It’s no secret that Americans are fascinated by crime and injuries. If there’s a traffic accident, people will slow down to a 5 MPH crawl as they pass simply to see what kind of damage was done. Console and computer games featuring violence and mayhem are among the nation’s bestsellers. Detective and justice books (John Grisham, Robert Patterson, ect) are always collecting a strong fanbase, to say nothing of the True Crime book genre. Movies provide a good, albeit temporary, fascination with the evils of the world. But it is television shows that provide some of the most entertainment when it comes to brutal murders and mutilations.
As I child, I grew up watching Matlock, a detective show featuring the late Andy Griffith. As I grew older, and my tastes turned to something slightly more gritty, I watched Law and Order, which soon had the spinoffs Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, and Law and Order: Criminal Intent. Soon, however, I longed for something a bit more psychologically in-depth and was provided with CSI: Crime Scene Investigators, which led to CSI: Miami and CSI: New York. Around this time I also discovered NCIS which was a Navy based crime show, which now has a spinoff NCIS: Los Angeles. When I got bored with the plots that only showed tiny glimpses of the same unrecognizable crime scene type plots, I switched to shows that featured more gruesome crimes and catered more to the cerebral experience. So I turned to Bones, Numbers, Dexter, and Criminal Minds.
Incredibly, these aren’t even all the crime/detective shows popular in the States, and some of the cases shown on these shows, while usually fictional, still make Jack the Ripper look like a preferable choice of death. So what is the effect these shows, some of which are well into their double digit seasons (series), have on those who watch them? Despite a large percentage of shows ending with catching and either killing or gaining a confession from the criminal, for avid watchers like myself, there is a certain morbid joking of being able to create the perfect murder. Anyone with even a casual interest in criminal investigating knows that the equipment and resources available to the characters on the shows is no where close to reality. So do these shows give ideas to would-be killers? Or do they dissuade them?
In most every crime show, the criminals face one of two outcomes: Either they will be killed in police action, or they will confess. This is the critical element. Far more so than the way the criminals are caught. The confession conveys that no one is a good enough liar to get away with murder for long, or that your conscience will get the better of you. The killings by police action is for those who believe that they could get away with it. The message is that it’s not how you are caught, it’s when you are caught. In none of these shows a murderer escapes justice for long. So while they might teach you good ways to dispose of bodies, they leave you with the knowledge that in the end, there’s no such thing as a perfect murder.