Pick Your Pop Culture

So, I've like written about music for 25 years, and like I've got a lot to say and not enough people to pay me for it, and like I like to write about TV, and books, and movies, and stuff like that.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

How much outrage do you need?

1. A fifteen-year-old girl has sex. Okay, that’s something we don’t like to see, but it’s fairly common. Just digging around quickly on the net, I found a study in England that said 18% of girls under 16 had had sexual experiences, and one in the U.S. which said roughly 25% of all students in their 10th year of school (presumably that’s sophomore year in high school) have had vaginal intercourse.

2. A fifteen-year-old girl hooks up with several different boys around her age for sexual experiences without relationships. Now, this one is something that gets people riled up, but I’m not personally convinced it’s really happening much. TV crime shows have used it several times in the last year or so, though, and I’ve heard people gossip about it. It’s always been common for teenagers to exaggerate their sexual experiences, and it’s unfortunately been even more common for teenagers to really exaggerate the experiences of other teens, especially girls. How many of you heard about the girl in your high school who was intending to fuck every boy in school before the year was over? The same survey I cited above said that for 2/3 of the teens having sex, their last encounter was with their regular boyfriend or girlfriend. I’m not saying “One Tree Hill” is the most in-depth reporting on any subject you could find, but the recent experiences of Brooke and Felix attempting the “friends with benefits” plan showed that it’s quite capable of being one-sided even if it does happen.

3. A fifteen-year-old girl, after learning that sex really doesn’t mean much, moves on from hooking up with boys her own age to trading blow jobs on older men for expensive clothes. I’m not saying there aren’t men out there who would do it, but I think they’re a lot rarer than you’d think. I suspect that, no matter how provocatively a teenaged girl dressed, she’d have to hit on dozens of men before she got a bite, and even then, the man’s ego would probably turn for the worse as soon as he realized she wanted him to spend $800 on a dress for her. And never mind the insane idea that a middle-aged man working in a clothing store would pop into the dressing room for a quickie (or even more absurd, whip out his dick in the back room for a blow job while purportedly doing inventory). Guys are pigs, don’t get me wrong, but there is a point beyond which the penis can’t take most of us. At least not without liberal doses of alcohol, which are hard to come by in shopping malls.

4. A fifteen-year-old girl moving up the trick-turning ladder to become a full-time hooker charging $1500 per act while being pimped by the desk clerk of a classy hotel. You know, it never really occurred to me to ask a desk clerk for anything other than the location of the ice machine, but I’m fairly convinced prostitution does occur in many hotels. Still, it’s probably a ridiculously stupid clerk willing to pimp out somebody who looks less than 25, because a certain level of discretion is necessary to pull off that sort of transaction in the first place. With customers willing to shell out that much cash for an orgasm – and really, how could one be worth even half that amount? – you’re looking at a glitzy operation that doesn’t allow the sleaze to get too dangerous. But if they did, boy, I could get pretty worked up about that.

5. A fifteen-year-old girl who manages to get one of her johns, a doctor by trade, to fall madly in love with her, move to her city, diagnose her with AIDS (from all the dangerous sex she’s had in the last six to nine months), and provide her with medicine. Now we’re getting into some truly outrageous territory, and I don’t see how we can get any worse.

6. Fortunately, the producers of “Law and Order SVU” were able to see further than my limited mind, and add the final outrageous twist, the level of hell which did indeed lead to this young girl getting killed in this week’s episode. How about a 15-year-old girl who has done all the above being recruited to film pornography and thus potentially infecting other actors which leads to the director bashing her over the head with a tripod? Parents, don’t let your children grow up to be sexual. This is the inevitable result. We should all be very, very afraid.

All the crime shows these days have to trump each other in the outrage department, and they do so by piling twist after twist, miserable level of depravity after miserable level of depravity until we feel that everybody in the country is at risk. (Actually, mostly, the people at risk on these shows tend to be upper class, which is something I find interesting; I guess, however, that Americans love to imagine themselves better off than those who have all the bucks. Even if we still fear the same fates, we at least can comfort ourselves with knowing that all that money couldn’t help them.)

“Law and Order SVU” is particularly guilty of pushing sexual fears on an unsuspecting public, and spends an inordinate amount of time convincing us that children are in terrible danger. If they’re lucky enough to escape being molested, they have to worry about their own lack of control regarding sex. The episode this week drove this point home about as far as it could go.

One of the favorite techniques in this kind of fear-mongering is to show the surviving friends of teenage sex victims acting in a cavalier manner. Actually, all crime shows have agreed that virtually nobody interviewed by the police on TV should ever exhibit any fear or concern beyond a desire to move quickly through the experience and get back to their real job or class. Even more, I suppose for the purpose of making it harder for us to know what to believe, every single person interviewed on a crime show is a liar par excellence. They can come up with perfectly believable stories spun at a moment’s notice from whatever question the police ask, and even, if necessary switch to a back-up plan if the cops dig and find out the last story was a lie.

So, the dead girl had a best friend, who did everything except the porn career and maybe the AIDs. (After going through all that, she decided she had to draw the line somewhere, worried about what people might think if a movie was seen years later. I guess it’s good to plan ahead a little bit.) The day after her best friend was found dead, this girl was found in the back of a clothing shop with the aforementioned middle-aged worker giving him the aforementioned oral sex. Hey, I guess a girl needs something new to wear to a funeral. The rest of the episode, she leads the detectives to the truth a step at a time, as they wear down her repeated promises that “Really, this is what happened.”

The idea was to establish not the specifics of the case on this episode. Instead, we should all worry about our kids, even those of us who don’t have any. It’s not like when we were young, nosirree. Kids today have no morals, no ability to discern right from wrong when it comes to sex. Everything is meaningless to them. Once that Pandora’s box is opened, there’s nothing possible but pain and heartbreak for the parents.

This sort of message gets hammered at us all the time on these shows. And yet, I keep watching, because I find the actual mechanics of it all entertaining. I enjoy the intensity of the chase, the interplay of Detectives Stabler and Benson, the witticisms of Finn and Munch (though I do bemoan the way Richard Belzer’s character has been watered down since the glorious days of “Homicide: Life on the Street”). And, I guess I tell myself that I can see through all their bullshit, and know that sex really isn’t as bad as they make it out to be.

I wonder if we’ll ever get to move back towards nuance and realism in crime shows. We’ve become so used to the constant twists and turns, the spectacular nature of evil on display, and the infallibility of the detectives who always, through hard work and determination, capture the bad people. That stuff is fun, of course, but it would be nice to have it not work so hard to scare us away from understanding people’s real needs and desires. Convincing us that teenagers are a sexual thought away from multiple partners, AIDs, a porn career, and death is not a necessary corollary to making an exciting TV show.


Blogger Aunt B said...

Amen.You could not be more right than "It’s not like when we were young, nosirree. Kids today have no morals, no ability to discern right from wrong when it comes to sex." The whole premise of SVU seems to be that sex is depraved or leads to depravity, and they really have this 1950s nostalgic prudishness that shocks me sometimes.

Plus, I don't know a whole lot about the porn industry, but if you were a $1500 a pop prostitute, would it make economic sense to go into porn, especially if you're not likely to have the career longevity necessary to rise to the higher paying gigs (because you're dying)?

Really, it's hilarious that the show's all "she had sex so young, which lead to a lot of sex, which lead to sex at the mall, which lead to prostitution, which lead to PORN!!!!" I mean, if everyone is consenting and willing and not being exploited, clearly, the grossest thing on that list is sex at the mall.

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