Volume 75, Number 41 | March 1 -7 2006

Talking Point

TV’s diet of sex-crime dramas is unhealthy for us

By Lynn Pacifico

It really doesn’t seem that long ago but it certainly was a different world. I remember when my family got its first TV in the early ’50s. Early TV’s came in a console and were, in actuality, a piece of furniture. My mother’s came in a beautiful hand-rubbed walnut cabinet which quickly became the center of our living room. Extended families still lived close by and, as not every household had a TV, family members would come over in the evening to gather around together and watch. It was a warm time with lots of laughter and little intimacies between us.

Half a century later the family has dispersed and not one family member lives close by. Because I live and work at home alone, the television can often be the only human voice I hear all day. Nowadays, I, like many people, keep my TV on all the time for “company.”

With TV as a constant companion I can’t help but notice that the current entertainment trend predominating in today’s programming is violent sexual-crime dramas. It seems as if writers are competing to portray the most heinous, sexually violent crimes they can imagine. Their challenge is to figure out how to kill the woman (or female child) even more graphically than last week.

Women portrayed in these crime dramas are young, beautiful (usually a model) and are either easy victims or crime fighters so skilled at the art of war that they can anticipate any attack before it happens. They are then able, without any muscle mass and without becoming unattractive, to respond with such accurate deadly force that they can singularly kill multitudes of armed opponents attacking simultaneously! 

The titillating sexuality of the violent crime drama is designed to appeal to both men and women, as many shows now geared toward young women use “sexy” as a hook. On a recent Tyra Banks talk show, as a testament to a new lipstick, a woman exclaims, “I kissed 20 guys on the way here and it’s still on!” A man is picked out of the audience for her to kiss. Tyra demands that she “Give it to him!” The segment ends with everyone in the audience getting a free tube of the kissable lipstick. Victims on crime dramas are often wearing lots of kissable lipstick and little else. Sexuality has become intertwined with violence. Young women are supposed to be deadly or dead.

In the half a century since television started we have become immune to watching overt sexuality and violent crime. Many among us are even used to committing violence: our youth, especially boys, play video games for hours each day in which they are killing in order to win. Girls are learning to be sexy and to titillate by adolescence. Not many of these children, who often grow up in one-parent households, know what healthy emotional intimacy is or even have an adult at home much of the time. They learn from television. They have been programmed in a different way than earlier generations.

Back in the ’50s, my father’s Aunt Millie would cry when someone was killed on television. Despite reassurances that they were actors and that this was not actually happening, she would say, “But that is terrible, terrible!” while shaking her head. In her 80 years she had never witnessed a violent crime. Preferring a peaceful evening reading, eventually Aunt Millie stopped coming. Yes, television’s beginning seems like ages ago. It is a very different world now indeed.

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