The Amanda Knox Case: The Portrayal of Female Violent Criminals in the Media

Introduction

For several years the Amanda Knox case was closely covered by the media of the world. On November 2, 2007, British student Meredith Kercher was found dead, half-naked, throat slashed, in her villa while studying abroad in Italy. Immediate suspicion was directed at Kercher’s roommate, 20 year old, American girl, Amanda Knox along with her new Italian boyfriend, Rafaele Sollecito, who had initially called the police. Additionally, multiple men were accused of sexual contact with Kercher, including Sollecito, Patrick Diya Lumbaba, and Rudy Guede. As the Italian law enforcement looked deeper into the case of odd suspect behavior, sex, and lies, they found only more confusion. The media focused particularly on Amanda Knox as a suspect, and scrutinized her behavior, personality, words, and actions throughout the duration of the case.

Using the Amanda Knox case as a prime example of female violence, I am looking to answer the question of what underlying dominant ideologies about females as violent criminals exist in society. I have utilized previous research in order to analyze the coverage of the case. In Berrington and Vandenberg’s (2009), “Depictions of Female Offenders in Front-Page Newspaper Stories: The Importance of Race/Ethnicity”, they explain that gender roles are learned from society. Berrington and Honkatukia explain in their article, “An Evil Monster and a Poor Thing: Female Violence in the Media”, that society has a created a stereotypical “proper” female, a woman who is non-violent, nurturing, and passive; when a woman commits a violent crime, she has not only broken the law, she has also “overstepped the boundary of what is considered ‘proper’” (144). It is important to research this topic because the society media perpetuate stereotypes about women. These stereotypes can cause people to attribute a crime committed by a female to deviance from “normal” characteristics of females, as opposed to seeing the crime as the result of a single individual who lost control. It is important to realize the underlying dominant ideologies about different types of people that exist in society so we can properly identify them, and therefore, not fall under their influence. This way, we form our own opinions according to the facts, and not biases from other people.

The media portrayed Knox as being violent because of sexually deviant characteristics, as well as a potential to be mentally insane and disorganized. The Amanda Knox case exemplifies the media’s tendency to look for characteristics that deviate from the social norm, when it comes to violent female crimes. The case demonstrates the dominant ideology that “proper” women could never commit such crimes and suggests women should be completely virtuous and emotionally very stable, and that when they are not, the results could be dangerous, and even fatal.

Context and Methods

In doing my research, I have used three scholarly articles to familiarize me with Amanda Knox  and her case, as well as dominant ideologies about women and how women are portrayed by the media when they commit violent crimes.

Annunziato’s (2011), “The Amanda Knox Case: The Representation of Italy in America”, describes, thoroughly, all of the details pertaining to the Amanda Knox case. The article also describes Amanda Knox, her innocent physical appearance, the way she behaved throughout the duration of the case, and the accusations about her sexuality, substance use, and immorality.

Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009), “Depictions of Female Offenders in Front-Page Newspaper Stories: The Importance of Race/Ethnicity”, analyzes dominant ideologies about women and how these ideologies play roles in female criminality. The article first explains the fact that gender roles, though based on biological sex, are actually learned from the stereotypes of society. Features attributed to “moral” women include maternity and wifing, passiveness, and non-violence; on the other hand, attributes of “criminal” women may include insanity, hyper-emotion, masculinized behavior, or sexual deviance (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). Brennan and Vandenberg then explain that in some instances, the severity of women’s actions have been dulled by twisting the situation to make the woman a “victim of circumstance” (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). The prominent American belief of “white egocentrism” is then described. Brennan and Vandenberg argue that because of this “white egocentrism” ideology, white women are more likely to be viewed as “victims of circumstance” than are minority women.

Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2002), “An Evil Monster and a Poor Thing: Female Violence in the Media”, examines how a woman’s femininity is put into question whenever a woman commits a violent crime. The article discusses female stereotypes, such as non-violence, nurture, and passivity, and explains that when a woman executes a crime such as murder, she has not only violated the law, she has also overstepped the boundaries of what is considered “proper” feminine behavior. It also reveals the fact that women are statistically much less likely to commit violent crimes than are males. Therefore, when a female performs an act of violence, not only is she transgressing the norms and expectations for what it is to be a proper female, but she is also executing an action that goes against data and statistics. It is for these reasons that Berrington and Honkatukia argue violent female criminals achieve vast media coverage and societal attention. The authors then argue that when a woman commits an act of violence, she is categorized as “bad” or  “mad”. “Bad” insinuates that the woman has performed an act of violence because she is simply evil; on the other hand, “mad” implies that the woman has executed violence because she is mentally ill. “Bad” or “mad” categorization from the media can determine whether the woman is sympathized for or socially exiled as a malicious being as a result of her crime.

