Tonight I wandered into the living room while my roommate was watching TV, and we ended up sitting through a long segment on one of the network infotainment shows about home security systems. Except that it wasn’t. This story was about a woman who was stalked and murdered in her home by an ex-boyfriend. The woman had gone to the police to report this stalker two weeks before her murder. (In fact, I watched as the stalker told police, when asked if he had said he would kill her, “I might have.”) The woman not only went to the police, she also installed a home security system, told her friends and family members about the stalker, and had her partner (and his loaded gun) sleep at her house. Despite her efforts at self-protection, she was murdered in her bed by her ex-partner.
So what was the angle that the infotainment show decided to go with? Failure of the police to adequately protect her? The serious dangers of stalking? The disturbing trend of violence and abuse by women’s ex-partners? The lack of community support systems for women in danger of violence from current and former intimate partners?
No, this segment was a slam piece about ADT Security systems and the lawsuits pending against them. After the story about the woman who was stalked and murdered, the segment progressed to coverage of high-profile Hollywood types who had been burgled. In fact, this “news” report never mentioned her actual death, just skipped from lawsuit to lawsuit.
This piece both sensationalized and under-reported the true incidence of this type of gendered violence. The missing context would have shown that intimate partner violence is epidemic and gender-related, but this report left it isolated and individual. At the same time that it didn’t show the true scope of the problem, it also made the problem out to be much more amorphously menacing than necessary. By showing graphic footage of bloodstained bedclothes, it brought extreme violence into viewer’s sense of intimate space; and by focusing on the failure of the alarm system (installed by the most popular home security company in the country), it also undermined viewers’ ability to feel safe or protected in their own homes.
More succinctly, this segment both made the problem seem too small (by ignoring the context of gender violence) and too big (by intimating that people are vulnerable in their own homes, no matter how many precautions they take.) All this does is contribute to a culture of fear, distrust, and extraordinary disempowerment. Reports like this give people plenty to fear without giving them tools to discern among threats, deflect violence, or fight back.
My conclusion? All programming like this crap should be replaced by American Gladiator, which at least makes no bones about the fact that it’s all sensationalism.