Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Girl Fight 

TV serves up heaping helping of violence against women

I recently spent a month in South Africa, and what I most enjoyed -- other than the beautiful mountains, rivers and beaches -- was the country's serenity. Having gone to South Africa to teach in rural schools and to establish a study abroad program at Rhodes University, I worked extremely hard but stayed away from the daily grind of my life in the states. I also got a reprieve from the onslaught of media, having no immediate access to the Internet and only seven TV channels in my cottage. Despite the small number of channels, the programming was excellent and different.

Public affairs shows were abundant, music videos had narratives and featured great musicians, and even the soap operas (referred to as "soapies") managed to relate their storylines to the social and economic challenges of the day. Gone were the sensationalized news stories, mindless star coverage and inundation with death, despair and destruction. Images of women as victim, harlot or aggressor were replaced with women as intellectual, leader and complex human being serving as news show hosts, actresses and entertainers. I quickly realized, as a scholar who is charged with critically analyzing the media through the lens of race, class, gender and sexuality, that it was good to be away from the "vast wasteland" that we call television in America, if only for a short time.

After the 20-hour trek from South Africa back to the states, it wasn't I-495, my Dad's voice or McDonald's that reminded me that I was now home. I knew I was back in the United States when I turned on the TV and saw that yet another man -- a police officer -- had killed his pregnant girlfriend and that WWE Wrestler Chris Benoit had "allegedly" murdered his wife and son before committing suicide. Take the needle off the record. The party was over, and I was now clearly back in the United States ... where violence by and against women is front-page news and the basis for many American shows.

The longest-running and highest-rated shows on television often center around the murder of women, like Law and Order, Law and Order SVU, CSI, and CSI Miami, to name a few. There is usually some sex crime related to the murder, and these formulaic shows often open up with the distorted corpses of women mutilated by a crazed spouse, serial killer or troubled teen. A&E and Court TV are crammed with forensic documentaries that graphically detail the murder of women all day long.

Violence against women is big business in Hollywood and is often the lead story on the evening news. Even "women-friendly" networks like Oxygen and WE have jumped on the bandwagon. Oxygen now shows Snapped, which features women who kill their husbands for various reasons, The Bad Girls Club, a reality show where women verbally and physically attack each other weekly and Fight Girls, where women beat each other down in a boxing ring. WE has stepped out of Oxygen's shadow by offering up Bridezillas, highlighting women at their worst as they head down the aisle. The brides harangue their "friends and family," browbeat their grooms and wreak havoc over what is supposed to be a special moment in their lives. The E! network, Extra, Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight highlight Hollywood catfights between the "It" girls. Even Elizabeth Edwards went to the mat with Ann Coulter. (Now, I'm not going to lie: It would be cool to see a celebrity death match between Edwards and Coulter, because some of us want to see Ann get her ass kicked. Depending on how they wanted to market it, Elizabeth Edwards could drop kick Ann or scream, "Belinda Carlisle called and wants her '80s look back!" Either way, it would be widely watched and enjoyed.)

I'm not saying that all images of women on television should be touchy-feely, but it seems as if the images of women on TV are increasingly violent. This is nothing new, but what is new is the sheer volume of shows dedicated to highlighting violence against women or portraying women as violent, particularly towards each other. As a scholar, I resist linking "televisual" images to the alarming rate of violence against women in society because there are so many other social and economic factors that influence those statistics. But, it is clear that there is a culture of women and violence in television programming that is problematic because of the many hours that we spend in front of the TV. It is troublesome when the response to women as victims is to create shows where women are the perpetrators and the victims. While I'm definitely not for censorship, I am for balance and there needs to be more. Do we really need to see the same episodes of SVU and CSI over and over? Nah. But we do need to be more aware of the violent images of women that plague television and demand more from programmers, sponsors and ourselves.

Nsenga K. Burton is a Charlotte-based writer, professor and a filmmaker.

Pin It
Submit to Reddit
Favorite

Comments

Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-1 of 1

Add a comment

Creative Loafing encourages a healthy discussion on its website from all sides of the conversation, but we reserve the right to delete any comments that detract from that. Violence, racism and personal attacks that go beyond the pale will not be tolerated.

Search Events

www.flickr.com
items in Creative Loafing Charlotte More in Creative Loafing Charlotte pool

© 2017 Womack Newspapers, Inc.
Powered by Foundation