I researched twenty reports on the Amanda Knox case, seven newspaper articles from the New York Times, National Post, New York Post, and Seattle Post Monterey County Herald, one magazine article from Newsweek, five web-based publications from CNN.com, Guardian Unlimited, and BreakingNews.ie, and seven broadcast transcripts from CNN, Fox News Network, CBS News, and ABC News. I discovered these reports utilizing the LexisNexis Academic Database and using the search term “Amanda Knox 11/1/2007-12/31/2007”.

All of these reports focus on Knox’s behavior, personality, image, appearance, words, and actions. Because my research question focuses on how violent female criminality is portrayed by the media, I looked for articles that paid particular attention to the reasons the media gave for attributing Knox to Kercher’s murder. I searched for underlying stereotypes the media used in discussing Knox, keeping in mind the stereotype theories presented in the Brennan and Vandenberg and Berrington and Honkatukia articles.

Analysis

After reading and analyzing all twenty reports on the Amanda Knox case, I found that the media attributes Knox’s involvement with Kercher’s murder to characteristics of sexual deviance and insanity. Kercher’s murder was portrayed to be the result of “… some kind of sexual orgy that went wrong” (Wordsworth, 2007). The implications are that Kercher was murdered because of a wild sex game that went out of control. When Knox was arrested and portrayed as a prime suspect, the media focused on the behaviors, personality aspects, and actions of Knox that paralleled the murder.

The first reason the media attributes to Knox’s ability to commit a violent crime is sexual deviance. Amanda Knox is Caucasian, with light brown hair and bright blue eyes. She comes from a loving family and grew up in a middle-class community in Seattle. The Seattle-Post Intelligencer reported: “None could have foreseen this: The 20-year-old from Arbor Heights placed squarely at the center of a case that’s riveted Europe—the throat-slashing slaying and rape of Knox’s female roommate” (Pulkkinen and Rowe, 2007).

 

(http://abcnews.go.com/US/amanda-knoxs-waiting-heard-book-cover-released/story?id=17832849#.UMLd8KnU7zI)

According to Brennan and Vandenberg’s (2009) “white egocentrism” theory, a woman like Knox should have sympathized with and depicted by the media as a “victim of circumstance”. However, the media depicted Knox as a sex-crazed, mentally and emotionally unstable, and dangerous woman. Therefore, in order make Knox seem capable of such a crime, the media needed a reason to portray this “angel face” as a  darker character.

Knox set herself up for failure. Both on her MySpace and in her blog, she went by the name “Foxy Knoxy”. On Knox’s MySpace, she had uploaded photos associating herself with guns, intoxication, and provocation, as some photos present her in tight clothing and suggestive poses. In her blog, Knox wrote obscure short stories, some of which passed the boundaries of questionability when touching on subjects such as drugs, rape, and violence. Newsweek Magazine recounted that, “In one of her short stories on the Web, a young man accused of drugging and raping a girl… tells his brother, ‘A thing you have to know about chicks is that they don’t know what they want’” (Dickey and Nadeau, 2007). Because of the provocative nature of her Internet identity, the media depicted Knox as a “cold maneater” (Fisher, 2007).

 

(http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/2009/12/amanda-knox-found-guilty.html)

            Due to the sexual nature of Kercher’s murder correlating to some of Knox’s online behavior, it allowed the media, as well as prosecutors to form conclusions based on Knox’s sexuality, because it parallels aspects of the murder. The National Post declared, “The sexual intercourse involving [Ms. Kercher] and [Mr. Diya] must be regarded as violent, given the particular threatening context in which it took place, and to which Knox must have contributed” (Wordsworth, 2007). The evidential fact was that Diya had participated in violent sexual intercourse with Kercher; however, Wordsworth (2007) then states that “Knox must have contributed.” The media assumes that because violent sex was involved in the murder and Knox portrayed herself provocatively on the Internet, Knox must have participated in Kercher’s murder.

The second reason the media attributes to Knox’s involvement with Kercher’s murder is mental and emotional instability. Of the twenty articles I analyzed, more than fifty percent of them reported that Knox was either emotionally or mentally unstable. The fact that she “…changed her story several times…” (Fisher, 2007), was included in six of these articles. The media attributed this to one of two possibilities; it either assumed Knox was an emotionally distraught and weak girl or ultra-manipulative, smart, and conniving woman.

