JIm Crozier, a loyal MR reader, asks:
Why do cop movies and TV shows so often begin with an older (and often jaded) officer that is just about to retire? It is quite astounding how often this unrealistic plot trick is employed, and the psychological grounding seems weak at best.
I don't have the viewing experience to give you an evidence-based response. I would think the answer might lie in marginal utility theory plus behavioral economics. Perhaps all his life that officer has failed to achieve some desired end, such as catching a criminal, bringing an evil politician to justice, reforming the corrupt police force, or whatever. If the officer is near retirement, we know we are watching a very dramatic story which will define the life and career of that officer for ever and ever. It is harder for the viewer to have the same feeling if the officer has four years, three months remaining on the force. Failure would not mean final failure.
On the behavioral front, our impressions of experiences, and the memories we form, very often depend on what comes last. Judges are more impressed by the group which sings last in the Eurovision contest, even though it is randomized. The viewer thus implicitly knows that the cop really cares about the final segment of his or her career, reinforcing the point about decisiveness and marginal utility.
Viewers, can you do better?