ABW’s TV Corner – CSI and the ignorant storyline

Don’t ask me why, but I love the original CSI. And even though the season finale made me go ‘meh’, I’m looking forward to this new season. Not just for the return of my favorite investigators, but because they’re adding a newbie to the cast who is not only black but a woman! And she’s not slated to be Warrick’s love interest, as far as I can tell. Double happy good.

Still, if I have to endure another season like the last one, my love for CSI may dim. It wasn’t just the finale that did nothing for me, or the anti-climactic reveal of the serial killer, but one of the secondary throughlines viewers had to suffer through that revived my opinion that the CSI writers are clueless bastards about race.

CSI Cast

I’ve already ranted about the racial issues in CSI elsewhere (and been roundly smacked for it by white CSI fans) so I’ll not cover that ground again. The particular evil from the last season was a story about Greg, our favorite newbie CSI. It starts in the episode “Fannysmackin” wherin a group of teens and young people gather in mobs, dress like it’s Halloween, and go out to beat the crap out of random tourists. Why? They’re bored. Woo. Their good fun results in a death and thus the CSI team swings into action. Greg is sent off to one such scene to collect evidence and, on the way, spots the mob beating someone else up. He calls for backup but quickly realizes that no one is going to get here in time to help. He drives his car into the alley, honking and shouting, to chase the mob away. Most disperse, but one decides he’s not going to let this random guy ruin all his fun. He picks up a rock and is about to do… something… when Greg puts on the gas and hits the kid. Unfortunately, the mob did not disperse too widely, for they return, pull Greg from the car, and proceed to beat the mess out of him.

Eventually the mob is caught. (there’s a tragic moment when Kevin Federline is revealed as the leader of said mob — why do people allow him to do stuff?) The boy Greg hit goes to the hospital and put in a room right next to his. Greg is messed up, but will live. The person the mob was beating is real messed up, but will also live. The kid dies.

Greg, if you don’t know, is white. The man he saved: white. The kid who dies: black.

Oh, it gets worse.

This situation is not unlike any situation in the real world where a member of law enforcement wounds or kills a black person because they supposedly pose a threat. In the case of Greg, the audience knows that the kid posed a threat. We see it. Couple that with the fact that Greg is a likable character, amiable, not prone to racism that we know of, we’re obviously going to take Greg’s side on this. Of course he did what he had to do. Of course that kid was up to no good. Of course what happened was sad, but really, if you’re involved in mob beatings and show a willingness to hurt and kill, what can you expect? This whole scenario is biased from the beginning to show that Greg was in the right and the kid was in the wrong.

If they had just left it there, this wouldn’t have been a big problem for me. But the storyline continues.

In the episode “Post Mortem” Greg has to endure a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of the kid. His mother and younger brother both insist that Demetrius could not have been involved with anything illegal, as Greg attests, that he was a good boy, a role model to his brother, etc. They seem unable to even accept the fact that, though he may have been a good person, he was involved in the mob. Despite the fact that he was found with them, yadda. This blindness to facts is disturbing, at the very least. I have no trouble with the mother’s characterization as someone who loves her son and wants the person who killed him punished, but she’s also painted as slightly crazy, because she refuses to accept the facts. This pissed me off.

There’s also one other crazy thing that happens in the episode. A member of the “jury” asks at one point if the police department feels it’s okay for law enforcement to murder unarmed black boys as a matter of course. Which is meant to anger the audience because we know that’s not how it happened. Anyone who feels that this incident is yet another example of (probably made up) police misconduct is obviously crazy and extreme!

*sigh*

The inquest concludes that there was no culpability on Greg’s part in the killing, but that it was a bad kill. Or something like that. Greg is not completely exonerated. This disgusts everyone on the law enforcement side of things, as they feel the incident should have been declared a righteous event or whatnot.

The brother, Aaron, confronts Greg in the parking lot one day, threatening him with bodily harm (big, scary black men in the shadows, run!) and serving him with a summons for their civil case. Yes, the family sued the city! And the city eventually settles the case, giving them many millions of dollars. This also disgusts the police and CSIs because it’s like saying Greg was at fault! Oh horrors.

A few episodes later, in the episode “Big Shots“, we get a lovely coda to this storyline. While investigating some random crime, the CSIs discover that the younger brother of Demetrius, Aaron, was at the crime scene. The sheriff is tense about going to question or arrest Aaron because it might look like retaliation. But Greg and Grissom, in their angelic purity, argue that they can’t ignore the evidence, boss! Evidence never lies! They go to the family’s new house and, as I feared as soon as the prospect of questioning Aaron came up, the family is shown engaging in the lifestyle of the “Nigger Rich”.

(Just in case you’re not aware, this phrase describes a phenomenon where black people come into a buttload of money and, instead of spending it wisely, immediately buy big, gaudy things and tons of bling. The implication is that black folks can’t be trusted with money and aren’t responsible with it.)

