Saturday, August 06, 2005

Disturbing Trend

I just read an article in the August 5th issue of Entertainment Weekly that I find extremely disturbing. Seems that in the upcoming fall slate of new programs, graphic violence against women is featured prominently in several shows. Quoting from EW:

"[on Fox network]...spiders crawl across a sleeping woman's legs and face in the opening of Killer Instinct, the camera lingers on the fangs sinking into her flesh. Turns out she's the victim of a sadist who paralyzes his prey with the poisonous bites, then rapes them as they slowly die."

"While not quite as explicit as its rivals, [CBS's] Close To Home culminates in the revelation that a man sometimes kept his wife in a pet collar because 'when a dog misbehaves, you have to chain the bitch up.'"

"[CBS's] Criminal Minds, with its focus on a unit that disects the most deviant behaviour, is more graphic. A caged woman [with layers of duct tape blinding her; a rag gagging her] is, we learn, the target of an 'anger excitation rapist' who keeps his victims captive for a few days before attacking and killing them."

Now, I admit I'm not a fan of crime procedural dramas. I've watched maybe two episodes of Law & Order and have never seen any of the various CSIs currently on the air. So it could be the case that this sort of highly graphic violence is de riguer these days. Maybe I'm just an old timer who has so lost touch with what's cool I'm over-reacting for nothing.

But hearing the above descriptions truly appalls me, especially if this is the state of television today. Not so much because those scenes are horrifying. They are. But even more horrifying is what some are guessing to be the reason behind them.

Jeffrey Scone, who is an associate professor in Northwestern University's radio, TV and film department, has speculated that this increase in violence against women on prime time television is more backlash from the Janet Jackson nipplegate fiasco. He says:

"Since the American broadcasting system has more restrictions against sexuality, you can get away more with amplifying violence than you can with amplifying sexuality. It results in this weird sadistic element. Putting women in these sexual situations is the backdoor way of getting more flesh in."

In other word, the American broadcasting system is telling the networks and program producers, as well as the entire American public, that showing point three seconds of covered nipple is a far worse infraction that showing a scene of a woman being paralyzed by poisonous spiders so that she can't resist an impending rape. That while it is not acceptable for our children to be exposed to barely clad couples engaging in mutually consensual sex, it's quite all right if they happen to see a woman locked in a cage while she waits to be brutally assaulted and murdered.


I can't even find the words to describe how totally effed up this attitude is.

Honestly. How do these people go home and kiss their babies' innocent cheeks before they go to sleep at night?

Almost even more offensive than what's going on is the network execs and show creators' attempts to justify what they are doing. Criminal Minds creator Jeff Davis had this to say when questioned at a press conference:

"We never see any stabbings. We never see any stranglings."

Ohhhhh. I see. I'm sorry. What you really meant for us to infer when you showed us that woman locked in a cage, sobbing in terror while at the same time completely unable to cry out for help because of the rag binding her mouth, was that she was really there for a tupperware party. My mistake.

Really. How completely insulting. They show us a bird that walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck, then have the balls to tell us "We never called it a duck!"

Shame on you.

It's funny, and in a way almost hypocritical, that I'm finding this so utterly distasteful. I've read countless romance novels in which the heroine is - usually almost - the victim of some sick crime simply so the hero can arrive at the last minute and rescue her. And the more heinous and twisted the crime, the more of a thrill it gave me when he did show up.

My own justification for this two-facedness is as follows.

First, in romance novels, the hero ALWAYS shows up before the heroine becomes a casualty. Or, as new trends bear out, she figures out how to save herself. The heroine survives. She is not sacrificed in some exploitive way to give the other characters something to do, some reason to exist. It's her story that's being told.

Secondly, reading about such an attack in a book lacks a level of realism that television does not. Watching people on a screen who look exactly like someone you might see at the grocery store surrounded by things you encounter in your own everyday life draws you into the story in a way that reading words on a page does not. Reading requires you to use your imagination. And while most romance readers are super-intelligent people with amazing imaginations, when it comes to reading about a brutal attack, I would venture to guess that the scene we create in our mind is fairly fuzzy as far as details. Unless, of course, the writer is hugely descriptive, and I can tell you I don't really enjoy reading those kind of books either because they disturb me. I need that bit of ambiguity or the stuff hits too close to real for my comfort level. It's not fantasy or entertainment. It's exploitive.

So when we read a violent episode in a book, I think it's easier to keep that healthy suspension of disbelief. It's much simpler to remember that it is fiction. Seeing the same thing on television leaves nothing to the imagination. It becomes far more real than perhaps we are prepared to accept.

Not that I accept violence in books that is gratuitous. I think we as a community determined quite a while back that we didn't want rape as a staple in romance novels, especially rape committed by the hero. Indeed, when romance novels wander too far into gruesome reality, it seems they cross genres into areas that we might even shun as a true romance. The average reader of a Harlequin is pretty darned sure she won't encounter any heroines being bitten by poisonous spiders so she'll be paralyzed and unable to fight back while the villain brutally rapes her.

And doesn't it go without saying that there is pretty much zero chance that my young children will stumble across a violent scene in one of my books, read it, and start to become desensitized to violence towards women. Not so the case with these programs, which are aired during prime time on non-cable networks. You don't even have to pay for the honor of getting this crap delivered to your TV. Until, of course, they go into syndication and air as alternatives to after-school programming such as Arthur or The Magic School Bus. The idea that countless American kids might watch these shows - either with or without their parents' consent - is sickening. What kind of people are we creating? What kind of world are we showing them that we are willing to accept all in the name of entertainment?

I'm a giant flag waver for freedom of speech, expression, the media, etc. Censorship is probably the dirtiest ten-letter word I can think of. I'm not a member of any hard-right, conservative neo-Christian fundamentalist group; in fact, those kinds of people turn me frigid with anger and frustration. But here's a line that's finally been crossed that's just a tad bit too far, in my opinion. So for me to say all of this, you have to know that I feel strongly about it.

I suppose the answer is to boycott these shows. I personally intend to boycott CBS entirely since it seems to be the biggest contributor to this trend. In fact, I might go so far as to write a letter to the head honchos at CBS to let them know how offensive I find their programming. Heck, all that uproar about Janet's boobs certainly made a difference. And since I'm in a hot demographic - middle class white women between the ages of 18 to 49 who makes the majority of buying decisions for our households and are therefore an advertiser's wet dream - maybe my complaint will carry some weight.

In the meantime, I offer a big fat raspberry to these people who continue to shove graphic violence down the throats of the American public like it was candy.

Again, shame on you.


Jody W. said...

I'm going to HERE HERE this one, too :). How much would I rather my kid see, however accidentally, a consensual, happy sex scene on TV than a chick in a cage with spiders crawling all over her and a rapist waiting in the shadows? How is sex going to warp her *more* than violence, especially psychotic violence against women? I keep expecting to turn on a tv shows and have it be two married serial killers who murder, rape and pillage, but by gum they sleep in separate twin beds in their bedroom and are only shown kissing with closed lips.

funkysmell said...


meljean brook said...

I'm doubling Jody's comments -- I don't mind my kid seeing sex, but violence AND sex in the same breath? Ugh. Disturbing. I'm almost glad now that I don't get any TV watching time between writing, Dora The Explorer, and Blue's Clues.