thinking big: feminism, media, and pop culture

TV’s Mistresses of Crime: Bones, Body of Proof, etc.

In Uncategorized on June 18, 2011 at 4:32 pm

TV’s Mistresses of Crime
Phoebe Bronstein

I am a murder mystery and crime television junkie, and lucky for me every other show on television fits this bill. And in a new turn of events, a lot of the recent crime shows feature an extra smart female detective type. To name just a few: Brennan (Emily Deschanel) on Bones (2005-present), Deputy Chief Brenda Lee Johnson (Kyra Sedgwick) on The Closer (2005-present), Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) on The Killing (2011-present), the badass female duo of Jane Rizzoli and Sasha Isles (Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander) on Rizzoli and Isles (2010-present), and Dana Delaney as a brilliant former neurosurgeon turned medical examiner on Body of Proof (2011-present). At once, the presence of strong female characters over the age of 25 on television is exciting and perhaps promising. However, before we get too excited a few crucial observations …

First, all these women are white. Although there are quite a few African American women on these shows, they are often side characters; for example, Cam, the head of the forensic team at the Jeffersonian on Bones (Tamara Taylor) is African American; Sonja Sohn from The Wire (2002-2008) is now a detective on Body of Proof; and Lieutenant Daniels (Gina Ravera) used to be the only other woman, and the only African American woman, in the Priority Homicide unit on The Closer. It seems worth mentioning here, that Ravera is also part Puerto Rican but as Daniels she plays and is coded as African American.

a glamorous looking Rizzoli and Isles from the TNT website.

Second, all the leads on these shows are educated and upper middle class. Put another way, they are privileged, perhaps save for Angie Harmon’s character on Rizzoli and Isles and Sarah Linden on The Killing. However, if you’re like me you can’t help remembering Harmon as a young lawyer on Law & Order which when combined with TNT’s marketing of her, trumps her working class image on the show. But for the other women (who are for the most part styled rather alike), class and classiness are connoted with expensive clothes, big jewelry, being in great shape, and giant (not to mention snazzy) heels. In fact, I’ve noticed a recent fascination (or should I say fetishization) of women’s shoes on television; the higher the heel the more intimidating she will be. It seems that television believes you can learn a lot about a women from her shoes. Ugh.

on of the many shots of Dr. Hunt's shoes (and legs) in Body of Proof


Dr. Hunt arrives at a crime scene with Peter

Third, almost all these white women are straight and absolutely incapable of being in relationships. But they still need male partners to protect them and regulate their independence. For example, Bones and Booth (David Boreanaz. So hot.) on Bones or Megan Hunt (Dana Delaney) and Peter (Nicholas Bishop) on Body of Proof. It seems these shows are reminding us that as women we can only still have it one way or the other (ie love or career), however, if we choose a career at least we’ll be able to buy ourselves great shoes.

So I guess my point is that I’m sad about these realizations. I love Bones and its quirky humor and at least Brennan (aka Bones) knows self-defense and carries a gun I suppose. However, the racial stuff is still there and she is after all paired with a very manly man (and now they’re going to have a baby?!). Where are the dramas centered around African American or Latina or Asian or even Jewish women? And why can’t these women have relationships with men and/or women? What if a woman smashed through that TV glass ceiling while wearing sneakers? I mean seriously do they think their viewers would all just stop watching? I’m just curious.

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