Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Looking for Justice From TV Shows

I’m a crime-show addict. You name it, I’ll watch it: Criminal Minds, Law and Order, NCIS, Bones, CSI Miami, The Closer, The Killing, Without a Trace, In Plain Sight. What is it about my heart makes me seek out such creepiness?  I think it has to do with a longing for justice.

These shows have been a fixture of television since the opening days of broadcast. I remember as a child in the 1960s watching Dragnet with my siblings. That show first hit the radio airwaves in 1947. Granted, today’s shows are a lot more graphic than they were when I was a child. But why, despite the vagaries of popular culture, do these kinds of shows endure?

For years, my husband, who has no interest in crime shows, has told me he thinks I might be so attached because they make me feel better about myself.  I don’t think Schendenfraude is my motivation. (Not that it hasn’t been. It certainly was my reason for watching Nanny 911 when our children were toddlers.)

One reason I like “Mom’s stories,” as our boys sardonically dub them, is that, unlike our lives, these crime shows are predictable. If it’s 9:15, Stabler and Benson over at Law & Order probably aren’t focusing on the right suspect. And if it’s 10:45, the last person the serial killer kidnapped on Criminal Minds will not be murdered. There still is time between commercials for Hotchner or Reid or Morgan to rescue her, with Garcia’s help.

Another reason I like these shows is sometimes, I actually identify with the bad guys. I don’t harbor violent thoughts or never have exhibited violent behavior, but I think part of me and everyone else is rotten, disobedient and antisocial. I watch and wonder what triggers some people to break out into violence under the pressure of life’s disappointments. The TV universe tells me that however badly we behave, we will eventually face justice.

I’m not the only one intrigued by these shows. This weekend I had a conversation at a party with a retired NYPD homicide detective. He worked for years in a poor Manhattan neighborhood, investigating drug-related homicides. 

Here this man stood before me, an obviously kind man who had witnessed the worst consequences of human brutality. He’s telling me that he and his wife are addicted to watching DVDs the canceled TV show “The Wire.” Later in the conversation, he mentioned with regret in his voice, the times he chased after the wrong murder suspect, only to have real murderer vanish. I got the sense that he too feels reassured by the TV story lines wrap up so neatly.

Our hearts yearn for a justice we can see and feel. I think this must explain my weeknight weakness. And yet, I know because I have lived it, that beyond the justice from men and women we seek, God’s mercy is greater and more powerful. As Pope Benedict XVI has said:

“The mercy of Christ is not a cheap grace; it does not presume a trivialization of evil. Christ carries in his body and on his soul all the weight of evil, and all its destructive force. He burns and transforms evil through suffering, in the fire of his suffering love.”

William Shakespeare recognized centuries ago that the source of mercy is divine and that it blesses those who give, as well as receive it.

“The quality of mercy is not strain'd,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes




  1. A great beginning! I look forward to reading as time goes by. :-)

  2. Terry and I recently watched all 5 seasons of The Wire on Netflix (DVDs by mail, one at a time!). It is a very good show and I could start watching it again. Season 4 in particular dealt with the problems of the educational system in the inner city (Baltimore, but it applies to every city in North America IMHO) and how they interrelated to the drug scene (the major plot in all five seasons) and other crimes. Fascinating stuff.

    I don't watch Criminal Minds or any of the CSIs any more because they feed my tendency toward nightmares. Terry travels frequently and I need no additional help with sleepless nights when he is gone. :)

    Great to see your new blog!


  3. @Julie: Thanks!
    @Sandy C: The police detective I talked to said the men who wrote The Wire also wrote Homicide and that one of them is a retired teacher. As for my addiction to the shows, writing this helps me consider my reasons and I hope I can wean myself bit by bit....so many other beautiful things to experience..and a garden to weed.

  4. Hmmm... Allison, in my spotty reading, I had missed that other post. Wow, just wow - and thanks be to God.

    I was in Manhattan that day, but in midtown and that was harrowing. I can't imagine.

    As for the crime shows, I love them too. I especially love (loved?) Criminal Minds. Until this season there was a much richer thread of the community of people that the agents made up. Now it seems a bit darker and they are less united in some way... as I see it. That seems to be the only show I can explain my love of. I loved Homicide, back in the day, for the same reason, now that I think of it.

    Anyway, great post. Thanks.

  5. @Fran: If you want to delve more into my family's history with Sept. 11, you can check out this post.

    http://yimcatholic.blogspot.com/2010/02/because-devil-is-real.html which will lead you to others. It's heavy duty stuff.

    As for Criminal Minds, I agree with you about the loss of the comraderie among characters. Perhaps that is why I don't watch the show so much.


  6. Beautifully put, Allison - and I think you've really put the nail on the head as to the enduring power of these crime stories...