Thursday, May 6, 2010

Crime Shows Can Kill You

As published in the Woodford County Journal, May 6, 2010

Frankly Speaking
Crime shows can kill you
By Arlene Franks

I never realized how addicted I was to crime shows until I gave them up for Lent this year. I’d be sitting on the couch, flipping through the channels, and stop on something that caught my interest. I’d watch it for a few seconds before I noticed, “oh, this is a crime show,” and flip the channel.

It had become such a habit to tune in to a crime show—any crime show, any time of day or night—that I had to continually remind myself of my pledge to give them up for 40 days…and nights. It didn’t help that every other show was crime-related.

Between the ones in current production and those in syndication, they are everywhere! They’re on the major networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS; the so-called ‘women’s’ networks, Lifetime, LMN, and WE; the ‘character’ and ‘drama’ networks, USA, TNT, and BET; and the quirky ones, Bravo, FX and SPIKE. They are even on the ‘family-friendly’ stations like TBS, ABC Family and PBS!

And they come in a plethora of genres, many of them overlapping:

•Family-oriented: The Good Wife and Medium.
•Court-centered: Law and Order and The Good Wife.
•Quirky character-focused: CSI and Law and Order Criminal Intent.
•Comedic bent: Psych and The Closer.
•Paranormal: Medium and Saving Grace.
•Pseudo Paranormal: Psych and The Mentalist.
•Military-oriented: NCIS and NCIS Los Angeles.

The crimes are usually the big ones—murder, kidnapping, rape, torture. The officers of the court and police solve the cases in myriad ways:

•By profiling the perpetrator: Criminal Minds, and Numbers.
•With forensics: CSI, Bones. and Law and Order SVU.
•By eliciting a confession: The Closer and Law and Order Criminal Intent.
•As a puzzle to be solved: Without a Trace, NCIS and Cold Case.

Then there are the reality-based shows that investigate or reenact real crimes. With titles like Most Shocking…, Worlds Dumbest…, Caught on Tape, and Haunted Evidence, they show examples of kooky and bizarre crime; horrific and brutal crime, or insidious and mysterious crime.

These real-crime-as-entertainment shows are covered by channels like Discovery, The History Channel, E!, TruTV, MTV and VH1. I’m sure if they could link crime to food, there would be a show on the Food Network with a title like Recipe for Murder.

Whether they are character-driven, plot-twisting, or story-weaving so many of them fascinate me, intrigue me and, well, suck me in to their alternate universes. And I don’t think I’m alone, judging by the sheer number and variety of crime-related programs.

I’m not sure why I am attracted to crime shows. Maybe it’s like a train wreck—I don’t want to look, but I just can’t avert my eyes. And for that matter, I don’t know why society is so caught up in the vicarious crime wave.

Maybe we like crime shows so much because we can watch from a distance. We can watch without being a victim of crime; we can watch without being hurt. But I’m not so sure that’s a legitimate assumption.

For one thing, the constant bombardment of depictions of graphic and grisly crimes creates a numbing effect that keeps us coming back for more. The more we return to the scene of the crime, so to speak, the more empty we become. It takes more and more horrific images to stimulate emotion, empathy, compassion, from us.

When we look around at the world, through the lenses of our own experiences; media coverage of violence and threats of violence, wars and rumors of wars; realty shows focusing on every kind of crime imaginable; and finally, fictional programs centered on violent crimes, we get a view of the world that’s murky, ugly, cold and dangerous.

It’s the very antithesis of hope. We’re looking at the world as a place of scarcity—lacking in love, compassion, even safety. This is harmful to human beings and other living things.

I was pondering all this about two weeks into my crime show fast for Lent. It had taken me that long to remember that when a familiar crime scenario came up on the screen, I was to just keep flipping until I found something more uplifting. I even, on occasion, turned off the TV and enjoyed the silence for a change.

Then, I had an epiphany. It was February 28, to be exact. I was at church, listening to our guest speaker, Brandon Gilven, associate director of Week of Compassion, the disaster relief agency of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) talk about outreach.

Referring to the people of the early Christian movement, he said, they “chose to say ‘yes there is so much violence, destruction, and fear in the world. But we can look again and see…new life.’”

The treatment for this addiction is to cultivate hope. It’s about seeing the world as a place of abundance, not scarcity. It’s witnessing new life spring from death and destruction and then telling the world about it. It’s about looking at the world as it is and seeing what it has the potential to become.

Brandon recommends we “practice resurrection,” “Because a life of faith—a life of practicing resurrection is one in which one imagines a world filled with so much generosity, hope, and healing,

and then makes it so. All the while proclaiming destruction, loss, death, as heartbreaking as they are, are not the final words.”

That’s the answer I was looking for—how to reconcile my two very disparate images of the world. On the one hand, the world is a violent place, a place of sadness and fear. On the other, it is a place of incredible depth of spirit, compassion, and love. It’s about faith, belief that love is more powerful than fear; abundance is greater than scarcity; hope overcomes sadness.

I’m not going to tell you that I am now ‘over’ my addiction—that I have completely rid my life of crime shows. No addict is ever cured. The best I can say is that “I’m in recovery.” A big part of that recovery is cultivating hope.