American Culture Studies Ph.D. Dissertations


Policing the World: American Mythologies and Hollywood's Rogue Cop Character

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Culture Studies/Popular Culture

First Advisor

Michael Martin


This dissertation deploys the frontier myth as "performed" by cowboy-like presidents and their Hollywood brethren: rogue cops still battling the Savage Other on behalf of a nation now policing a borderless global frontier. A rogue, here, is defined as an "outsider" and "reluctant" hero acting at his discretion and breaking the law only to enforce a higher moral order. The central argument engages three interrelated ideas. First, the frontier myth masks and advances American hegemony—its offense disguised as defense or to advance (Western) civilization; second, as an archetype, the rogue embodies the myth's justifications and violent methods; third, that "he" is comprised of normative identity factors—being white (or light), heterosexually male, and supposedly classless. The archetype is born with "Dirty Harry" following the 1960s social ruptures and the city's perception as an untamed wilderness. Through tracking like enforcers before and after Harry (""G" Men," "The Searchers," "Lethal Weapon," "Die Hard," "Dark Blue"), a pattern of evidence emerges that attests to the myth's persistent renewal. Also becoming clear is how the archetype, as hegemonic, continually defends his dominion by appropriating features of the Other's challenge. However, when the Other portrays a cop, his/her "difference" must be effaced in order to perform police "blue," as revealed in analyses of "Blue Steel" and cops of color, including Denzel Washington in "Training Day," which merely reiterates black criminality. Also tracked are American "globocops," increasingly crossing the border, as in "XXX," to vanquish America's (and the world's) enemies. Vin Diesel's character also confirms the fluidity inherent to the archetype, being able to absorb "color" across the U.S. border. In times of acute crisis, though, as in 9/11, the white knight returns to the mean streets, including the 2004 version of "Traffic," which stands in stark contrast to previous productions. Finally, an end game for America's last man standing is discussed—if his mythical cover wears thin and renders him ideologically bankrupt. A working model is also outlined as a template against future roles and to assess Hollywood influence in cops in other societies' cinemas.