Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Beef With "Criminal Minds"

I have a beef with Criminal Minds. I don't often have an issue with TV shows; I mean, there's a lot of really bad ones out there, and rather than pick on the bad ones I'd like to watch the good ones. But I've been subjected to two "marathons" in the last two weeks on A&E, and I've come to really have a beef with it.

I want to like this show. I mean, it's got Mandy Potenkin in it (or it used to, at least.) He was Inigo de Montoya, for crying out loud (You keel my father. Prepare to die.) Plus, it's about a team of experts doing the thing they do best better than anyone else. I live for that stuff. It's why I bother watching "Top Chef" and "Project Runway." One of my favorite movies was "Sneakers." I'd probably love "Inglorious Basterds." But I still can't like it. It makes my disbelief suspenders fall off. I hate walking around without my disbelief suspenders.

In case you haven't seen this show, "the team" is called out on cases where there's a potential serial killer in a community. They determine who the killer is by the way serial killers are known to behave, such as the always-impressive statement to the press, "The killer is a white male between thirty and forty years of age." Apparently serial killing comes with maturity. There's always some last-minute glitch where they're trying to save the latest victim before some terrible fate befalls her (like being tortured, on camera no less, with electric shocks in one episode. Nice.) And in the end they get their man (it's always a man) and there's some Lesson to be Learned From All This, pronounced in resonant tones by Mandy Potenkin or his replacement and usually quoting some historical personage or other. I mean, it's your standard crime show fare, with some extras.

But here's where they lose me. The serial killers on this show always go after pretty, rich and successful women. Business owners. Happy housewives. Hollywood stars. They get abducted from their homes, their cars, their businesses. The message is obvious: If you're a woman, no place is safe. If you're a pretty, rich, successful woman, your days are numbered. It's only through the power of the (mostly) male Behavioral Assessment Unit that you're allowed to exist at all. Hell, you turn up dead all day long.

Which, in case you didn't know, does not at all reflect reality. Serial killers may be all kinds of things, but one thing they tend not to be is stupid. If they're going to go on killing people, which is what they want to do, they have to not get caught. That means they have to not kill rich powerful women. They need to kill prostitutes, runaways, old people, kids in poor neighborhoods who don't have the means to mount a "Find Caylee" campaign. This doesn't mean prostitutes, teen runaways and poor kids don't have as much right to live as the rest of us. Any living being has the right not to be tortured and murdered, including the aminals that I have to eat for food (but that's a whole 'nother blog post). But serial killers tend to hunt people that aren't going to be missed. Rich business owners, happy housewives and Hollywood celebs don't really tend to fill that bill very well, if you get my drift.

In Buddhist terms, a serial killer is sick. Not in terms of being mentally ill - most of them aren't, at least according to the show - but in terms of being fundamentally disconnected from all other beings. For a Buddhist, the worst thing you can do is kill a human being, because human beings are the only critters capable of reaching enlightenment. Well, I beg to differ on that count - I'm sure my cats are enlightened, and no doubt there are plenty of blissful dolphins, chimpanzees and other higher primates - but anyway, killing humans very very bad. Killing lots of humans? Unbelievably bad. Anyone who would do that is very sick and in need of healing. Yep, Buddhists would not be afraid of serial killers. They would feel very very sorry for them and want to teach them how to meditate. Which may or may not keep them from getting killed, but, you know.

I gather, again from the show, that most serial killers are sociopaths. That is, those rare human beings born without any sense of moral consequence, or what we'd call a conscience. For a Buddhist, this would be like living in hell. If you can't feel compassion for other beings, there's no point in being alive.

Here's the other thing, though. These conscienceless individuals are comparatively rare. The ones that become serial killers are even rarer (most of them figure out early in life that breaking laws = not getting things I want, so they don't graduate to killing people and instead settle for being your annoying neighbor or the colleague who can't shut up about whatever he can't shut up about.) Your odds of being killed by a serial killer are slightly lower than your odds of being eaten by a shark, killed in a plane crash or struck by lightning. Yeah, the guys make good boogeymen, and yeah, I cheered when "The Silence of the Lambs" won Best Picture just like everybody else, but it just don't happen all that often. You'd never know this from watching Criminal Minds, though. The killer is always across the street, down the row, watching from the park, hanging around your back yard at night. Once again, you are not safe. Particularly if you're female and have any sense of personal power - don't worry, it'll get knocked out of you by the end of the episode whether you survive it or not.

So that's my beef with Criminal Minds. I mean, hey, don't take my word for it. Go watch it if you want. Just know the facts are slightly different than presented. Sorry, Mandy Potenkin.

1 comment:

Joan said...

It's Patinkin. Like this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandy_Patinkin . And you ain't lived until you've heard him sing, "Buddy can you spare a dime" live. From about 8 feet away. Whoa. And he's a pretty good actor, too. I'm just sayin'.