The FBI In Pop Culture

Jul 12, 2017
Originally published on July 12, 2017 7:30 am
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If confirmed, Christopher Wray will head an agency that the public knows through popular culture. NPR's Vanessa Romo reports on the FBI in TV and movies.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: There's an image that comes to mind when you think about the FBI lawman. And it's this guy.


BARTON MACLANE: (As Collins) I heard something about you today, lawyer.

JAMES CAGNEY: (As Brick Davis) You did? What?

MACLANE: (As Collins) You're going to be a big 'G' man.

CAGNEY: (As Brick Davis) That's right.

MACLANE: (As Collins) Remember to keep your tin badge in Washington. If you come around here sticking your puss into our affairs, you'll get a belly full of this.

ROMO: That's the 1935 hit "'G'-Men." And that image of the clean-cut and uncorruptible agent was the invention of J. Edgar Hoover, the father of the agency. And by the way, G 'man' stands for government man. Here's Ronald Kessler, the author of "Secrets Of The FBI."

RONALD KESSLER: He realized that he could create these images of the 'G' men as superheroes - like Superman. And that helped him stay in office, and it also helped the FBI do its work.

ROMO: Apparently, along with some highly illegal abuses of power - investigating anyone he found threatening - Hoover was also acting as a sort of Hollywood movie producer - even taking an active hand in comic-book representations of the agency.


ROMO: More recently, Hollywood has suggested that there are special agents devoted to the paranormal - you know what I'm talking about.


GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) Agent Mulder, I'm Dana Scully. I've been assigned to work with you.

DAVID DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) So who did you tick off to get stuck with this detail, Scully?

ROMO: So my question to Kessler, does this kind of department exist?

KESSLER: No, no, nothing like that. No.

ROMO: It's imperative I get a second opinion. So I turn to Annie Jacobsen, national security journalist and author of the book "Phenomena."

I'm really hoping that you can tell me that there is sort of an "X-Files" type of department within the FBI.

ANNIE JACOBSEN: I would have to say that there is.

ROMO: Just to reiterate here, Jacobsen is an expert on the government's investigations into extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis. That's when you can move things with your mind.

JACOBSEN: My reasoning is this. We know that there is that department inside the CIA and also inside the Pentagon. And history tells us that this department existed in the '50s. I write about it in my book.


ROMO: Then there are the profilers, which audiences love. The most famous was technically a trainee.


JODIE FOSTER: (As Clarice Starling) Dr. Lecter, my name is Clarice Starling. May I speak with you?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) May I see your credentials?

FOSTER: (As Clarice Starling) Certainly.

ROMO: And let's not forget cherry-pie-loving Special Agent Dale Cooper, who's returned to "Twin Peaks" 25 years after Laura Palmer's gruesome death.


KYLE MACLACHLAN: (As Dale Cooper) Lunch was $6.31 at the Lamplighter Inn - damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way, that cherry pie is worth a stop.

ROMO: Obviously, neither Agent Cooper nor Scully and Mulder - or even Johnny Utah - will be reporting to Christopher Wray, but there's one man who could be - acting Director Andrew McCabe. He recently said this about the agency.


ANDREW MCCABE: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

ROMO: Now, that's a line from the movies. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB'S "TRAVELOGUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.