Knox changing her story so many times was quite controversial. One the one hand, there were some reports that were more sympathetic toward her, blaming her multiple accounts of the night on emotional instability. The Monterey County Herald (California) reported, “After a break following the tears, Knox denied to answer any more questions… adding that she had difficulty answering when she was confronted with past conflicting statements” (Monterey County Herald, 2007). The report mentions Knox’s tears and difficulty, insinuating that her altering and switching of stories stemmed from an inability to think because of emotional stress and trauma. This presentation of Knox, harbors more sympathy from the audience, though the article shortly follows with an explanation that Knox’s DNA was found on the handle of a knife that had Kercher’s DNA on the tip, still portraying Knox as guilty.

On the other hand, other reports depicted Knox as “… cold-hearted, as emotionless” (CNN). When The New York Post interviewed one of Kercher’s friends about Knox’s behavior at the police station, she contended, “ ‘I just remember thinking at the police station that Amanda’s behavior was very strange. It was as if she wasn’t bothered at all’ (Soltis, 2007). The New York Post then reported that, “ ‘the face of an angel but ice-cold eyes,’ was lying when she said she spent that night at Sollecito’s apartment” (Soltis, 2007). The ominous image of  the “ice-cold blue eyes” (Soltis, 2007) implicates a coldness about Knox as a person. The report also uses the word “lying”, to describe Knox’s change of story. Reports similar to The New York Post recount Knox’s physical appearance and describe her change in stories as lies, connoting that she is mentally capable of manipulating those around her in order to work in her favor. This depiction of Knox causes the audience to dislike Knox as a person because they assume that she is evoking confusion and problems on purpose.

Other reports portray Knox as having a mental predisposition to be unusually violent. CNN.com described Knox as having a “fatal capacity for aggression” and later said that, “(Knox) has a disposition to follow whatever drive she has, even when they can end up in violent and uncontrollable acts” (CNN.com, 2007). This description fits closely into Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2007) stereotypical “bad” female. The media describes Knox as being naturally evil, implying that mentally, Knox has an inbred drive that causes her to act out in violent ways.

The last reason the media attributes to Knox having the capability to be a murderer, is a multiple personality disorder. Much of the media thought that Knox was capable of portraying herself as both sweet and emotionally distraught and “lust-crazed”, manipulative, and violent. CNN News Network broadcasted a report on the case in which many people were interviewed about Knox’s behavior. One of Knox’s teachers declared, “I thought maybe she has two lives” (CNN, 2007). Similarly, The National Post defined Knox as a “very strange type” (Wordsworth, 2007) and Fox News Network went as far to say that, “… she appears to have a multiple personality problem…” (Fox News, 2007). This portrayal of Knox epitomizes Berrington and Honkatukia’s (2007) ideological “mad” woman, though “badness” is also implicated, because in her insanity, she is still able to manipulate others around her. Knox is described as mentally insane, but capable of switching personalities depending on situation. In this media depiction of Knox, she harbors no sympathy; rather, people become frightened of her capabilities, and then blameful because of her potential.

Conclusion

Amanda Knox was depicted as capable of committing the murder of Meredith Kercher because she was sexually deviant and mentally and emotionally unstable. The Amanda Knox case illustrates the media’s inclination to blame violent female criminality on deviance from characteristics of women that are deemed “proper” by society. Research concerning how the media portrays female violence is important because stereotypes about women that exist in today’s society can cause people to attribute a violent crime committed by a female to straying from what is “proper”. Brennan and Vandenberg (2009) discuss how “gender roles” are learned from society, and that a stereotypical “moral” female should be maternal, passive, and non-violent (Brennan and Vandenberg, 2009). Berrington and Honkatukia (2002) explain that when a woman commits a violent act, she oversteps the boundaries of what is “moral”, and is therefore, by society’s standpoint, an “improper” woman. The Amanda Knox case proves both Brennan and Vandenberg and Berrington and Honkatukia’s theories about stereotypes about women to be valid. As the media desires to harbor a large and committed audience, it maintains these stereotypes, and causes people to blame characteristics of criminals, rather than the criminal herself. In Knox’s case, the media blamed her sexual deviance and emotional and mental instability as opposed as associating the crime to Knox herself.

 References

Resources and Research

ABC News. 12/8/2007. International Murder Mystery; Did American Student Kill

Roommate?

CBS News. 12/9/2007. Amanda Knox Being Held in Italy for Death of Her Roommate.

CNN. 11/20/2007. Sex and Murder.

