion picture producers offer reasonably accurate presentations of the FBI's responsibilities, investigations, and procedures in their story lines, while others present their own interpretations or introduce fictional events, persons, or places for dramatic effect.
There have been many fiction and non-fiction portrayals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, from which the following is only a small sample.
Books and novels
- In 1936, British crime writer Peter Cheyney introduced G Man Lemmy Caution in his novel, This Man Is Dangerous. Another novel featuring Caution is Can Ladies Kill? (1938).
- In 1956 the first pulp fiction novel about Jerry Cotton was published in Germany. Since then more than 2500 novels have been published and reached altogether a circulation of more than 850 million. The popular FBI agent was also the hero of nine German feature films, most of them starring the American actor George Nader.
- In many of Tom Clancy's books the FBI plays a major role.
- In 1986, Margaret Truman (daughter of former President Truman) wrote a novel titled Murder at the FBI, dealing with the murder of two FBI agents.
- Many characters in Thomas Harris' novels are Special Agents of the FBI, including protagonists Will Graham and Clarice Starling. Some of the serial killers in the novels, like Francis Dolarhyde and Jame Gumb, were loosely based on real serial killers pursued by the FBI, such as Ted Bundy.
- In Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child's Pendergast novels, the featured character Aloysius Pendergast is a Special Agent of the FBI.
- Gosho Aoyama's Detective Conan manga and anime has FBI agents involved in solving cases.
- In a few of the Alex Cross novels, the title character was in the FBI for six of the 20 novels.
Radio and television
One early portrayal of the G-Men image was a 1935 radio program produced in collaboration with J. Edgar Hoover titled G-Men. Hoover wished to depict the FBI's successes as the product of teamwork rather than the heroics of individual agents. His concept, however, did not translate well into mass entertainment. The show was soon re-conceptualized and renamed Gang Busters and was quite successful, with a 21 year run and spin-offs as a movie serial in the 1940s, a big little book, a DC comic book, and a television series in the 1950s.
In 1965, Warner Bros. Television produced a long-running television series called The F.B.I., based in part on concepts from their 1959 film The FBI Story. The series, which ran until 1974, was taken from actual FBI cases, told through the eyes of fictitious agent Louis Erskine (played by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.). Epilogues to most episodes included Zimbalist stepping out of character to warn viewers of the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives," years before the premiere of Fox's America's Most Wanted. After the show was cancelled, WB TV continued to produce TV movies based on the FBI. Recent disclosures of memos by the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the real FBI had casting control over the show. Both Bette Davis and Robert Blake were banned from appearing, citing "conflicting political" differences on crime in general. In 1981, the show was completely revived with entirely new cast and production crew as Today's F.B.I., with Mike Connors, but it lasted only one season. A remake of the original series, also called The F.B.I., was planned by Imagine Entertainment for airing on the Fox network for the Fall of 2008, but as of August 2009, it had not yet been produced.
The CBS television series Wiseguy, (1987-1990), featured agent Vinnie Terranova as an undercover operative infiltrating the mafia and other criminal organizations for a fictional "Organized Crime Bureau" of the FBI in a series of story arcs. The series focused on the mechanics of being undercover and the psychological impact of undercover work on the agent.
From February 3, 1989 to April 14, 1989 the television series Unsub featured an elite FBI forensic team that investigates serial murderers and other violent crimes.
From 1990 to 1991, the television series Twin Peaks featured the fictitious FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper, beginning with the investigation of the murder of small-town homecoming queen Laura Palmer, and included repeated references to the FBI.
As described in "FBI on The Sopranos", a major plotline on the fictional HBO drama, The Sopranos, has been the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI's) ongoing pursuit of the Dimeo (New Jersey) and Lupertazzi (Brooklyn) crime families. The Bureau's investigations have met with varying degrees of success.
The Fox TV network has produced some of the longest television shows based on the FBI to date. From 1993 to 2002, the popular television series The X-Files, which concerned investigations into paranormal phenomena by five fictional characters known as Special Agents Dana Scully, Fox Mulder, John Doggett, Monica Reyes, and Assistant Director Walter Skinner. This also spawned two feature films; The X-Files: Fight The Future in 1998 and The X-Files: I Want to Believe in 2008.
Beginning in 2001, the fictional Counter Terrorist Unit (CTU) agency in the TV drama 24 works with, and is patterned closely after, the FBI Counterterrorism Division. A canceled show, Standoff, had premiered about negotiators in the Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG). As of August 2009, America's Most Wanted was still showing profiles of people on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.
Beginning in 2003, Lifetime Network showed its three year television show Missing. The show began as 1-800 Missing but starting Season 2, the "1-800" was taken off.
