Category Archives: pop culture

infotainment and gendered violence

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.

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Are all Hollywood movies this bad?

I just finished watching Boondock Saints, because my sister said she loves it.  We have rather, uh, different taste, but I try to build bridges where I can, so I watched this movie with crossed fingers, hoping for a couple of jokes or something that we could share.  Unfortunately, I got nothing.  The plot made no sense, one of the main characters seemed to have no actual reason to be there, characterization was both overdone and patchy, jokes were tired, and the plot conventions were so patched-together that it bordered on post-modern pastiche.  But with that list, I could be talking about any Hollywood action flick.  What really stood out for me in this one was this fascinating, contradictory homoerotic homophobia.

The main cop (the big fancy smart one from the FBI, not one of the dinky small-town Boston donut-feeders) is gay.  However, at no less than two separate points in the movie does he insult the gay men around him by calling them, first, “fag,” and second, “fairy.”  Mattilda (a.k.a. Matt Bernstein Sycamore) has a lot to say about the imperatives of masculinity for gay men, so I’ll step off of that soapbox.  But the really special part of Boondock Saints is that it sets up a completely contradictory trilogy of male-male relationships.  So there are the Boston cops, who are straight-up homophobes, and whose homophobia is meant to be shared with the audience.  (There’s plenty of flouncing and opera from the FBI investigator.)  Then there’s Mr. FBI, who denigrates the despicable femininity of the gay men around him.  And THEN there’s the vigilante duo (which becomes, briefly, a trio), who share meaningful looks, save either other’s lives, spend all their time together, and show each other unwavering committment and – dare I say it? – love.  So really, what all of this is saying is that men should be (1) highly masculine (like the smart FBI cop, like the vigilante duo); (2) NOT GAY because ew; (3) be completely oriented towards their relationships with other men (indeed, the vigilante brothers never even actually speak to any women during the entire movie); and (4) somehow accomplish all of these things simultaneously.  No wonder the movie was all over the place – it was impossible to create coherent characters with that set of statutes.

I won’t even really get into how the movie imagined women (kill pimps because pimps are bad!  but sex workers are stupid sluttish whores who deserve to get beaten up!  but don’t touch their boobs when they pass out! but it’s totally justified to kill their johns because they are dirty and bad!).

The only saving grace was visual: the vigilante twins were cute as hell, and the Boston backdrop was wonderful.  But hell, did they butcher a Boston accent…