Dickey, C. Nadeau, B. (2007). Murder most wired; police in itlay have turned to the web to

unravel a gruesome and heartbreaking homicide mystery. Newsweek, 150, 51.

Fisher, I. (2007). Grisly murder case intrigues italian university city. The New York Times, A,

4.

Fox News Network. 11/28/2007. Big Story.

Fox News Network. 12/5/2007. College Student Jailed in Connection with Roommate’s

Murder.

Fox News Network. 12/12/2007. Amanda Knox Talks to Italian Newspaper.

Fox News Network. 12/26/2007. Update on Case of Amanda Knox.

Pulkkinen, L. Rowe, C. (2007). UW honor student a suspect in italy death woman arrested

after roommate raped, slain. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, NEWS, A1.

Pulkkinen, L. Vogt, A. (2007). New details in grisly italian slaying trio remain behind bars as

judge’s order describes hash smoking and a romantic plot turned deadly. The Seattle

            Post-Intelligencer, NEWS, A1.

Soltis, A. (2007). Behind “odd couple” co-ed slay; a dream ends in nightmare. The New York

            Post, 45.

Unknown. (2007). DNA of meredith and suspect found on knife. Guardian Unlimited.

Unknown. (2007). Flatmate confessed she ‘heard british student die’. BreakingNews.ie.

Unknown. (2007). Judge says u.s. suspect in meredith murder ‘violent’. CNN.com.

Unknown. (2007). Meredith suspects told they will remain in custody. Guardian Unlimited.

Unknown. (2007). U.S. suspect in slaying questioned. Monterey County Herald (California),

            WORLD.

Unknown. (2007). Way cleared for meredith burial. CNN.com.

Wordsworth, A. (2007). Orgy rumors swirl around murder case; students in italy;

housemate, two men suspected in high-profile killing. The National Post, NEWS, A20

Wordsworth, A. (2007). 3 suspects un british student’s murder in italian university town

remanded. The National Post, NEWS, A25.

Photos

http://abcnews.go.com/US/amanda-knoxs-waiting-heard-book-cover-released/story?id=17832849#.UMLd8KnU7zI

http://daisysdeadair.blogspot.com/2009/12/amanda-knox-found-guilty.html

 

 

 

 

 

“I pledge I have neither given nor received any unauthorized assistance during the completion of this work.”

Lauren Nagasugi

Film Critique of “Die Hard”

The film, Die Hard (1988), is about a handsome, clever cop named John McClane and his endeavors to defeat a group of terrorists, holding a group of Nakatomi Company employees hostage. Among the group of hostages is McClane’s ex-wife, Holly; it is clear that the chemistry is still prevalent between the two. A film comprised of action, romance, and subtle humor, Die Hard, is a well-known American favorite.

Out of four stars, I would rate Die Hard at least a 3.5. Personally, I thought the film was well-made, the cast was top quality, and the story-line was exciting to say the least.

Film critic, Roger Ebert, suggests that the film would be a “more than passable” thriller, if the film were to recreate the deputy chief character to be more intelligent, or to cut him completely from the script. Ebert argues that the stupidity and uselessness of this role ruined the film. Besides this, he openly admires Die Hard for its excel in the technical realm, declaring that the film contains, “superior special effects, impressive stunt work, and good performances”.

Although there are definitely parts of Ebert’s critique that I do not agree with, I do find some of his points notably justifiable and absolutely valid.

I do agree with Ebert’s analysis of the technical aspect of Die Hard. Cinematographically, the film was incredible, especially for being made in 1988. The special effects were very believable, the lighting and sound always worked to set the tone of the scene, and the sequence of camera shots from one place to another would let the audience into what was happening in up to several places at one time, but was never confusing. The cinematography of Die Hard was surely an aspect of the film to applaud.

I also agree with Ebert, regarding the individual performances of the actors. I thought Bruce Willis, who played lead role, John McClane, was excellent, and that Alan Rickman’s performance as heist leader, Hans Gruber, was sensational. Each actor fulfilled a specific duty they had to their audience, that duty being to convince the audience that this complicated situation and the consequential emotions from the characters, are real. The actors did a fantastic job at portraying realism throughout the film.

However, I disagree with Ebert’s firm stance on the deputy chief being the demise of the film. Yes, the deputy chief was a moron. No, I do think his lack of intelligence ruined the film. I do not know how much better the film would have been had there been modifications or a deletion of the deputy chief, but I did not feel he had so much of an impact that he, in any way, shape, or form, tainted the film.

