Saturday, September 17, 2005

"The Season of Die, Woman, Die"

In today's Washington Post, Lisa de Moraes offers a disturbing critique of this season's crop of new shows in her article "Female Characters, Made to Suffer for Our 'Art.'" The article highlights six storylines from the new shows that particularly illustrate a pattern of extreme violence and violent crime against women. (The shows are Killer Instinct on Fox, Close to Home on CBS, Supernatural on the WB, Invasion on ABC, and Criminal Minds on CBS. I can't figure out what the sixth show is, the one in which "pregnant [women] get pulled out of the shower at night by huge, hideous, wolflike creatures who rip the fetuses out of their wombs.") De Moraes argues that the writers/creators of the shows and the network executives act both blind and deaf to this phenomenon, probably purposely.

Why? Because, she suggests, these shows are chasing the ever elusive 18-34 year-old male demographic. Apparently, young men like to see young women tortured, killed, probed by aliens (more likely, left naked after being probed by aliens), and brutally raped. Or at least that's de Moraes's hypothesis. Moreover, she suggests that there is likely oneupmanship at work here as well.

To be sure, de Moraes has engaged in a bit of cherry-picking here. She's selectively highlighted a fairly small sample of the larger number of new shows to illustrate her point. Nevertheless, I think she's done a fair job of pointing out the staggering level of violence on TV shows. And the victims appear to be disproportionately female.

This is interesting, coming after the "chicks who kick ass" genre that blossomed only a few years ago. These shows, like Buffy, Alias, Xena, Snoops, and many others were/are violent, but the women were/are seldom the victim of the horrific violence that de Moraes describes.

Let's also be clear that men don't come out smelling like roses in these shows. Aside from Supernatural where the baddies are, well, supernatural, it's men who are perpetrating these disturbing deeds. Still, there's a definite difference between reflecting the reality that men are most often the perpetrators of violent crime and reflecting the"reality" of these heinous crimes by re-creating them for our viewing "pleasure." I don't think that de Moraes is wrong when she suggests that it reveals more than just our desensitization to, or even obsession with, violence.

The parade of horribles from the Season of Die, Woman, Die might not be so, um, horrible, if the creators, writers, and network executives had some higher purpose in reflecting the so-called reality of these crimes. But, reading de Moraes' account of their answers at press tours makes one wonder if they think at all about these kinds of issues. One executive, whose shows include all of the CSIs, Close to Home, and Criminal Minds, explains that they should probably study the issue to see if it's a problem. Probably. Study.

Does this mean I won't watch the shows or that I think that violence on TV has grown to epidemic levels? No and maybe. I'll watch some of these shows. I won't let Wasteland Kid watch them, but I wouldn't have anyways. I fall within that target demographic, so I'm part of the problem. My tastes trend, as you may have noticed, toward the more fantastic when it comes to violence. Ripped from the headlines doesn't really appeal to me at all. Is that a distinction with a difference when it comes to de Moraes' point? Probably not. I don't think it's appreciably (or morally) "better" to be entertained by fantastical violence rather than realistic violence. And we seem to be entertained by violence quite a bit. That's why I think it's important to maintain a healthy sitcom and relationship drama contingent, so at least if violence is rampant it doesn't have to be overwhelming.

But, in the meantime, you guys -- and it does seem like the writers, creators, and network execs are mostly men -- in TV creation and development should lay off the kinky/sadistic/fetishistic killing of women. It's not a pretty reflection on you or us. It shouldn't be entertaining.


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