Besides death and taxes, there are a couple of other constants in the universe: Everybody loves a good puzzle, and most of us like to see the good guy win. These two simple facts (as well as the quality of the production) are what’s behind the solid success of the television program CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.
About to enter its eighth season and still going strong, the original CSI has generated two spin-offs (CSI: Miami and CSI: New York) and a raft of computer games. It’s make-believe crimes solved by make-believe people; television studios have been doing it since Perry Mason, The Mod Squad, and the like. All well and good.
But It’s also spawned a disturbing new show being aired by Spike TV, one that pushes the bounds of the reality TV fad way too far.
It’s one thing to curl up on the couch and try to solve a fictitious crime before the Hollywood CSI characters do. It’s quite another to watch the victims of real, violent crimes turned into fodder for a glorified game show. And That’s exactly what happens on Spike TV’s Murder.
The intro for the first episode says it all: ?This show contains explicit and gruesome crime scene photos and re-creations . . . The heinous crimes you are about to see are real.?
As two teams of wannabe forensic investigators are shown arriving at the original crime scene (all the cases used in the show have been solved), the 911 call is played. The contestants smile for the camera and introduce themselves. In the background, a terrified teenage girl on the actual 911 tape has run to her neighbours? house, incoherent as she sobs that her parents have just been shot.
The only word to describe it is horrific. To realize that this family’s pain, the brutal crime that invaded their home and stole their lives, has been reduced to nothing more than entertainment deserves no other word than that.
There have been other reality-based crime shows. America’s Most Wanted was one of the first. Although it started out with good intentions (to identify and help locate wanted criminals), it opened the door to programs like Cops?a chase-and-arrest-fest with no redeeming qualities.
As the Murder contestants look for clues and analyze blood spatter, competing with another team to solve the crime, it becomes increasingly obvious that there is no point to this show but voyeurism. Crime-scene photos are trotted out, the home that the crime took place in is visited, and the very real pain of these families is relived. It’s the next level in extreme viewing.
It reminds me of the final days before the fall of the Roman Empire: for a while in those bread-and-circus days, the thrill of watching a character die a fake death in a play was enough. But as the Empire reeled, the crowds clamoured to take things further, and the actors on stage were actually killed.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that the concept was estimated to be popular enough to garner an audience (I’m not even sure I want to know who gave this debacle a thumbs-up in the test audiences). It’s cheap sensationalism at the expense of grieving families, friends, and quite frankly, good taste. There ought to be a law.