What are some TV show plots that you have seen so many times on so many different shows that twiddling your thumbs might yield more interest than watching said TV show? Is there any plot on an otherwise really good show that would make you strongly consider turning off the TV rather than watch the show to its conclusion?

One such example is a character falling asleep and dreaming of the cast of the show in the storyline or time period in a book that he or she is reading.

Yesterday I ran across another on the TV show Homicide, Life on the Street: The Domestic Violence episode.

It seems like just about every earnest drama (and some comedies) feels the need to put a spotlight on domestic violence. They never seem to feel the need to make it interesting. Instead, the plot goes like this:

  • 1. A new character is introduced that is in a marriage that usually seems happy to all the world. This character will often be an old friend in a principal character. (in Homicide, it was the wife of a principal’s old partner)
  • 2. The woman ends up with unexplained bruises, which she lamely attributes to falling on a doorknob or something (in Homicide, she “fell down the stairs”).
  • 3. A confrontation occurs either between the principal and either the abuser or the victim wherein the principal Knows What’s Really Going On. The abuser will explain that he just gets so mad sometimes and his work is stressful and she doesn’t listen or some variation of those themes. The victim will say that he’s such a good man and she probably deserves it. (in Homicide, he gave all of the above excuses)
  • 4. Principal will try to convince woman to leave man. Woman will put up a great amount of resistence. She’s scared, she has nowhere to turn, etc.
  • 5. In the end, one of three things happens: (1) She leaves him, (2) She refuses to and the principal is shut out of their lives for trying to help, or (3) he kills her for trying to leave or she kills him because she believes he will kill her. In Homicide it was the third, to no surprise (or care) whatsoever.

Throughout the entire episode, I was almost mouthing the lines even though I’d never seen the episode before. I was calling it beforehand “This is the scene where she tries to convince the victim to leave him” and “Oooh, her phone just rang. It’s the police announcing that he or she is dead”.

Look, I am not indifferent to domestic violence and believe in prosecuting spousal abusers to the greatest extent of the law. But seriously, there is no “spousal abuse is a-ok” argument being made anywhere except by spousal abusers and their victims, most of whom would probably watch the episode and agree that the dude on the TV is a bastard but their case is Really Different. I don’t object to awareness campaigns, I object to bad television.

I want to see episodes telling me something I don’t know. I would love to see some episodes wherein the man is emotionally abusive or uses the threat of physical violence without ever having to raise his hand. These are things that happen every day that I’m not sure I’ve ever seen on television. These are things that a woman can look at and say “Oh, my God, that’s what’s happening to me!” I can’t imagine there are that many women that are being abused that haven’t already decided that they want to leave or made some false peace with their situation (believing she deserves it, that he’ll change, or that she’s safer getting beat up than getting killed for leaving) that won’t be shattered in 45 or 22 minutes of television.

It’s also more than a little obnoxious how they keep showing the same types of abusers, too. The guy is usually outwardly very sweet and the last person you would expect to be an abuser and so on and so on*. I am aware of at least a few situations of abuse and in most of those cases the guy’s real temperament was a pretty badly kept secret. I’m not at all blaming the woman for being abused because god knows the flaws we miss when we’re falling in love, but an awareness campaign on what we should be looking for** would be more helpful than one about how Domestic Violence Is Bad. In no case that I have been witness to*** has the abused partner been anything but keenly aware of what’s happening to them. Most don’t even try to make the excuses that I see on television, they just accept it as the cost of the relationship they’re in (this is particularly true for women with children, where the cost of leaving is so much greater).

In addition to rarely being outwardly sweet (except in an obsessive way) most cases I’m aware of do not involve the middle class professionals (or above) I frequently see as the abusers on television. Successful men are much, much less likely to be physically abusive than unsuccessful men. Women that marry professional and middle class men typically have the resources to leave him. It’s poor women that are most often stuck with these jerks because they don’t have the means to escape and are less likely to be aware that their situation is as bad as it is (one’s sense of what is normal is greatly influenced by what is going on in their peer-group). Fully half of the abusive men that I am aware of are from an economically strapped suburb of Colosse.

And yet if you see these TV shows you really get the impression that the biggest threat a woman faces in regards to domestic violence is an outwardly appearing well-adjusted man with a steady income. I guess what they’re going for is an “It can happen to you!” theme. Indeed, it can happen to even the most intelligent and aware person, but that person is much less likely to need a television show to inform them of the situation they’re in.

This is more of a meandering rant than I had intended, but good golly that episode irritated me. I couldn’t skip it because there were other plots I was wanting to follow. Thank you all for indulging me.

* – This isn’t entirely accurate. Television does show a lot of trailer trash wifebeaters. But when they show that it’s rarely the point of episode. It’s taken for granted that it’s wrong and the thrust of the show is planning the escape. It’s only when it’s the warm family-man type that gets so PSAish that you expect to see a hotline number appear at the end of the episode. Empirically it seems to me the opposite is more true. The poor woman is more likely to be stuck with the dude and the more well-off woman is more likely going to be the one planning the escape.

** – Most abusive types I am aware of have notable tempers. Even if they’re not exactly hitting things, they’re likely to yell at inanimate objects, be verbally abusive to people in the service industry, and express their temper in a number of ways. There is also a degree of insecurity and jealousy that makes itself pretty apparent pretty quickly. They’re also frequently embittered in general in reference to their economic, social, or domestic situation.

*** – “Witness to” is not entirely accurate but I don’t know another phrase. It’s a combination of past-tense stories I’ve been told and things I’ve been told by a third party about the relationship of someone I know. There have been a couple of occasions where I have known someone in an abusive relationship, though. Most notably, my mother was in an abusive marriage before she met my father. I was also platonically romantically (long story) involved with a married woman planning to leave her husband. She did leave him but went back to him after he sobered up (which is a separate point, in both that case and the case with my mother the abuse likely wouldn’t have happened were it not for alcoholism). Most hauntingly, I could have saved a young lady from an abusive relationship a decade or so ago, but failed to. I’m pretty sure they’re married now with a couple of kids.

Category: Theater

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One Response to A Very Special Episode

  1. Peter says:

    I saw plenty of domestic abuse cases when I worked as a court clerk (Connecticut, early 1990’s), and indeed most of the abusers and abusees were from the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder, the left side of the Bell Curve, and the shallow end of the gene pool.

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