Does this television sequence sound familiar?
Night time. A woman brushing her teeth in the bathroom. A dark shadow appears behind her. A gloved hand clamps over her mouth. A struggle. A knife. Cut to morning. Bloodied body on the floor. Enter detective, with dumb ‘witticism’ along the lines of “Had a hard night.” Cut to commercials.
Prime-time television makes a fortune out of women being stalked, beaten, raped, tortured, and murdered. All in high-def detail, of course. Programs such as Law and Order’s sleazy ‘Special Victims Unit’ spinoff and the even sleazier Criminal Minds are huge money-making franchises, every episode sold on first to cable and then throughout the world.
Mandy Patinkin, one of my favorite actors, walked out on Criminal Minds after its first two years, calling it a huge mistake to have ever accepted a starring role on it. “I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year,” he said. “It was very destructive to my soul and my personality.”
It is very destructive to all our souls and personalities.
So why don‘t all the other actors walk out? (I know — money makes their world go round). Why in fact does anyone watch these programs? (I may not really want the answer to that.) Why do advertisers pay to be in those commercial breaks? (oh yes: because people watch.) And what exactly is going on in the minds of those who write and produce and air such programs? Doesn’t anyone in television-land realize that they‘re presenting violence against women as entertainment?
Or worse still, do they realize it very well?
No, I’m not saying that such programs create rapists and murderers, or that they present rape as okay. Their ostensible focus is on the horror of rape, and at least on the surface, they seem to be raising consciousness of how brutal a violation it is.
Beneath the surface, though, there’s a deeply creepy fascination with rape, one that feels darkly voyeuristic. So what I am saying is that such programs are a very visible part of a world-wide culture that still does not take rape with full seriousness — a culture that still doesn‘t register it for what it is: not “sexual assault” nor “sex crime,” but brutality. Rape is not about sex; it’s about brutalizing women.
There has to be someone out there who is as pissed as I am at this but with far better organizing skills. Someone who can get at those who make such programs where it really hurts: not in their balls, but in their pocketbooks. Someone who can create a campaign to pressure advertisers to stop supporting programs that use violence against women as entertainment.
Imagine a boycott of the goods and services of all such advertisers. Imagine stickers pasted on toilet paper and antacids and “feminine-care” products in supermarkets saying “This product pays for rape as entertainment.” Imagine the publicity, the “bad PR,” the panic this would induce among directors of marketing. They’d cave.
What Mandy Patinkin did, we all need to do. We all need to walk out on this sleaze.