No Justice: The Reruns
by Nisi Shawl
A little over a year ago, after almost a decade of campaigning on my part, my mother June finally, finally, FINALLY consented to relocate from the Midwest to live with me in Seattle. Soon the apartment next door became vacant; our first purchase upon her moving into it was a used TV from the Goodwill. And then we settled down to watch some nice, routine reruns.
Our main viewing habit comprises programming born of Dick Wolfe’s Law and Order franchise. Mom adds liberal helpings of Reality TV crime shows such as The First 48 and Nancy Grace’s Cold Case series; she also occasionally binge-watches Criminal Minds, and Blue Bloods, the Tom Selleck vehicle. I sometimes join her, though generally I stick to the doings of Mariska Hargitay and Ice-T, or Jeff Goldblum, or Vincent D’Onofrio.
Why do we go in for non-stop cops? What’s to love about all this formulaic gore and easily anticipated violence? Especially when, as is particularly true with the Special Victims Unit series, that violence is highly sexualized and arguably misogynist?
Conventional wisdom has it that crime literature’s narrative is essentially about supporting the status quo. Upholding the law and punishing transgressors, this theory holds, is about enforcing norms. It’s an inherently reactionary genre, and its fans are closet conservatives.
I don’t think so.
The above argument now reminds me of my lover of thirty years ago chastising me for my “conservative” clothing when I wore an ankle-length yellow-and-pink chintz dress. He was much more approving of my torn black leather miniskirt. What said lover’s assessment conveniently left out of the equation was my race. What I longed ineffectually to tell him was that claiming the modesty and demureness of that dress was, for me, a black woman, an audacious move, a damn near revolutionary act. In the context of the hyper-exoticizing gaze I’d been subject to my whole life--which not coincidentally included his gaze--shielding myself in virginality was so very, very bold on my part.
Similarly, the lack of justice as applied to my life, the life of my mother, her brothers, our family, and the black community as a whole, makes guzzling down episode after episode espousing it completely understandable.
And now excuse me. Time for my show.