ABW’s TV Corner – CSI and the ignorant storyline
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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.
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!
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!
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?