The James Clayton Column: Reservoir Cops

The now-disbanded Australian Armed Offenders Squad had apparently used Reservoir Dogs as their template for laying down the law. Er...

Leave it to the land down under to come up with innovative ways of getting life to imitate art. According to a report I read in the Guardian last weekend, the now disbanded Armed Offenders Squad (AOS) of Victoria State looked to Quentin Tarantino’s classic heist film Reservoir Dogs for inspiration when it came to laying down the law. Officers apparently togged themselves up in suits and sunglasses and set about doing the business with brutal vigour, all presumably psyched up by K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the’70s. Whether the cops went by colour-coded aliases, weren’t too keen on tipping and had a taste for cutting off people’s ears is, as yet, unconfirmed.

There’s a sort-of cult thing going on with these AOS operatives as they wore a badge of two crossed golden guns on their ties, swore allegiance and – quite touchingly – came up with verses to celebrate their sense of shared identity and commitment to cutting out Australian crime. Take this catchy poem penned by one AOS detective: “a squad of men all as one, ready to fight until the job’s done. When banks get robbed and policemen are shot, the hierarchy cries ‘who have we got? Who can clean up this mess? Let’s call the men from the AOS’.” Lyrical genius undoubtedly: right up there alongside the entire AC/DC back catalogue, Waltzing Matilda and Olivia Newton John’s Physical as an outstanding Aussie contribution to popular music for sure.

But does the hierarchy dig such determination and camaraderie? Alas no: it views it antagonistically, commissions critical reports and cries foul of the excessive force and ‘us versus them‘ mentality. I suppose it’s understandable if the top brass in the Australian police are receiving complaints; if they’re a good civil-minded organisation then they should be responding to the population’s concerns. One example of AOS activity saw a suspect get pinned to the ground and beaten with a telephone when he asked if he could call someone. Despite disbanding the official squad – ‘noble cause‘ creed and all – in 2006, it’s still believed that the culture lingers on in the lower ranks.

The overly-aggressive ‘ends justifies the means‘ ethos of this outfit is a bit disconcerting considering that the AOS appears to counter my conviction that the media doesn’t spawn the world’s monsters but rather reflects them. I don’t hold with any of that crap that conceives violent film, music and TV as the source of all society’s ills as the self-appointed masters of morality make out time and time again. Watching The Matrix or Oldboy doesn’t make a lonely teenager take out his class with a shotgun just as playing Grand Theft Auto doesn’t psychologically shift youngsters into gang-banging or Judas Priest records render the listener a suicidal Satanist. I’ll always believe that, if anything, these media texts are cultural representations of the society that creates them and that they function as therapeutic methods of exorcising violent urges. If I have a bad day and feel a need to throttle someone, I can fantastically do it by watching Bruce Lee beat up some baddies or grab a game controller and run people over on GTA. That’s multimedia delivering simulated satisfaction of suppressed primal desires, not stimulating antisocial evil.

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Furthermore, the AOS’s film-aping also sort of shatters my skewed perceptions of Australia as a blinkered Briton observing from afar. Just the idea that the place has law and order is hard to grasp as I imagine that, aside from a coastal bit with Home and Away-esque beaches packed with beautiful surfer people throwing shrimps on barbies, Australia is rock hard, unbearably hot wilderness country. I conceive it to be the kind of place where you can only survive if you are an Aborigine, a sociopath outlaw or Ray Mears. The country formed as a colonial wasteland to send convicts to, so the notion that there are policing structures with procedures and red-tape in the inhospitable outback runs counter to my imagined vision of a continent that’s like an outback version of Manhattan in Escape from New York. It’s appropriate, therefore, that there’s a few rozzers hellbent on not hailing to the rules, channelling the uncivilised spirit that I erroneously perceive Australia to have.

With the Reservoir Dogs precedent, perhaps there’s potential for further Tarantino-inspired law enforcement organisations. Debt collectors and bailiffs dressed in the dapper suits of Jules and Vincent from Pulp Fiction would be cool and crime figures would no doubt deadline if the Crazy 88 of Kill Bill were despatched onto the streets in all their Kato mask-wearing, katana-wielding glory. No hoodlums would have a hope against a crack squad of Gogo Yubari look-alikes: sheep rustlers would forswear their wicked ways at the mere site of a psychotic schoolgirl swinging a flying guillotine.

Altogether, the AOS’s appropriation of cinema chic and the subversive subculture endemic in the Aussie police institution makes me wonder: how should I feel about this? As a film fan should I salute any heartfelt homage to the movies or should I be furious that some thugs thought it’d be fun to besmirch the reputation of a cracking cultural text by hijacking it to hold up their own sadistic trip? Perhaps the presence of recognised movie bad-asses on the streets would send crime levels crashing down, so maybe the answer to avoiding excessive violence whilst effectively tackling outbreaks of illegitimacy could be found in a compromise.

If there are a load of maladjusted antipodeans itching to slip on a suit and pretend that they’re Mr. Blonde, why not send one of them out with each patrol unit just to stand there and look hard? They wouldn’t actually do anything other than function as a cosmetic distraction to unnerve suspects while the responsible, reliable members of the police (I’m sure there are many of them out there) do the job with admirable valour and ethical restraint. Once the Reservoir Dogs enthusiasts have got bored of replaying Halloween every day and operating as purely costume-shop coppers, they’ll realise that they need to fall into line and reject the rough old ways. Alternatively, the tough Tarantino fans could be paired up with a more law-abiding partner taken from pop culture who’s guaranteed not to go over-the-top when it comes to administering the law. People of Melbourne: meet your friendly neighbourhood RoboCop

James’ previous column can be found here.


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