Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch

Crime Dramas: The new fairy tales

Much to Ogre’s annoyance, I love crime dramas: Law & Order (all incarnations), CSI, NCIS, Without a Trace. I’ve even started watching CSI: NY and CSI: Miami.

There’s something very reassuring about these shows, where nine times out of ten, the good guys (with the exception of the occasional corrupt cop storyline, the cops ARE the good guys) catch the bad guys and put them away. The formula is pretty simple: Something awful happens, usually murder, frequently rape and murder, occasionally rape and attempted murder, a team of highly trained investigators move in, find and process evidence with varying degrees of realism, there’s a “twist” and then the bad guys are apprehended. Periodically, instances of power and privilege buying someone out of their just desserts happen, but soon thereafter they will either commit another crime, resulting in an ironclad conviction, or someone kills them, jusitifiably, and the audience sighs with relief and vindication.

There are a score of problems with these shows. I won’t get into the procedural errors even I can spot. Or the improbable technology. Ok, maybe I’ll talk about that in a minute.

What I really want to talk about is the mythologizing of crime that is harmful to the perception of people toward crimes and the victims.

The majority of rapes, murders , assaults and kidnappings are committed by people who know the victim. By far the majority of rapes are committed by someone the victim knew, and knew well. However on these shows the majority of rapes depicted are stranger rapes. Most actual kidnappings are committed by a non-custodial parent or other relative. However, on these shows, the majority of kidnappings are committed by strangers for ransom. And, once again, most people are assaulted or murdered by someone they knew… Granted, about half of the murders in these shows are by co-conspirators, but there is a marked lack of spousal or familial murder, or other acquaintance killings.

These shows also show detectives as automatically believing rape victims and investigating as eagerly as they would a murder or any other crime. As the stories of most rape victims will tell you, this is usually not the case. Rape victims are frequently disbelieved by police, if not actively discouraged from pressing charges. Rape kits, if they are collected, are frequently unprocessed, as in several counties in California.*

Also, there’s always at least one character who is more than willing to trot out the victim-blaming, and while their partner or other ancillary character will call them out on it, you will note that they are rarely convinced.

And, above all, they show us that cops can be trusted if you’re innocent. Ok, maybe it’s because I grew up not rich, but I find trusting the police to do the right thing instead of the easy thing in most cases to be incredibly naive. Seriously. They’re people, and like most people, they want to get their shit done, clear cases and not have to deal with your whiny civilian ass. As such, mistakes will be made. Probably not with any great animosity in many cases, which may or may not be worse, honestly. I think it’s easier to combat directed animosity as opposed to indifferent, aimless incompetence.

These shows provide a very comforting version of the legal system in this country. However, it is also a very misleading vision of the legal system in this country. Mistakes are made, justice is not colorblind, and cops are just people, sometimes corrupt and powerhungry people with a score of prejudices, and sometimes just people looking for the easy way through their job.

Now, about that technology. Most of the Law & Order franchises, and two of the three CSI shows have fairly realistic technology, with only occasional bursts of science fiction. Granted, every time they get a DNA match within an hour, it makes me snort. And the nearly instantaneous fingerprint recognition is pretty funny. Now, CSI: Miami, however… I don’t care how frequently they do crossover shows with the other CSI’s, I am convinced that CSI: Miami is actually a science fiction show, and I base this on their technology. Technology, which at this time does not exist. In addition to super fast DNA tests, they also have the amazing huge clear, glass, touch screen displays, and why the hell is everyone so fucking pretty?

If you watch these shows, all CSI’s work in large airy facilities and are all incredibly hot, instead of working in rooms painted hospital green and about 40lbs overweight from living out of vending machines.

Yet, I still watch them.

Yeah, I still like fairy tales.


6 comments on “Crime Dramas: The new fairy tales

  1. kneil_bob
    March 24, 2009

    I think you should check out The Wire. I dont think i ever had suspend disbelief while watching that show, and I’m pretty skeptical.


    • geekalpha
      March 24, 2009

      It is the anti-fairy-tale.
      It does take a little bit of attention to really appreciate all of the contiguous plot-lines, and it’s much better if you watch them all in order. But serious, The Wire is absolutely fantastic television that I would even put ahead of Rome and Deadwood, which I loved (it is far more subtle than these two shows, but it really pays off).
      In the end it’s not really a cop-show, it is a show about Baltimore that throughout which the cops are the common thread, but if you want to see an excellent plausible illustration of how the police sausages are made, it delivers.


  2. kashma
    March 24, 2009

    I like these shows too, but what always gets me going is the magical computers they have, specifically the ones that seem to be able to decrypt any file, recover data from any crushed and mangled drive, and magically sharpen images from blurry security camera tapes to perfectly clear, pristine images in color.


  3. kneil_bob
    March 25, 2009

    I remember one episode of law and order where the tech stuck his hand into the corpse (at the crime scene) and announced that the murder weapon was a 38. Even if the round hadn’t deformed AND he could some how be sure it was not .30/.32 or .40, the are a butt load of popular .355 rounds includeing .357 mag, .357 sig, 9 para, 9 mak, .380 acp, .38 super and an assload of oddballs and obslete designs.


  4. annetangent
    March 25, 2009

    I saw an episode of Bones where they used a security tape video to get the dimensions of a woman’s butt to show she must have scoliosis. It was the most ridiculous use of “technology” I’ve ever seen.


    • polimicks
      March 25, 2009

      Bones is another show that I consider science fiction. Again, some of their technology… doesn’t exist.


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This entry was posted on March 23, 2009 by in Uncategorized.

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