Monday, November 19, 2007

Cold Case

Television: the gift to bloggers that keeps on giving . . . .

I happened to catch the last third of Sunday's episode of CBS's Cold Case, in which the detectives are investigating the 1950ish harrassment and murder of a young girl suffering from "gender identity disorder." Basically, this girl thought she was a boy inside, and the show was all about how "gender" is socially constructed, and why can't everyone just accept that she's really a boy in a girl's body. Or something.

Where do I start?

The show cheated several ways in order to provoke the desired emotional reaction. First, the girl: the show made a feignt at butching her up, but she was still obviously a girl, and a pretty one at that. The boy's clothing she wore would be unremarkable today; I will accept that it would have been taken as rather odd 50 years ago. But she acted like a girl: here again, the show made a pretense of giving her some "guy" lines, but her body language was still, for the most part, feminine. Like her weeping, for instance.

Second, the reactions of her classmates (she is in high school): when I turned on the show, the girl (in a flashback sequence) is in the process of being physically harrassed by a bunch of leather-jacket-wearing toughs. (Think Grease.) They are, apparantly, supposed to be threatened by a girl wearing boys clothing.

Nonsense. This is unbelievably dishonest. Adolescent boys like butch girls, especially if they have an interest in "guy stuff." And in general, men do not think that lesbianism threatens their masculinity. (The girl was not, technically, a lesbian, but whatever.) So even in the dark ages of the 1950s, this girl might get some raised eyebrows and a few jokes at her expense, but she would not have been beaten up.

If the show really wanted to tell the story of how a gender disorder can get you harrassed, they could have picked a boy who thought he was a girl. Dressing in drag really would get you beat up in the 1950s, because the social of dynamic male homosexuality is radically different than that of female homosexuality.

But the producers of the show new perfectly well the reaction that a male cross-dresser would provoke among modern audiences: yuck! Okay, nobody would think he would deserve to die, but a non-zero percentage would think he needed a good ass-beatin'. So the sympathy factor wouldn't be there.

The girl is ultimately sent to a mental hospital, and here the show steals shamelessly from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

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