Note: I actually wrote this a few days ago. I am finding with blogging, and in writing in general that when it isn’t for work I have a really hard time with conclusions. I feel like I have to end every entry with a bang. But sometimes am void of bang-inspiration… Any tips from fellow writers?
My sweetie loves Law and Order: SVU. And that’s cool. Yesterday, in fact, while home sick, he managed to watch something like 13 hours straight of the show before I even got home from work and then just kept on watching. I joined in for the last two episodes.
And I think, finally, I have a sense of why it’s not my jam. I like an individual episode now and again but usually SVU doesn’t do much for me. I would summarize why in two broad categories.
1. Pretending to be a smart show. But actually being kind of average.
SVU is not the first, nor the last, show or movie to fall victim to this syndrome. How it plays it out is that a story, usually that involves some kind of crime, mystery or intrigue, progresses so that little by little clues and information are revealed. It gives you the sense that maybe, if you think long and hard, you too can solve the mystery.
Then at the end, usually at the very end, there is some big reveal of what was happening and for me I can’t help but hear a Sad Trombone as I ask myself That is what was going on? Huh?
For example, one of the episodes we watched last night started with the double murder and victim rape of two young Latinos. First, you think drugs. Then you think drug mules. Then you think Mexican drug cartels. And then you realize the dead girl’s roommate is somehow involved. Then you question whether the FBI guy is good or bad. It is all coming together when out of nowhere the “answer” has something to do with Cuban resistance spies.
On a much more complicated level, this is kind of how I felt about the end of Lost. I’m still glad I watched it and feel okay about the ending. Sure it was anti-climatic that few answers were given. But I can live with that. What bothered me was that the show and even interviews with the creators painted Lost to be a deep, philosophical game of Clue as in “Dig deep, think hard and you can come up with a theory that might be right.”
We never got to find out if any theories were right because we were supposed to be satisfied with the “None of that matters. Love is what matters” explanation. And it’s cool and all that it wrapped up that way. But then don’t pretend that you are one thing, and then end up being sappy and kind of unable to close your own loopholes. Just sayin’.
But I digress.
2. Pretending to be a progressive show but really being kind of moderate or even conservative.
Over the course of my relationship, I have seen glimpses or entire episodes of SVU that feature lesbians, doctors who perform abortions, people with HIV, folks with under-respected religions, trans folks, and survivors of every trauma imaginable including, but in no way limited to- domestic abuse, pedophilia, violence, rape, and kidnappings. Often, these episodes start from a premise that feels like they are saying “Look how hip we are. We tell EVERYones stories. We defend the rights of the little people.”
And, sure, people from every single walk of life both survive and perpetuate violence and crime. But I feel like the take away message most of the SVU shows I have seen either blame the victim, sum up the reason for a crime as “bad people do bad things” or have double standards for cops than people. Or, even more often, in the end, “The Tranny did it.”
What I mean by that comes from the time when Cara and I bought a Murder Mystery in a Box at a thrift store and decided to have a party to play it. The theme was Studio 54 and everyone had a slightly altered version of a 70’s figure. For example, I was Liza Spinelli, there was a John Travolta-type, an Andy Warhol, and a Gloria Steinem rip off, feminist character.
Incidentally the murder mystery was also guilty of SVU pet peeve #1 but that’s another point. In the end, it turns out that Gloria Steinem was a male-to-female transgender who committed the murder so that No one would know she was trans because clearly then no one would take her seriously as a feminist. Shock! Gasp! We were kind of in shock, my group of queer and gender non-confirm and trans friends that we had randomly gotten the box with the Trans Murdered.
But then another friend got a murder mystery and it turned out that the punch line was the same thing. That one ALSO was a case of Scary. Tranny. Killer.
So… for example, Kathy Griffin cameo-ed on SVU as a militant lesbian. Though she didn’t, in the end, commit the murder, she was hiding a “horrible” secret. She was bisexual. And I do understand that bi-phobia is a problem both in and out of the LGTQ communities. But SVU has a way of making this all seem very shocking that I can’t get down with.
I get that my next point is probably just an example of what a big bubble I live in, however, I also hate the complete lack of analysis around race and class on the show. People who are sex workers, who do or deal drugs, who struggle with alcoholism, etc, etc are never given any slack. They get lumped into the big category of “bad people” and are treated accordingly. I can hang with suspension of disbelief and even politically black and white pop culture. But it’s harder to do so when I feel like said pop culture medium is fronting like it is all “color blind” and “no borders” and stuff.
As the primary characters on the show, we are meant to identify with the detectives. And while they can be like-able… they often are total bullies, break the law to solve a crime, and make grand sweeping assumptions about criminals. Yet they always remain the “good” whereas everyone impacted by racism, poverty, sexism, and abuse get lumped into the amorphous “bad” pot. And that to me is antithetical to progressive/liberal values.
I am sure there are hours of SVU ahead of me and I am cool with that. I’m not mad at the show, it’s just not my jam.
End of rant.