Media Matters

Media has a strange role in our society. It both reflects and reinforces our collective consciousness. Which is why it’s so important to get content providers to think about being inclusive–when they don’t, the result is unintentionally reflecting the status quo. So it’s nice when you find something that not only deals with subjects like race, gender, sexuality, and disability, but does so well. So I’m going to point out a couple TV shows that I think fit this mold. (Note–in both cases I am referring only to the originals, not the spin-offs. Mostly this is because I’m unfamiliar with them, but I’ve also heard some concerns with Criminal Intent with respect to their portrayal of mental illness.)

CSI

Grisom is the main reason this show is good at its portrayal of minorities, because he’s always looking at people and situations differently than others. Part of this stems from having a deaf mother, so he’s probably seen some of these situations from a different perspective than most of us. He always reminds others to be sensitive to those around them, whether it’s pointing out the perspective of a plane traveler killed by fellow passengers who were afraid of him, or reminding Nick of the proper terminology for little people.

He’s the obvious one. But a less obvious character for portraying minorities well is the coroner, who is an amputee. It’s not something that’s used to define the character–mostly it’s just there, only noticeable because he uses a cane to get around, with the occasional comment about it. This understated portrayal is great because it doesn’t show him as being a victim or tragic figure, just someone who happens to have less mobility than the other cast members. Another great aspect, though, is that the actor himself is an amputee, which is another rarity, as often characters with disabilities are played by typically-abled people.

Law and Order

This show manages to be subtle and blunt all at once. In contrast to CSI, which is looking for the one truth, L&O is about grey areas. This can either be in the intricacies of the legal system, or the blurriness of humanity. Sometimes the issue is whether or not they can convict someone they know is guilty, while other episodes question right and wrong in a more nuanced way than you would normally see. One of the most powerful episodes I’ve seen is ‘Pro Se’, which is about a man with a legal degree and a diagnosis of schizophrenia. While he was clearly too dangerous to be allowed to not take medication, there was no benefit for him–he couldn’t get a job as a lawyer because of his diagnosis, and the side effects weren’t worth it for him.

At the same time, L&O deals with social justice issues in a more blunt way than is typical. It brings up questions about race, gender–really, any oppressed group–without always coming to firm answers. And other times, it just talks about them as simply being. In what other show would a black cop, telling a black suspect how deep he’s dug himself, say, “You shot a white cop”? There is no pretense of the world being fair in this show, which is rather refreshing.

 

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