How Miami Turned into Miami Vice

How Miami Turned into Miami Vice

I just finished reading Edna Buchanan's 1992 mystery-thriller pulp novel, "Contents Under Pressure." It's an incredibly fun read about a spunky Miami newspaper reporter - Britt Montero - as she uncovers a corrupt Miami Beach police conspiracy.

There's a segment in one of the beginning chapters I found incredibly interesting.

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She talks about how Miami in the 70's / early 80's was a sleepy place. Things happened, sure. But it was nothing like the fiction presented in the hit 1984 show MIAMI VICE.

"In the first season, the series showcased the glamorous discos, terrific-looking nightspots, and swank restaurants of Miami beach. Such places were strictly fiction, of course. In reality, Miami Beach had become a ghost town after 10 PM. A bowling ball rolled down Ocean Drive after sunset would not have hit a thing. But life gradually began to imitate art. Within months, such nightspots did begin to open, and they were mobbed by the beautiful people. Where had they come from? I wondered. Where had they been hiding? Now we had traffic jams on Ocean Drove at 1 AM."

It's amazing, the power of cinema. It uses the image of reality to construct new ones. And those newly constructed, illusory images manifest in the real world... Art becomes Real.

That seems to be the main lesson of Miami Vice.

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So because of that excerpt, I began to watch the entire show. I'm now finished with Season 2, heading into Season 3 of five. It's a fun show. The joy is in the continuity of characters, the mystery-of-the-week setup, and the vicariousness of the locations / experiences / people, and the contextual over-all tone of the show.

As somebody who grew up in Miami, it's hard to imagine it not being influenced by Miami Vice. But this is how the grander modern narrative emerged - from a TV show.

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Buchanan's book continues,

"Television had even performed its own brand of urban renewal, I thought, passing by the candy-striped awnings and arched windows of a small hotel, once crumbling, but now fully restored. When producers shot scenes at abandoned gas stations or aging hotels, they spruced up the places first, painting murals, installing neon lights, and leaving behind much improved properties. They had certainly done a better job at it than our local politicians."

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