In 2005, Fox aired Bones, a forensics and police procedural drama that pairs an FBI Special Agent Seeley Booth with forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan. Each episode focuses on an FBI case file, depicting both the forensic analysis of human remains at the fictional Jeffersonian Institute and the investigative role of the FBI agency. In the show, the FBI defers to Dr. Brennan and the scientists of the Medico-Legal lab at the Jeffersonian when the corpse is too decomposed, burned or damaged to identify using standard identification procedures.
CBS has aired a number of shows that portray the FBI. In 2002, Without a Trace, about the fictional FBI missing persons unit in New York City. In 2005, CBS launched two series: Numb3rs, about FBI agents who collaborate with a mathematics professor who is the brother of the Lead Special Agent in Los Angeles, and the other called Criminal Minds, about the agents of the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU). In 2006, CBS launched the short-lived drama Smith, where FBI agents were in pursuit of a group of professional thieves. The show NCIS and its spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles deal primarily with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service often feature FBI collaboration and/or good-natured jurisdictional arguments.
The 2007 Spike TV series The Kill Point featured the FBI in early episodes, one agent being fatally wounded in a shootout with the antagonists and another briefly taking over the role of primary negotiator in the ensuing hostage situation.
In September 2008, Fox premiered Fringe, created by Lost producer J. J. Abrams. The series is a slight spin off of the X-Files, as Special Agent Olivia Dunham, along with Peter Bishop and his father Dr. Walter Bishop, investigate paranormal phenomena similar to its predecessor.
In 2009, the USA Network launched a new show called White Collar, which features con-artist Neal Caffrey working with a FBI white-collar crime unit as a consultant, led by his old nemesis, Peter Burke.
In the 2011 movie called In Time, there is a futuristic version of the FBI, where their mission is to hunt down a poor young laborer, Will Silas, who they believed that he is the one who murdered an extremely wealthy old businessman, Henry Hamilton. In this film, the FBI are known as the Timekeepers instead of Agents.
Warner Brothers 1935 G Men was a deliberate attempt to rehabilitate crime movies by transforming the "gangster movie," where criminal protagonists were shown as leading exciting, affluent lives and living above the law, into stories where the heroic G-Man, or FBI agent, triumphs against the nefarious criminal underworld. The title of the movie is from a term allegedly coined by Machine Gun Kelly and appropriated by J. Edgar Hoover as a name for his federal agents that would strike fear in the hearts of criminals. According to the FBI's own history, Machine Gun Kelly "was caught without a machine gun in his hands and cringed before the federal agents and pleaded, 'Don't shoot, G-Men! Don't shoot, G-Men!'" James Cagney was recruited for the lead role as the well educated and incorruptible Brick Davis. G Men was essentially intended as a corrective to the film that catapulted Cagney to fame, The Public Enemy. Just as he adopted G-Man as a badge of honor for his men, J. Edgar Hoover also attempted to re-invent the "Public Enemy" label by referring to the most notorious criminals as "public rat number one." The G-Men concept was extended in the 1940s to include the Junior G-Men film serials. The Dead End Kids, a group of wisecracking New York street toughs who appeared in numerous films, were transformed into amateur detectives, helping the FBI solve cases.
In 1952, Columbia Pictures released Walk East on Beacon!, a Film regarding the activities of the Bureau in their hunt for Communist spies in the city of Boston, starring George Murphy. Released during the height of 1950s anti-Communist hysteria in the United States, by its pedantic narrative, its presentation in the style of a documentary, and its basis in a story written by J. Edgar Hoover himself and published in Reader's Digest, the film can only be viewed as propaganda of the most blatant fashion.
Samuel Fuller's Pickup on South Street aroused the ire of J. Edgar Hoover who met with Fuller and Darryl F. Zanuck of 20th Century Fox to express his disapproval of many aspects of the film. But Zanuck refused to make the changes Hoover demanded; as a result, the advertising for the film had to remove all references to the F.B.I.
In 1959, Warner Bros. and director Mervyn LeRoy produced a film about the FBI entitled The FBI Story. It told the history of the FBI from the point of view of a fictitious character, Chip Hardesty (played by James Stewart). FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover served as consultant on this film, which forced director LeRoy to reshoot several scenes that did not meet with the FBI's approval.
Producer Robert Evans claimed that during production of the 1967 film The President's Analyst he was visited by FBI Special Agents who told him that due to its unflattering depiction of the FBI, the Bureau wanted the film altered or canceled. However, Evans refused either to stop, or to make changes to, The President's Analyst. Only when pressure came from his studio did he change the FBI to the FBR and CIA to CEA by redubbing the voice track. Evans believed his telephone was monitored by the Bureau from then on.
