I watch a lot of TV shows that I hate, like Dr. Phil. And I actually really enjoy watching them. I think the enjoyment comes from the level of rage that they incite in me. It is actually the reason that I started this blog; I needed an outlet (other than my personal blog) for my anger.
Last night I watched two episodes of Law and Order: SVU. I do not know why I enjoy this program but I can say that it never ceases to upset me. The entire premise of SVU is sexual assault in its many forms. It is an excellent platform for politicizing institutionalized abuse of women but is used instead as a cheap ploy to attract and retain viewers. The show is far from challenging or even remotely political.
Many, if not most, of the episodes of this show that I have seen paint women as lairs who manufacture stories about rape for their own selfish benefit. The episode I watched last night, entitled "Design," was about a young women who date-raped men to 'steal' and sell their sperm and then told police that she was raped. The audience sympathy for the rape victim shifts to the poor male victims in an instant.
If you are reading this blog, I do not need to tell you about the absurdity of the premise. Rape is a very real crime that disproportionately affects women. According to RAINN, nine out of ten victims of rape are women. This reality is not reflected on Law and Order: SVU. I do not have exact percentages but I have watched the show enough to tell you that many of their cases end up painting women (particularly adult women) as bitches who set the poor guy up. Another common theme is child sexual predation. This is certainly a problem but I wonder what the ratio of child predation is to instances of sexual violence against women. I imagine sexual violence against women and girls is MUCH more common. Ignoring these realities must make viewers (and therefore, advertisers) feel more comfortable or it would not be so prevalent.
As for depoliticization, shows with neat clean happy endings, that do not challenge prescribed notions of gender, sell more products by making consumers feel safe and comfortable. Who wants to buy an iPod after discovering that rapist are very unlikely to be brought to justice and that vicitms are not always cute little white girls?
The rapists and other assorted criminals are almost always brought to justice on Law and Order: SVU. I have already argued that this does not represent reality at all. But it is also problematic in that it does not challenge institutionalized patriarchy. We all go to bed easily after seeing the evil child molester brought to justice. But how often to we ask why child molesters exist, or why rape is such a prevalent and socially acceptable (treatment of rapists and victims in this country reflects this truth) crime?
Law and Order: SVU would not be a show if we did not live in a patriarchy, yet the show never acknowledges the prevalence of patriarchal ideology. In fact, I would argue that it contributes to patriarchal hegemony by presenting rape victims and rapists very narrowly.
And finally, the popularity of this show certainly raises the question: why are we so fascinated by sex crimes? The delight that viewers get from watching child rapists and deserving bitches get theirs is very telling.