In relation to Gray Cavendar’s, “Detecting Masculinity”, I think Die Hard does legitimize some of the author’s arguments. The film does play to a sort of conquering of masculinity by the male lead role, in order to capture its audience.

Overall, I really enjoyed the film, Die Hard, and thought it both interesting and high quality.

Response to Lavigne’s “Death War Black Chiffon: Sex and Gender in CSI” Applied to CSI “Friends and Lovers”

In Carlen Lavigne’s, “Death Wore Black Chiffon: Sex and Gender in CSI”, she argues that the popular crime-drama, CSI, does not fairly represent women and queer and sexual subcultures. Lavigne asserts that CSI portrays a questioning of women especially when it comes to sexuality and motherhood. As far as the depiction of queer and sexual subculture is concerned, she conjectures that CSI correlates these subcultures with insanity, immorality, and danger.

The CSI episode “Friends and Lovers” deals with the mysteries of a grave robbery, the murder of a school dean, and the death of a young man, found in the Nevada desert. Evidence of Lavigne’s argument is prevalent within the part of the episode that covers the murder of the dean. When detectives Catherine Willows and Nick Stokes arrive at the crime scene, they infer that the case at hand is straightforward. The dean was dead on the floor, his blood spattered across the walls of the room. The suspect, a woman named Kate Armstrong, had called in and admitted to the murder. Detectives Willow and Nick then begin to discover abnormalities regarding the case. They find that there was another person in the room, a member of the staff named Julia Eastman. In the end, Willows and Stokes determine that the Armstrong and Eastman were a couple, and that they killed the dean together because he had plans to leak to the school about their relationship.

Lavigne contests that CSI makes subtle accusations about the queer subculture, such as correlation with negative attributes like quick, violent temper, insanity, and increased likeliness to commit passion crimes. We see the validity of her argument in the portrayal of the lesbian women as killers of the school dean. The motive of the murder was to stop the dean from falsely relaying to the school that the couple participated in sexual activity on school grounds; this is a crime of passion. Armstrong exploded into a violent rage after the dean relayed his intentions, and instead of diffusing the situation, her partner, Eastman, joined in by holding him down. Not one time did any character say that this murder was committed because of the women’s sexuality; however, CSI did indirectly imply that the women’s sexuality was a cause of the murder, as the reason the women killed the man was to keep him from relaying false information regarding their sexual activity. The altercation would not have even existed, if the women did not have to hide their sexual identities.

Lavigne’s argument is proved valid through evidence portrayed in CSI’s representation of a homosexual couple in the episode “Friends and Lovers”.

Response to Hugo Schwyzer’s “Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men”

In Hugo Schwyzer’s, “Why Most Mass Murderers Are Privileged White Men”, he provocatively argues that the majority of mass murderers are Caucasian, middle class males due, in part, to a phenomena he calls “white male privilege”. Schwyzer explains that Caucasian males from economically sound families grow up with a sense of entitlement; they are raised to believe that public places “belong” to them, that they have every right to be where they want to be, and consequentially, they expect to be noticed and respected wherever they go.  According to Schwyzer, the fact that Caucasian male murderers tend to choose public places as their targets stems from the misconception that these places rightfully belong to them.

My first reaction to this article was that it did not seem thoroughly investigated. Schwyzer would make claims that were not well supported and he was incredibly brief in the explanations of his suppositions—assuming explanations were even given. His article lacked a scientific aspect to it; normally, in making such a provoking proposal, one would use statistics, evidence from past experiments, and findings of other researchers in order to adequately support the claim being made. For being so bold, Schwyzer was insufficient in his reasoning, turning what should have been a theory, into a conspiracy.

A few days ago, we read and analyzed Stuart Hall’s, “The Whites of Their Eyes”. Hall argues that racism exists because of dominant ideologies that support separation of different peoples. He explains that racism occurs in two forms: overt racism and inferential racism. Overt racism is open racism, which specific intent to be racist. Inferential racism is quiet racism, in which the racism is not blatant, but racist undertones are present. Whether or not Hall would agree or disagree with Schwyzer’s proposal of “white male privilege” is irrelevant to a comparison of the two articles; however, it is important to note that Hall would find Schwyzer’s work completely racist. Overt racism is at work in Schwyzer’s descriptions of the manners in which the Korean and Muslim cultures could have affected two specific cases of mass murderers. Inferential racsim is present almost everywhere else. From Schwyzer’s description of how Caucasian children are raised, to inherit entitlement to his short comparison of how Caucasians differ from people of other cultures. Hall would be extremely against the writing, publishing, or acknowledging of any type of article such as Schwyzer’s.