A movie produced in 1988 named FEDS gave an insight into how women train at the FBI Academy. A comedy starring Rebecca De Mornay alongside Mary Gross, this movie had a limited release and could only be found on VHS as of August 2009.
The 1991 Orion Pictures movie sequel to Manhunter, which itself was actually the first film version of Red Dragon, was titled The Silence of the Lambs and starred Jodie Foster, as an FBI Agent trainee in pursuit of a serial killer, versus not only that serial killer but also Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. The film received five Academy Awards, including Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor and Best Actress - Jodie Foster. The movie spawned another sequel, but Foster did not reprise her role.
The 1991 movie Point Break, is based on the true story of undercover FBI agent Johnny Utah who is sanctioned by the FBI to learn surfing in order to infiltrate a gang of thieves.
The 1992 film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, a prequel/sequel to the television series Twin Peaks, included the character Special Agent Dale Cooper as well as several other FBI agents, but to a more limited degree than during the television series.
The 1998 American film The Siege is based on the FBI's modern efforts to crack down on terrorism. The film, starring Denzel Washington, Tony Shalhoub, Annette Bening and Bruce Willis, gives a hypothetical idea of what would happen if there were a series of consecutive terrorist attacks in New York City.
The 2009 Indian movie New York depicted an innocent student who is detained arbitrarily by the FBI and is severely tortured for nine months.
- In the Grand Theft Auto video game franchise, the FBI is portrayed in-game and drive black SUVs or town cars, wearing black ties, white shirts, and blue jackets with the letters "FBI" on the back. In gameplay, they appear during certain missions and when the player has reached a five star wanted level, appearing before the United States Army hunt the player. In Grand Theft Auto IV, and in Grand Theft Auto V, they are instead called FIB, nodding towards the corruption of the in game agency.
- In the game Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the FBI is a playable faction in multiplayer, opposing the Mercs on certain maps. All members wear masks and tactical gear and have access to the same arsenal as other military factions in the game. They are also mentioned in the singleplayer campaign.
- The game Destroy All Humans! features parodies of 1950s era FBI members, known as Majestics, acting in a similar role to the GTA series, appearing if the player causes too much mayhem. They wield the same technology as the alien protagonist, Crypto.
- The character G-Man from the Half-Life series is so named for his resemblance to a stereotypical member of the FBI (suit, tie and brief case) as well as his strange demeanor and conspiratorial nature.
- In the series of Saints Row, after getting 5 out of 5 "stars", the FBI come with a black SUV with sirens and lights. When they come out of the SUV, they are men with all-black suits with assault rifles and combat pistols.
- In the video game Heavy Rain one of the four main characters is Norman Jayden (played by Leon Ockenden), an FBI profiler who uses ARI (Added Reality Interface).
- In the video game Deadly Premonition, the main protagonist is an eccentric FBI profiler named Francis York Morgan.
- The video game Red Dead Redemption, set in 1911, features the BOI, the early FBI. In game, Bureau agents commit the "justified" murders of outlaws in order to "tame" the Wild West.
- In the video game Hitman: Blood Money, some of the NPC's are FBI agents, wearing a black suit and tie, sunglasses, and a Bluetooth headset.
- In the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth the protagonist goes on to assist former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as well as other members of the FBI in destroying the Cult of Cthulhu in a major plot point of the game.
- In the video game Godfather the protagonist bribes FBI agents to turn the heat on other mafia families.
- "Quick Facts". Federal Bureau of Investigation. Retrieved 2012-03-03.
- Potter, Clair Bond (1998). War on Crime: Bandits, G-Men, and the Politics of Mass Culture. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 0-8135-2487-3.; Powers, Richard Gid (1983). G-Men: Hoover’s FBI in American Popular Culture. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-1096-1.
- "FBI's muckraking files reveal dirt on celebrities from Sinatra to Liberace". Recorder.ca.
- Nugent, Phil, "Swimming with Sharkey," 'High Hat', 2007 http://thehighhat.com/Static/002/wiseguy.html
- Douglas Howard, "Tasting Brylcreem: Law, Disorder and the FBI in The Sopranos", Reading the Sopranos
- *Whitehead, Don (1956). The FBI Story: A Report to the People. New York: Random House. p. 101.
- Hoover, J. Edgar (29 July 1935). "Modern Problems of Law Enforcement". Vital Speeches of the Day (City News Publishing) 1 (22): 682–686.
- p.308 Fuller, Samuel A Third Face 2002 Alfred A Knopf
- p.133 Evans, Robert The Kid Stays in the Picture 2006 Phoenix Books