Stereotyping in television writing

Time for me to rant about something that’s been bothering me for a bit.

Now, I’m a huge CSI fan – for those who aren’t, a little background. There’s a lab rat, Greg Saunders, who basically worked his way out of the lab into being qualified as a full field investigator. Good fella, deserves a sweet girl to take care of him. But I digress.

This season he’s had his own storyline – while racing to the scene of a gang beating where they’ve already had two deaths, he comes across the gang beating down another victim. He intercedes before backup arrives and ends up hitting one of the kids with his car before he’s pulled from the vehicle and almost beaten to death. He survives, as does the initial victim – but the kid doesn’t. Enter the court system where the poor single mother and surviving brother blame Greg for the incident and want him prosecuted.

Thankfully there are no criminal charges pressed, so we move to the civil part of the legal system where they slap him with a lawsuit for wrongful death. We find out in another episode that the DA decided to pay the family off with a few million dollars to keep them quiet, which leads to another ep where the remaining son ends up in trouble with the law because he’s now riding with some bad, bad fellows who want the patsy to “invest” with them. Greg is pulled off the case as soon as it’s discovered that the family is involved again, but the mother shows up at the station to rant at him for trying to take her remaining son from her.

Greg confronts the mother and points out that *he* didn’t give her son the money to go riding with criminal scum and that maybe *she* should have thought about that. In the end the surviving son cops a plea and is hustled out by the mother who seems a bit more withdrawn than normal, hopefully taking Greg’s words to heart and realising that she must take some responsability for her life.

Not a bad storyline, right? Well, here’s what tweaked my ire – they made the family African-American. How classic is that? A single mother with two boys who are verging on the edge of criminal; one who runs with a gang and ends up dying due to it and another who almost ends up in prison ’cause he’s now rich and a target because of it.

The writers could have done better. They *should* have done better. Make them a Latino family, or an Asian family – what about making it a single father with two daughters who are running wild? Why fall back on the most typical stereotype of the African-American by doing the single mother with two boys? And don’t tell me that in Las Vegas you can’t find other minorities that would have fit the bill. Heck, make them all white and illustrate that there’s white trash outside of the Jerry Springer show!

As it went it just seemed to me to be lazy writing and casting on the part of the show – suddenly we’re going from Warrick Brown, a good solid minority character to a stereotypical whiny black woman upset about her boys being stomped on by the system. I can get that on a thousand other shows, thank you very much. And before anyone yelps that there are such cases in real life, I point you to the fact that there *are* white trash in the same situation along with every other ethnic minority out there. And to fall back on this stereotype was just wrong when we’re trying hard to show that everyone is the same and that we can all be in the same situation depending on our circumstances.

When you write – LOOK at what you’re writing and what you’re saying. Are you just putting down the same old thing that everyone else has done and said, or are you willing to go beyond the easy answers and tackle the hard ones? Are you going to buy into the classic stereotypes of all genres and races or are you willing to depict men and women dealing with problems across the board and across the spectrum?

This storyline was great, but as soon as I saw that they were African-American I lost interest in it. It’s been done before; been done to death and frankly, we all deserve better. Show me the frantic father with two out-of-control daughters. Show me the Asian family dealing with culture shock. Show me the Muslim father trying to understand a community that doesn’t understand him.

But, as Judge Judy says – don’t pee on my shoes and tell me it’s raining outside.

’nuff said.


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