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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Crime Dramas

I really like crime dramas. A quick list of shows that I watch include: various Law & Orders, Criminal Minds, 2 of the CSIs, Numbers, NCIS, The Mentalist, Bones, and Lie to Me. Please keep in mind that this is a QUICK list.

It's always so fun to see trans characters on these shows! Right?

Yeah. Not so much.

Seriously, how many times is a trans character just a tangential character? I can't think of very many times at all. Often trans characters are victims. Similarly often they are the twist-surprise-ending of a killer ("OMG, she killed him because she was trans!" is a pretty dumbed down, but common way that these episodes end). Same with sex workers. Or gays and lesbians. Or poly people. Or kinksters. Really, how often are any of these characters a friend of the victim? If we are in a story, it is because the story will at some point be ABOUT us.* I've definitely seen episodes where the victim was of an ethnic group, and the story seemed at first to be about their race/ethnicity/religion (some Law and Orders come to mind) but in the end, it is found that this was a RED HERRING. And I would hazard that no episode where the victim was a trans person, is the reason they were killed, that they were secretly on the wrong side of the mob. Nope. We die/kill because we are deviants. Clearly. Just look at the choices we make (saracasm added for those with irony detecting deficit).

So, how can I reconcile the ways that crime dramas treat characters who are "deviant", with my own identity?

Fuck if I know.

Sometimes I rationalize that the cop characters are ignorant fucks, because in real life, lots of cops are ignorant fucks. And that's true.
Sometimes I find hope when a sympathetic cisgendered, non-kinky, monogamous, straight, crime-fighter works towards educating hir peers. I mean, it's almost like the show is educating the watching public. Almost.
Sometimes I hope/think that the reason we're portrayed as the victims is because in real life, WE ARE VICTIMS. Quite frequently in fact. But that really doesn't do a good job of explaining why our characters are also so disproportionately a secret killer.

But what frustrates me, and always has, isn't just how the characters treat the (insert deviant identity here) victim/killer. It's that the shows are written solely for the purpose of sensationalizing our lives.

When I see a particularly egregious episode, I often try to tell myself I just won't watch that show anymore. But that rarely happens. See, like many people, I enjoy watching how these characters figure stuff out. I DO! It's absolutely true. Sometimes I think about writing a letter to the people who made the show, complaining about it. But usually I'm watching this episode months or even years after it was written. And even if I weren't, I'm cynic enough to not think that it'll do anything positive (maybe I should try to be more positive). Mostly I just keep watching, but am sure to tell all my friends, relatives, and random acquaintances about how pissed I am about the episode.

So, that's what I plan to do. For your viewing pleasure, everytime I see an episode of a crime drama where trans, kinky, poly, queer, sex working, people are portrayed (badly or well), I will write about it. For the low, low cost of $0 you can read my summary/rant about the way the episode objectified, sensationalized, or treated accurately a character. Maybe if you then notice these types of things too, I'll have one more person to kvetch with. And if you don't, there's always the next episode.

*I should note, I am not, nor have ever been a sex worker. While I have/have had friends who are/were sex workers, and have devoted some time to study of academic work surrounding it, I can't hope to speak for sex workers (wide category that "sex work" encompasses). However, depictions of sex workers are even more frequent in crime dramas, and equally (to my eyes) as offensive as any of the groups I do belong to.

1 comment:

  1. Yes. And I find that this is true of characters that are other kinds of deviant, too: ethnic deviants, race deviants, religious deviants, ... even class deviants. When was the last time you saw a devout Muslim janitor whose faith or poverty were not central to the plotline? I always wonder about the scriptwriters' intentions. Are they seeking quick recognition for their characters from their audience? Is it beyond their imagination to write characters whose lives move beyond their trans identity(ies)? I’m not sure…

    Reading this post did make me try to remember some responsible exceptions amongst crime shows…

    1.) One example I can think of is David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks, in which David Duchovny plays a cross-dressing FBI agent sent to help out our protagonist with his small-town investigation. Of course, it can be interpreted that this character’s deviance is utilized in deviance’s other typical mainstream occupation: humor… (like its giant and midget characters) Still, one of the most nonchalant placements I’ve seen…

    2.) Even more worthwhile is the responsible BBC crime drama, Prime Suspect, where sex-work, immigration status, poverty, blackness, and a number of other identities are explored as part of its characters’ experiences, but do not make up the totality of their place in the show (usually). If anyone sees or has seen Prime Suspect, would be very interested in talking about its treatment of its “deviant” characters.

    -J Guth.


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