So yes, we see a big ol’ house with a suspiciously stereotypical car (or cars) in front and the mother lookin’ a bit trifflin’ as she opens the door. Plus, it’s implied that she’s giving a crazy house party to celebrate their newfound wealth at the expense of the city. She also doesn’t look at all like a person who is still under the shadow of her son’s death. And when they insist on taking Aaron away, she starts screamin’ and hollerin’. Oh good.

Later, the mother storms into the police station very angry about her other son being brought in and accusing Greg of trying to destroy her whole family and somesuch. Again with the denial of facts, including the fact that Aaron was indeed at the crime scene. No, it’s really just a conspiracy against her. It always was!

*sigh*

Because Greg is angelic and righteous, he persuades the DA to go easy on Aaron and so the kid gets a suspended sentence and sent home. Who’s the hero here? Greg, of course. And look, Aaron was a bad apple after all.

This storyline wouldn’t bother me so much if similar situations didn’t happen between law enforcement and black folks all of the time. It’s shows like this that convince people that black folks are usually in the wrong, anyway, or deserved to be killed because they were up to no good, and are crazy to think that the police are racists out to get them, and even if you give them what they want, money, they’ll just act like fools and still commit crime because, well, black people are just bad. By framing it in this context, with a character the audience knows and loves and guest characters who are unrealistically/stereotypically drawn, the show is doing a disservice to the very serious issue at hand. And that just makes me angry.

It seems there’s no way to win with CSI on the race front. Either they’re ignoring race altogether or they’re engaging in harmful stereotypes and base stupidity. What is so frustrating is that this is one of the best shows on television, usually well written, and very intelligent. Why oh why do they act like ignorant baboons in cases like this?

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21 Responses

  1. This is interesting. I haven’t watched a lot of CSI but the shows that I have watched, I find that they often delve into a particular issue and, if you know anything about the area in question, they have a very…obvious, or stereotypical, or maybe prejudiced, take on it. The examples which spring to mind are the BDSM and Furry episodes, but there have been others. I’m not the most perceptive of race issues, probably, but your analysis rings very true to what I have observed to be their attitude on other topics.

    ———–
    As I don’t post much I’d like to take the opportunity to say how much I’ve enjoyed your blog which I found through IBARW posts and which has led me to all sorts of other new and exciting places.

  2. Okay I didn’t hallucinate this post! (A lot of people have been having trouble with WordPress right now, I’m not sure what they did to it but it doesn’t seem to have been a good idea.) I haven’t seen CSI but I’m not surprised – it’s just part and parcel of the whole mainstream/manstream Hollywood Illiberal mindset that’s rampant in other forms of genre media, and oh, how they get offended when you point out to them that they sound like Limbaugh Lite…

  3. Don’t know if you’re into Soaps, ABW, but Passions has a really racially diverse cast, if you wouldn’t mind reviewing it…

  4. I’m not allowed to watch soap operas anymore. My sophomore year in college I started back up with One Life to Live and All My Children and… let’s just say I went a bit insane. I love drama too much and I get too involved. :)

  5. I’ve never seen CSI (I don’t have a TV, the internet is my time waster of choice), but I don’t see how a cop who deliberately runs down a lone unarmed civilian can be seen as the “angelic good guy*” regardless of what the civilian in question was planning or not planning to do. Couldn’t he have gotten out of the car, grabbed the rock out of the kid’s hand, told him “put that down before you hurt someone, idiot”, and arrested him? I don’t see how this is anything other than murder just because he used a car instead of a gun.

    Just in case you’re not aware, this phrase describes a phenomenon where black people come into a buttload of money and, instead of spending it wisely, immediately buy big, gaudy things and tons of bling…)

    Sorry, but this paragraph made me snort out loud, because, you know, white people NEVER engage in the “honky rich” phenomenon of doing exactly the same thing when they suddenly come into money. Yeah, right, as the kids used to say.

    *Yes, I know that you’re describing what the audience is “supposed” to feel rather than your impression.

  6. One of the things that CSI attempts to do and always fucks up is portray the CSI team as “not cops”. Even though they carry guns and have some training in police procedures when dealing with criminals, the CSIs themselves are really just there to collect the evidence. Of course, as I said, they often fuck it up, only randomly going with the “but I’m a scientist” bit when it’s convenient for the plot.

    If one of the detectives or officers had been the one in the car and broke up the mob, he probably wouldn’t have even bothered with the honking. He would have rolled up on them, lights flashing, and whipped out his gun, making damn sure all those punks knew that if they even thought about coming near him a few of them weren’t going home. Since Greg is a CSI and therefore is more “civilian”-minded, he didn’t have the training or the mindset to pull his gun out and probably wouldn’t have been able to manage just taking the rock, etc. (It also doesn’t help that Greg is not very intimidating physically.)

    If I were in that situation and felt that if I didn’t do *something* that guy was going to die, I might have driven into that alley. And if the kid had come at me the way he came at Greg, I would have run his ass down, too. Again because I wouldn’t have felt safe getting out of the car or confident that i could have stopped the kid any other way. Also, I would have had an immediate OH NO YOU DIDN’T! reaction, which would not have helped.

