I’m a little shaky on this one. But once it’s out, I can move on. Though possibly not without consequence.
I had in mind to write this a couple of weeks ago. Some time, in the mistily distant past, I stopped watching Law & Order SVU “cold turkey.” You know me and my inflexible discipline. I eat one sour persimmon, and I cut it dead as a vegetable. Or, possibly, a fruit. Whatever it is, you will see no forgiven bags of persimmons, sitting in my shopping cart.
After years of regular SVU viewing, binging on the stacked-up syndication version where I’d consume episode after consecutive episode after consecutive episode after consecutive episode after consecutive episode after consecutive episode, and then some, (to provide a literary sense of how many I watched in a row), I decided to cut Law & Order SVU from my videographical “Playlist.” (Although not the original Law & Order. A man has to watch something.)
Since that momentous, life-changing decision, as with persimmons, I have assiduously stuck to my guns.
My abandoning the SVU ship was made easier when Elliot startlingly “turned in his papers.” (Meaning he retired from the police force.) In the history of television – and I personally personify the history of television – when my parents brought me home from the hospital, they stopped off to pick up a television – not exactly, but close – I see Elliot and Olivia as one of the greatest performing duos since Laurel and Hardy, a reasonable comparison because there was no structural imbalance in their relationship; they were indistinguishable equals. And, like Laurel and Hardy, they had incendiary chemistry. (Being admittedly less funny, carrying a piano.)
When Elliot abruptly “turned in his papers”, I thought very seriously about turning in mine.
But I didn’t.
Then Munch “turned in his papers.”
And then Cragen turned in his.
Leaving just me and Olivia.
And Ice-T, and some “replacement characters” who weren’t nearly as interesting.
As you can see, I evaluated SVU(which loyalists “shorthanded” “Svoo”) unilaterally as a show. Now, however, minus the happy distraction of the characters who had drawn me in in the first place, I experienced the structural “bones” of the enterprise. And I woke up, feeling retroactively queasy.
Sex crimes is a devastatingly serious concern.
But more and more, I was unwilling to accept it as entertainment.
Suddenly – maybe because they had expended their most persuasive ones, the show’s stories, particularly the ones involving sexual misconduct towards children, gave off – for me – an exploitational aroma. I had, in fact, always felt that way. But I had previously quieted my discomfort, focusing on the drama.
And then I stopped, deciding, paraphrasing “Down By the Riverside”.
“I ain’t gonna watch that show no more.”
And not just because of the accumulated queasiness.
Okay, here’s where it gets dicey. Where I say something arguably accurate, and then suddenly, I am all by myself.
Anyway, here we go. Try not to be unkind.
Sending the message of “Zero Tolerance” acceptability of sex crimes?
But I heard that last week.
All right. I’m in it. So I am going to keep going.
Imagine a series called Under The Influence, where every episode offers a different alcohol-induced car accident (and its litigated aftermath.) It’s an unquestionably serious issue. But how many of those can you watch?
But that’s me, exaggerating for salvaging effect. (Although second thoughts suggest Under The Influence is a show networks –and possibly audiences – might love.)
Hardly a “forgotten issue”, life itself regularly showcases sexual misconduct. We had a Supreme Court nomination hearing about that. (In fact, we’ve had two.) You look at the president, that guy's a walking SVU multi-part episode.
A longtime series, reiterating the message 438 times…
That’s where I was at. A growing discomfort with flogging agonizing experiences for personal enrichment, mixed with acknowledged sex crime “Message Fatigue.”
Then, I saw an article in the paper, promoting SVU’s return for a record-tying (with Gunsmoke and the original Law & Order) 20th season. The story told of some viewers’ intimate identification with the series, thanking the producers for telling “their stories”, and helping them feel less isolated and alone.
Reading those sincere testimonials, I thought, not “Don’t write it”, because that’s what I do. But it did put my troubling concern into eye-opening perspective.
Okay, so a producer’s cashing in, cranking out questionable programming and frequently, in my view, “Kiddie Porn”, delivering a message it has weekly, for 20 consecutive seasons, delivered before.
I agree this important story needs to be told.
For the support of people who experienced it.
And for the education of people believing it will never happen to them.
Bottom Line: I can’t watch SVU anymore.
But I am glad it’s still on.