Whether or not I would agree with Schwyzer—if he were to support his claims with sufficient evidence—I cannot say. On the one hand, there are parts of Schwyzer’s proposal that seem logical enough. For example, Schwyzer asserts that Caucasian males from privileged families tend to grow up developing a sense of entitlement. This “white male privilege” results in Caucasian, middle class males feeling as if public spaces are their right. This statement is made on the premises of no apparent research, but if it had been supported with decent evidence, I would agree with him. However, on the other hand, I think it more likely that these males feel this sense of entitlement because they are rich, not necessarily because they are white. This was a common problem regarding the entirety of the article. Throughout the passage, Schwyzer would assume that after he introduced “white” with “privileged” people would begin to automatically correlate the two; in attempting to use this tactic, he mostly discusses the pertinence of affluence to his proposal, and not so much the race aspect.

In making such a provocative claim, I personally feel that more hard evidence and research should have been utilized. Especially in dealing with such a sensitive topic, it is best to let science reveal, or one runs the risk of being viewed as an unreliable or biased source of information.

Summary of Jill Dianne Swenson’s “Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and TV News: Cultural (Re-)Construction of Racism”

In Jill Dianne Swenson’s, “Rodney King, Reginald Denny, and TV News: Cultural (Re-)Construction of Racism”, she discusses the media’s coverage of the Rodney King and Reginald Denny beatings and how it provokes the idea of “racial inequality as social order” (Swenson, 1995).

Swenson first introduces the ideas of “hyperrealism” and the encoding and decoding system. “Hyperrealism” is the idea that the relationship between what signifies reality and what is reality becomes so blurred, that the two are considered synonymous. She argues that “hyperrealism” exists due, in part, to the manner in which producers encode and viewers decode showings of happenings such as those of King and Denny.

The two beatings were depicted incredibly differently. The video of African American Rodney King being beaten by Caucasian police officers was filmed at night from the point of view of a hidden spectator, the lighting was poor, the color was black and white, the quality was grainy, blurry, and gritty. This encodes omniscience and ambiguity. Compare this to the video of four African Americans beating Caucasian Reginald Denny, filmed in broad daylight from a news helicopter, in crystal clear color, the quality professional. This encodes definitiveness and explicit guilt.

The media made the choice of playing these films side-by-side, further emphasizing what the films silently represented—racism. The King video appears less certain, especially when compared to the absolute Denny video, which was even used to capture the culprits. Metaphorically and metonymically, the videos represent what Swenson refers to as “inferential racism”, or racism that has become naturalized by society, and accepted as unquestioned supposition.

Swenson argues that because of the manner in which these videos were portrayed, and because they were displayed together, racism was able to be accepted as the status quo and silently thrive.

Analysis: Cavender and Deutsch’s “CSI and morality: The police and science” and Episode “CSI: Unwrapped”

 

Analysis: “CSI and morality: The police and science

 In Gray Cavender and Sarah Deutsch’s, “CSI and moral authority: The police and science”, they discuss a large number of factors that attribute to the popularity of the crime-drama “CSI” and its spin-offs, “CSI: New York” and “CSI: Miami”.  Cavender and Deutsch accredit “CSI”’s incredible success to its portrayal of “policing and science”, the way its audience perceives these two institutions, and how they work together.

As with any of crime-drama, the depiction of the “policing” aspect is incredibly important to the prosperity of the show; Cavender and Deutsch explain a number of reasons why “CSI” captures its vast audience with its portrayal of “policing”. “CSI” works to reflect the popular cultural beliefs and prominent socio-political ideologies of society, while simultaneously representing the police force and criminals as viewers see fit. This technique is quite effective, because the audience views what is portrayed in “CSI” as the social and political norm, thus further imprinting these beliefs and ideologies into our society.

“CSI” promotes the idea that the police force is moral and just, that police officers do what is right, get jobs done, and save lives. People enjoy watching shows that illustrate this because they want to think that if they ever have a problem, the police will be there at their rescue. Producers of “CSI” pair this “moral authority” illusion with a dominant representation of violent crimes and the depiction of criminals as sociopathic, immoral people. Audiences of shows such as “CSI” statistically fear being a victim more than those who do not watch these types of shows.  “CSI” plays right into the mindsets of its viewers, catering to the fear of its audience and the ethicality and constant reliability of the police force.

