In 2005, Entertainment Weekly published an article criticizing violence against women in crime procedural shows such as “CSI” and “Law & Order.” Descriptions of some of that fall’s episodes (I put in the Trigger Warning because these are pretty graphic descriptions of rapes and brutality):
A woman thrashes in a cage, layers of duct tape blinding her, a rag gagging her, as her faceless captor’s male hands grab her fingers to clip her bloodied nails. Another is chained up in her basement in a dog collar, courtesy of her husband. Still another lies paralyzed by venomous spider bites as a masked figure rapes her.
When the aforementioned spiders crawl across a sleeping woman’s legs and face in the opening of Killer Instinct, the camera lingers on the fangs sinking into her flesh. Turns out she’s the victim of a sadist who paralyzes his prey with the poisonous bites, then rapes them as they slowly die. (When the detectives determine this, they helpfully explain that there’s an ”absence of vaginal trauma” because ”she couldn’t tense her muscles.” Thanks for the details.)
…Close to Home culminates in the revelation that a man sometimes kept his wife in a pet collar because ”when a dog misbehaves, you have to chain the bitch up.”
An ad for an upcoming episode of the three “CSI” franchises that I saw recently in, ironically, EW, illustrates this trend:
The presentation of the dead female body, in torn fishnets, as simply a prop for the lead male characters is a good example of the way that violence against women (usually involving rape) is served up by these shows as a form of entertainment. The EW story suggested that such storylines take the place of other depictions of sexuality, which are generally more carefully regulated on network TV:
Much as we hate to bring up that whole Janet Jackson incident, Sconce thinks her little nipple infraction played a part. ”Since the American broadcasting system has more restrictions against sexuality, you can get away more with amplifying violence than you can with amplifying sexuality. It results in this weird sadistic element. Putting women in these sexual situations is a backdoor way of getting more flesh in.” Violence therefore becomes one place where the broadcast networks can compete with cable.
A quote from the writer of the first scene described above illustrates how casually these depictions are taken:
”We never see any stabbings. We never see any stranglings,” argued creator Jeff Davis at a July 20 press conference. ”When I wrote that scene, everybody told me I was sick. But it’s just a woman getting her nails clipped.”
We see a bound, gagged, caged, and bloodied woman…but we didn’t see her being bound, gagged, caged, or bloodied, so what’s the big deal?
Also see our post on the movie DeadGirl for another example.