I don’t want to watch the actual murder, mind you. I relish the detection, the clues, the red herrings, the backtracking and the final reveal that it really was the butler all along. When I channel-surf of an evening, those are the shows I keep an eye out for – Castle, Law and Order, Monk.
But when I see CSI: Miami, I move on.
This is partly because CSI: Miami, like its other iterations, is needlessly gory. But it’s mostly because I think CSI: Miami is racist.
It’s not just me: Complex Magazine’s list of the top 50 most racist shows on television puts CSI: Miami at number 23.
The show is set in one of America’s most diverse cities, so obviously you’re going to have victims and perpetrators of every race. If you watch the show over time, however, you’ll start to notice a disturbing pattern: Hispanic offenders are almost always linked to gangs and drug cartels, and are therefore not only enacting violence but also tearing at the moral fabric of our society. Black offenders are a notch up – as violent criminals usually without gang ties, they’re presented as just bad people.
But white offenders are nearly always shown as being remorseful for their crimes, and there’s about a 50 percent chance they killed the guy on accident.
On CSI: Miami, white criminals, unlike black or Hispanic ones, feel bad about what they did. They were scared. They made a bad call. They weren’t trying to hurt anyone, things just got out of hand. They feel guilty. They cry. The narrative of the show makes it so that you can sympathize with white murderers, but not black or Hispanic ones.
[bctt tweet=”On #CSIMiami, white criminals virtually always regret their behavior. Not so for other races.”]
When I first began to notice this pattern, I tried to ignore it. I figured that while the show was definitely racist, I could still enjoy the murder-mystery aspect of it. Then season four’s Mala Noche mob arc killed the show for me. The beautiful but ill and weak Hispanic woman, hounded mercilessly by evil Hispanic drug dealers only to be rescued by the dashing white man with his head-tilting and sunglasses and penchant for justice – give me a break. And then she’s brutally murdered by the evil Hispanic gang, and of course Horatio Cane honors her and remembers her and avenges her needless death.
I don’t know how the people who write this stuff can take themselves seriously.
It was when I found myself actively rooting for the mob that I made the conscious decision to stop watching the show. The relentless stereotyping and racist narratives made it so that I no longer enjoyed the story or sympathized with the characters.
Since then, I’d like to think that I’ve become more aware of problematic narratives in popular culture. Art in any form – movies, music, books – should be enjoyable on some level, and there are some things that I actively avoid because I know that I won’t enjoy them, at least not enough to make them worth the time I would spend consuming them. Shows like Homeland, Tyrant, and anything else that portrays Middle Easterners as antagonists, I don’t even bother with; I just don’t need that kind of negativity in my life right now.
Music where the lyrics are entirely focused on sex and the body parts most commonly associated with sex I avoid like the plague – it just makes me feel gross. Rap and and hip hop are by no means the only offenders when it comes to this, for those whose mind immediately jumped there; country music is just as fraught with such images.
There is still a lot of problematic content in the media that I will consume, however, and quite happily at that. Gilmore Girls is one of my all-time favorite shows, and one of its major relationships is the friendship between the preppy, blue-eyed, all-American Rory Gilmore (her actress, Alexis Bledel, is actually Hispanic in real life), who gets to go out to concerts and dates with dangerous bad boy types and talk to her mother openly about love and sex, and the glasses-wearing, trumpet-playing, Korean character Lane Kim, whose mother won’t let her receive phone calls after 9 p.m. and forces her to attend Bible camp.
Mrs. Kim, who is antagonistic with everyone unfortunate enough to cross her path, is a walking, talking tiger mom stereotype. I know that. I know that the dichotomy between Rory and Lane perpetuates the idea of repressed women of color whose immigrant parents need to loosen the hell up and embrace “the American way.” But I still love the show for a number of reasons: first, Gilmore Girls is a good show. The characters are well-developed, the dialogue is hilarious, and the show is just generally fun to watch.
Second, unlike CSI: Miami, Mrs. Kim is not portrayed as all bad. It would be so easy for her to have just been written as the evil mom, but Mrs. Kim is a three-dimensional person who is often portrayed as being a caring mother who genuinely has her daughter’s best interests at heart.
Third, and most importantly, Mrs. Kim’s point of view isn’t dismissed by the other characters. Rory’s mother Lorelai, whose relationship with Lane can best be described as the embodiment of the white savior complex, nevertheless respects Mrs. Kim’s rules concerning her daughter and refuses to lie to her on Lane’s behalf. It’s not that Lorelai believes Mrs. Kim has a point; she clearly thinks the woman is terrifying and insane. It’s that Lorelai recognizes that Mrs. Kim has the right to make her own rules, even if they seem ridiculous and unreasonable.
Regardless of what we’re consuming, it’s important to be aware of the subliminal messages we’re being exposed to. Some of those messages are going to be offensive one way or another, and some of those messages are going to affect you differently. We’re naturally more sensitive to things that hit closer to home, and I’ve learned that it’s perfectly acceptable to recognize that in yourself and say, ‘Hey, when I hear derogatory comments that touch on my identity or the identities of those close to me, I feel hurt. I don’t want to expose myself to that.’ Don’t let anyone tell you you’re being too sensitive. You have a right to your feelings.
[bctt tweet=”Don’t let anyone tell you you’re being too sensitive. You have a right to your feelings.”]
At the same time, I don’t believe in cutting off something that you genuinely enjoy just because there are aspects of it that are offensive. Watching CSI: Miami doesn’t make you a racist. Heck, watching Homeland doesn’t make you racist. As long as you can maintain your awareness of problematic content and address it internally so that you’re not internalizing negative messages subconsciously, there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy yourself and do what makes you happy.
There are always going to be problematic narratives in the media. And I don’t see that as a problem, because those narratives prompt dialogue about our society and our perceptions of ourselves and others. Ultimately, it’s that dialogue that will effect change in our beliefs, our communities, and with any luck, our policies.