Monday, April 25, 2011

Crime, cable and ubiquitous "murder porn"

A couple weeks ago, I had an hour between errands, and I settled down on the couch and flipped the TV to nothing, really. The plan was for my TV set to watch me (take a nap). I just needed a channel with a nice drone. I settled on what appeared to be a documentary and closed my eyes. What I heard while trying to rest made me never want to close my eyes again. It was the Investigation Discovery channel, ID for short, and apparently it serves up a steady diet of highly gendered and racialized crime porn, 24/7.

I know ID is not the only channel with this bent. Crime reality shows are popular up and down the dial. MSNBC seems to give over the entire weekend to behind bars-style shows. Oxygen has never met a woman-snaps-and-kills-her-lover story it didn't like. I wonder, though, why this type of reality television is so popular and what the way these stories are told says about who we are as a society?

The program I encountered on ID explored the Boston Strangler crimes, which occurred during the 60s. And at each commercial break, the channel hawked more shows about murder, home invasions, and missing women and children. It was unsettling and made me feel a little nervous alone, as I was, in my suburban, low-crime neighborhood. I can't imagine how one could be a regular viewer of that channel with its schedule chock full of human depravity, or how constant viewing of these sorts of programs wouldn't stoke the very unhinged fear of society's downfall that seems pervasive these days and is at the root of much regressive and wrong-headed thinking.

There is something nasty about viewing real crime as entertainment. This isn't clean "Columbo"-type murder or even the grittier "Godfather"-style killing. The bodies and crime scene photos and grieving parents on these shows are real and are served to the viewing public for pleasure. It's like pornography, but the release is not orgasm, but something else: anger, fear and a thirst for blood and retribution.


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