Another technique “CSI” uses to capture its audience is the familiarization of the protagonist characters. “CSI” allows the audience to form relationships with the police by bringing it into the characters’ personal lives and showing a sort of “family” within the group of protagonist characters itself. The viewer then identifies with these characters, learns to know them, their qualities, strengths, weaknesses, opinions, and morals, because they seem to be “real people”. The creators of “CSI” are able to draw in its audience with subplots about relatable life problems that the characters have, and even clash between characters. In the end, there is always some kind of resolve in which a character learns an important life lesson and interprotagonist relationships are saved on the basis of mutual respect, concluding an argument with some kind of friendly discussion. The viewer becomes more involved and committed to these characters, and therefore, the show itself.

The second aspect that Cavender and Deutsch discuss is the portrayal of the “science” within “CSI”. Cavender and Deutsch explain that science is becoming more and more of a controversial topic, that it has caused problems in society as opposed to finding solutions. They go on to argue that “CSI” fights this proposition. “CSI” “rehabilitates science”, portrays it as fact. For example, the main character in the original “CSI” will say things that imply that evidence never lies. Science is the driving force behind any suspicion, accusation, and conviction. Consequently, the producers take a number of measures in order to emphasize the role of science in “CSI” to “legitimize” the show.

The costuming and provision of props is extensive in “CSI”. When “on the scene”, the characters representing the police force are seen in jackets and hats printed with “Forensics” across the surface; when in the laboratory, every person has on a lab coat, gloves, and most of the time, safety goggles. The amount and technicality of equipment is unbelievably detailed—though Cavender and Deutsch go on to say that some of this technology exceeds that of real life. The precautions taken to make the show as believable as possible “validate its scientific status”.

“CSI” also habitually mentions Forensic Databases such as Forensic Medical Journal and Combined DNA Index System. Fusing pieces of reality into the plot of the show force the audience to believe that it is a portrayal of actuality. The characters on the show will also constantly use science jargon and participate in experimentation that entails authenticity. The performance and extensive visuals partnered with the complicated linguistics persuade the viewer that the show depicts reality.

Cavender and Deutsch come to the conclusion that “CSI” utilizes “policing” and “science” in order to draw in its audience. Not only does “CSI” manipulate the image of these institutions to work in their own spheres of influence, but it also binds them so that they may coexist, in order to maximize legitimacy and appeal to the wants and beliefs of those who crave them.

Analysis: “CSI” Episode- “Unwrapped”

 The “CSI” episode, “Unwrapped”, begins with the casual walk of a couple, carrying presents, entering a building in New York City. There are street games taking place outside and as the couple steps into the building, a small altercation breaks out. The couple decides to go inside and avoid the fight taking place down the way. A gunshot goes off. A man in a ski mask runs out of the building. The wife is holding her bleeding husband in her arms, watching the life slowly leave his eyes.

 In this episode of “CSI”, the team must discover who has shot and murdered Kelvin Moore, a successful, hard-working, and beloved man. The team arrives at the crime scene, which looks pretty straightforward. The wife, Elaine Moore, claims that she and her husband were delivering birthday presents to her niece when the assailant approached them demanding money and jewelry. When she was too slow to unclasp her bracelet, the man got anxious, moving in on her. Kelvin stepped in and the man shot him point blank.

But as the team starts working on the forensics, they notice a plethora of things that did not quite fit with Elaine’s story. Ballistics and gunpowder residue analysis show that Kelvin was shot from a distance of five to seven feet. There is a strange powder next to the birthday presents scattered around the floor. Outside, they find a piece of the wrapping paper on the cement, while none of the packages showed signs of any tearing. Something was obviously not right.

Meanwhile, Mac, the head of the team, talks with his girlfriend about a birthday party that they will be attending the next day. She is nervous about what to get the girl, but more importantly, what Mac’s colleagues will think of her. Mac assures her that they will love her. He gets back to work and she continues the search for the present.

As the team delves deeper into the mystery of Kelvin’s death, stranger and stranger circumstances arise. Elaine turns out to have a boyfriend named Willis Frazier, who was just released from prison. He suspiciously missed his parole meeting the morning Kelvin was killed. When the team searches his apartment, also looking for Elaine, who has gone missing, they begin to ask him questions. He explains that he knows nothing about Kelvin’s murder, but tells the police that Elaine was wrapping a package while she was at his house, and refused to disclose what it was she was wrapping. That ambiguous item she was wrapping turned out to be a porcelain cat—explaining the powder found at the crime scene, which the team identified as a type of porcelain—that was filled with cocaine.

The team then finds Elaine and her sister, Alicia, in front of the store that sold the novelty, and Alicia runs. When the police catch her and she drops the porcelain cat filled with drugs, she begins to scream, “my baby, my baby. They’re going to kill my baby”.