    I think the majority of the audience was meant to feel the same way. Most people without the physical ability, confidence, or authority to do otherwise would have protected themselves any way they could.

  7. Anyone who feels that this incident is yet another example of (probably made up) police misconduct is obviously crazy and extreme!

    This is my biggest problem with Law & Order, CSI, etc. right here! They all put the audience’s sympathies on the side of the police, who are painted as balanced, restrained, sympathetic, and lots of other characteristics VERY SELDOM displayed by real police officers, especially when it comes to PoC. Let’s face it, even if there are individual “good cops” (and there are) they are under immense pressure to act otherwise, because the police have a specific role to play in society, enforcing the protection of the rich and the powerful and their property. Argh.

  8. Wow… I’m glad I came across your analysis because I have actually seen those episodes! But at the time I didn’t even consider the way race was handled. I remember sympathizing with Greg, as you said, in the Fannysmackin episode. And then there’s that scene in the courtroom about cops murdering black boys, at which I felt a twinge of discomfort. But then I forgot about it because the police are painted in this very virtuous way. I felt exactly the way the writers wanted me to feel, and didn’t consider the subtle ways I was being guided to think in terms of stereotypes.

    Ugh. Well, I’m glad I don’t watch it anymore. Though it is nice they are adding a black woman to the cast. Thank you for the post!

  9. Well, i watch CSI if im flipping through channels and its on,but, it seems to me that you are racist against white people. I understand that this was an episode that did involve a colored kid to be run over, but what would you have done, let the guy be killed. And anyways, almost ALL (about 90%) of the perps in csi are either white or hispanic.

  10. My head hurts from the ignorance displayed in that comment.

    First, no, I’m not racist against white people. Second, COLORED?? Dude. Third, if you’d actually read my post or the subsequent commentary, you’ll note that I had no qualms with the action Greg took per se and, had I been in similar circumstances, I would have done the same. That’s NOT the damn point! Fourth, oh goodee, the perps on CSI are cast in the same imbalanced way as the rest. Let me jump for joy. Seriously.

    What would make me happy is if there were a more representative number of brown people in ALL aspects. Victims, random witnesses, lab techs, and hey, they could even throw in a few more brown perps as long as they stayed away from brown perp = drug dealer/gangster/rapper stereotype.

  11. […] by Jack Stephens on September 4th, 2007 The Angry Black Woman blogs about a  storyline in CSI were a young Black man was killed by one of the main white characters in […]

  12. It’s kind of funny how much my wife (Black woman) and I (Arab man) watch CSI, since half the time we end up yelling at the screen, if not for racial weirdness, then for the above-mentioned consistently tentative grasp on whatever ‘niche’ they decide to deal with (did anyone see the Miami epoisode where they handle “gamers”? hilarious). Or for the pure cheese factor.

    Las Vegas beats Miami, though, on all levels including the racism…. And the New York cast, besides being mind-bogglingly white, just plain sucks.

  13. Well don’t forget…they’ve also got one clever Asian Guy who always seems to be sitting in front of a computer.

    Yeah -sure- when we’re not doing Kung Fu or serving tea that’s what we do.
    amm

  14. Heh. If it’s any consolation, my wife, a psychologist, says that B.D. Wong on SUV is more or less the only credible psychologist on TV…

  15. SVU, rather.

  16. Hey there Saladin
    B.D also has a position of authority- so yeah, it’s a good call.
    amm

  17. What ELSE do you all expect?!! The networks,writers,executives et al. are almost always white males and despit contrary opinions are not the paragons of diversity or sensitivity and their ‘liberalism’ is very fake and only extends about as far as a Hurricane Katrina photo-op. the problem is there needs to be more people of color BEHIND the camera instead of in front of it.

  18. *sigh* my beloved CSI didn’t used to be this bad, but to hear it’s falling into the same network trap the other crime shows allows loop into…it’s sad. Good thing I don’t watch TV much anymore.

    Yeah, PoC behind the cameras might help, but I think running the networks would do more good. Will that happen? I’m an idealist so I certainly hope so.

  19. You are right on point as usual. I do not watch that CSI, but I can imagine it being the way you say IT IS. My question is why was the boy black.I know they wanted to throw in about police brutality but how the boy got killed in the first place comes of as a little silly to me. Couldn’t the boy have been doing something else besides this? I am sure that they are not above being biased on this issue because I think I have seen other shows do this too. Most teenagers doing stuff like that are not usually black. I am not saying we do not do things, but many black folks, at least the ones I know ain’t beating up tourists in mobs for fun. That is probably not impossible-but that don’t seem to be our M.O.

  20. I know what I talk about in this case ain’t a big deal, but if you understand what I am trying to say, I would like your response or anybody else in reference to what I brought up.

  21. I think the story was meant to make everyone think because that is how society is.

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