Does Scaring Women Make for Good Television?
Televisions shows shape how we think about crime.
It’s because of TV that we think any number of things: That forensic science is infallible and most trials make use of forensic evidence; that murder is a frequent event; that crime consistently is increasing. None of these things are true, though, we have been influenced to think they are.
It’s because of the influence of television news and crime shows that most people in this country have no idea whether crime rates are going up or down. And it’s because of TV – and other media (we just can’t quite single out television for everything!) – that most of us have no clue as to how much crime takes place in our own community. Surveys show that citizens consistently overestimate the amount of crime in their city.
But it is mostly because of TV, and in particular crime shows, that people have distorted and inaccurate beliefs about the nature of crime. The most blatant example is that many people think that the most likely victim of a violent crime is a woman. After all, doesn’t nearly every crime or cop show feature the assault or murder of a woman – and an attractive woman at that?
The truth, however, is that the most frequent victim of a violent crime is a young man. But a man’s death usually isn’t as exciting, for TV’s purposes, as the murder of a woman.
Which brings me to a new crime show that debuted on CBS-TV on Wednesday, October 1. The show is Stalker, starring Maggie Q and Dylan McDermott.
Maggie Q is Lt. Beth Davis, head of a Los Angeles Police Department unit called the Threat Assessment Unit (TAU). Despite its FBI-ish-sounding name, the fictitious unit investigates stalking incidents. Davis, in the pilot episode, hires Jack Larsen, played by McDermott, as a new detective in the TAU.
But in the very first scene of Stalker, a woman is doused with gasoline and set on fire. Her screams go on interminably as she is incinerated by her stalker. And, thus, the stage is set for this creepy show that begins by perpetrating the myth that young, attractive females are inevitably the victims of violent crimes.
Stalker was created by Kevin Williamson, who has given us The Following, a violent and frightening series about serial killers. The not-so-original plot twists in Stalker are that Lt. Davis has been – may still be? – a stalker victim herself and she is terrified every night that a stalker may get into her house and attack her in her sleep, and that Jack Larsen is a stalker of his ex-wife, who moved with their young son to Los Angeles from New York to get away from him.
Beneath the gore and violence, the show is a police procedural and it may have some redeeming value – we’ll have to wait and see how it develops this first season. However, it is likely to scare viewers – particularly women — even more than other shows, such as Criminal Minds. As a result, I would give Stalker a rating of Two (out of Five) Bullets.
Maybe it will find a rhythm and an identity that provokes fewer screams and actually concentrates on police procedures. We can hope this happens.