Elaine and Alicia reveal to the cops that two men, who lived across the way from Alicia, knocked on Alicia’s door one day and told her to hide the drugs or they would else kill her. They left and a few minutes later, the cops came knocking on the door, looking for the criminals. Frantically, Alicia flushed the cocaine down the toilet. When the criminals came back later in the day to retrieve their drugs and found they were gone, they threatened to kill Alicia’s daughter and then her unless she got the cocaine back. Alicia then reached out to her sister Elaine, but as they began to formulate a plan, the two men kidnapped Alicia’s daughter.

The team goes into the apartment of the two drug dealers, and rescues Alicia’s daughter.

That day, when Elaine and Kelvin—who had no knowledge of the drugs Elaine possessed—came to the apartment building, one of the drug dealers was there waiting for them, unbeknownst to the couple. When the man came in a started accusing Elaine, Kelvin became defensive and pushed the man away from his wife. The man hit the floor and shot at Kelvin, consequently killing him. Before fleeing the crime scene, he looked at a package, tore the paper to ensure it was the right one, and when he discovered it was, he left, dropping the torn paper outside of the building.

The team had done it again. Another case was solved, attributed to smart, efficient police work and fast, acute technology. At the end of the episode, Mac’s girlfriend shows up with a bag-full of presents and introduces herself to the team. They laugh, make jokes, and establish friendly relations with her, calming the nerves she had earlier in the episode. While they go ahead, Mac and his girlfriend have a moment together, declaring how much they feel for each other and how happy they are to have found one another. The episode ends with the finding of Kelvin’s killer, the returning of Alicia’s daughter back to her, and team heading to Lucy’s birthday party, to greet her with birthday wishes and presents, and form bonds with each other and Mac’s new mate.

 Connection

 The “CSI” episode, “Unwrapped”, shows direct evidence of Cavender and Deutsch’s analysis on why the crime-drama is so popular. Cavender and Deutsch suggest that “CSI”’s popularity derives mostly from its depiction of “policing and science”.

 After watching an episode of “CSI” from a more analytical standpoint, there were several things I noticed. The creators work especially hard to familiarize the audience with the team. The viewers’ first encounter with the team is a friendly encounter between Sheldon Hawkes and Lindsey Messer in which he helps her by taking over a job, relieving her from looking at a crime scene that touches her personally. We, as viewers, are let into the team’s work-related conversations, friendly bantering, and personal lives. Throughout the episode and up until the very end, we watch the romantic relationship between Mac and his girlfriend, making us feel invested in Mac, because we know so much about his life not only on the job, but off the job as well. We identify with the success and struggle, the happy and sad moments that the team experiences throughout the show. This makes the audience feel as if it sincerely knows and connects with the struggles of the police, because we watch and move along with the characters’ each and every move.

Another note-worthy aspect of the show is how valiant the protagonist characters are portrayed. The members of the team are all depicted as strong, determined, smart individuals. The leader of the group, Mac, is always shown with his shoulders back and his head and eyes straightforward; he is always saying something intelligent, insightful, and dignified. The women of the team are independent, witty, and amiable. The other male members of the team illustrate similar characteristics to Mac, but all have their own personal sphere of influence—for example, Sheldon is especially talented in working with technology is the process of analyzing evidence. All of these characters are noble and just. Cavender and Deutsch explained that these were the characteristics people wanted to see. Society wants to think that if an innocent person is in trouble, a valiant, personable, intelligent being is going to come to their rescue. This particular episode played right into the desires of society; the culprit was caught and justice was served, thanks to the incredible work of New York’s police force.

The usage of “science” was also prevalent in this particular episode. On more than one occasion, Mac mentions something to the extent of, “Evidence doesn’t lie. People do”. Throughout the episode, different scientific language, methods, and processes are used to discover what happened at the murder scene, determine a suspect, and obtain incriminating evidence against a suspect. Never before would I have noticed that science plays such a major part in capturing its audience, but as I watched the episode for purposes other than pure entertainment, I realized how much it actually draws people in. The sophistication of the science forces the viewers to actually believe what the characters are saying. This “realism” along with the illusion that the viewer is part of the team—because of the closeness, physically, mentally, and emotionally—grab him or her. The line between reality and entertainment becomes further blurred and soon the viewer is invested and watching the show multiple times per week.

Cavender and Deutsch were correct in their analysis of why “CSI” is such a well-received show. The creators do an excellent job of giving the viewers what they want by manipulating the image of the police and science.