Return of the Juxtaposition: CSI Las Vegas vs New

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Purtek’s essay – http://thehathorlegacy.com/juxtapositions-in-scenes-of-sexual-violence/
– made me think of two CSI episodes, one Las Vegas and one New York, featuring sexualised attacks respectively on Catherine and Stella. But while Purtek’s post highlights scenes that are completely unalike, this one is more the “couple of big differences” effect.

The Similar: Both start off as unconscious, having possibly been raped; both, when examined, prove not to be. Both have engaged in what pundits deem risky behaviours (Catherine: drinking in a bar without watching her drink like a hawk; Stella: mistaking a dangerous psycho to a sleazy asswipe). Both are kept out of active participation in the investigation.

The Different: Catherine flits around, trying to be part of the investigation – Stella accepts that she cannot do so without risking its invalidation. Catherine is drugged, moved around, and photographed – Stella fought, eventually leaving her attacker dead on her floor. Catherine was unconscious, or near to it, throughout – Stella was knocked out once, woke up, then kept herself functioning through pain and injury, passing out only when she had ended the situation.

Both were victims, and I’m not automatically averse to seeing a story about a female victim. But that phrase “about a female victim” carries the “couple of big differences” I mentioned. First Catherine was nothing but a victim – Stella was a victim, and a fighter, and ultimately a victor. And second, Catherine was kidnapped to put pressure on her daddy Sam Braun – whereas what happened to Stella was about Stella, both the attack itself, and the subsequent story.

Another point I liked about Stella’s role in the New York episode. She is questioned by Flack, the cop character, who tries to be as gentle as he can – but when issues about her timeline come up, Flack has to ask her tougher questions – he clearly hates doing so, but Stella takes a kind of solace in being treated professionally as well as gently. Even then, she reaches for definition from her job, and is comforted when she finds it.

Stella is her own character, and the story is her story. Those things are what change violence from titillation to drama. They matter.

Comments

  1. MaggieCat says

    (I hope you don’t mind, I fixed a broken italics tag in your post.)

    Assuming I’m thinking of the right episode of CSI:NY (and I hope I am, since I don’t really care for the idea that more than one applies) they are really different situations- Catherine was drugged and picked up by a guy she’d never seen before at a bar, Stella came home to find the boyfriend she’d dumped after finding out that he had posted video of them having sex on the internet had broken into her apartment despite the fact that she had never told him where she lived. One makes the woman look careless, the other makes it clear that he’s the psycho for stalking her. Huge differences from the set up alone.

    That episode of CSI:Original is the one that made me stop watching that show. I was really insulted on behalf of the audience and the character when Sam Braun walked out of his murder trail due to contaminated evidence because Catherine had used his blood sample to run a paternity test on herself. That was bad enough, but deciding to run her own rogue rape investigation? How in the hell did she ever get promoted or even manage to hold onto her job at this point?

    I suppose you could argue that the two make a sort of pattern, but I just can’t see that Catherine would be doing that when she’s told victims repeatedly over the years they the reason the police investigate these crimes the way they do is to assure that justice is served and the perpetrator can be convicted. I find it unbelievable that she wouldn’t be aware that someone with her amount of forensic knowledge trying to investigate her own rape without proper procedures, supervision, and controls in place makes everything she’s doing useless. I could see it if they argued trauma was keeping her from thinking clearly, but she managed to MacGyver a rape kit out of what she had in her purse…

    And then suddenly it’s “Nope, she wasn’t raped, just being used as a pawn to get to her father”. Because simply abducting her wouldn’t be good enough for that…? Sam had no way of knowing what had happened to her, so it was simply the show making a cheap ploy for ratings by putting their female lead in a position where it appeared she had been sexually assaulted. It’s unbelievably exploitative and offensive.

  2. sbg says

    Totally agree, Maggie. I was already only watching the sporadically at that point – I saw it and it was completely OMGWTFBBQ!

    I suppose the audience is supposed to remember Catherine’s made some critical judgment errors in the past and look beyond it, but honestly? It’s like you said – it makes you wonder how she not only retained her job but advanced in it.

    It’s so unfortunate, because at times Catherine is a great example of a strong female character…and then they go and screw it up.

  3. says

    Stella is her own character, and the story is her story. Those things are what change violence from titillation to drama. They matter.

    I like the way you’ve put this. It also seems to me (any time anything connected to Sam Braun came up, I changed the channel, starting ages ago) that the situation with Catherine serves more than anything else to tell us how irrational women can be, and how they lose sight of everything that really matters as soon as it’s about their own personal drama.

    I’ve watched little of CSI:NY, but I remember liking the scene you describe where Flack is questioning her. I thought that was well-acted, as well, with both parties clearly sympathizing with the other.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    the situation with Catherine serves more than anything else to tell us how irrational women can be, and how they lose sight of everything that really matters as soon as it’s about their own personal drama.

    THANK YOU. I was struggling with how to say this. They’ve transplanted yesterday’s “hysterical female” roles into more modern career tracks, but it’s like…

    …I know! It’s like the film/tv industry has the fewest women working, particularly in positions of authority, of ANY industry in America, and so guys in film really may not realize that women engineers and managers and scientists are, if anything, overcautious about avoiding actions that make them look emotional, let alone hysterical. It’s like these shows are being written by 12 year old boys who have no idea how women behave in the workplace, and this is their best guess, and they got it from an episode of Days of Our Lives.

  5. says

    They’ve transplanted yesterday’s “hysterical female” roles into more modern career tracks,

    What’s worse is that this one, like so many others, involves sexual violence, so then they get to use the feminist argument against those of us who object. ‘But didn’t you tell us that rape was a serious issue, that it has a major impact on women, that we should stop dismissing it?’ So they’ve also transplanted yesterdays ‘she’s hysterical/emotional because she’s menstruating’ (or whatever) into ‘she’s hysterical because she’s been raped’. Either way, we don’t have to listen to her.

  6. SunlessNick says

    (I hope you don’t mind, I fixed a broken italics tag in your post.)

    Assuming I’m thinking of the right episode of CSI:NY (and I hope I am, since I don’t really care for the idea that more than one applies) they are really different situations - MaggieCat

    No, you can fix my italics anytime. :/
    You are thinking of the right episode, and you’re definitely right about the setup (hence my use of the phrase “what pundits would deem risky”).

    Stella doesn’t get attacked again, but something else does happen. She gets cut with a piece of glass at a crime scene (again, no mistake on her part; it broke along a hairline fracture that she couldn’t see), which is coated with blood later turning out to be HIV-positive.
    So Stella needs testing, and goes through the spectrum of pain, guilt, and fear that it entails. But that’s in the background of the episodes it appears in; the forground focusses on her doing her job, and doing it not a jot less well than she did before (and again, taking comfort from her work).

    Yes, for the sake of not seeing a pattern develop, I’d like that to be it for horrible things happening to Stella, but I liked both.

  7. MaggieCat says

    So Stella needs testing, and goes through the spectrum of pain, guilt, and fear that it entails. But that’s in the background of the episodes it appears in; the forground focusses on her doing her job, and doing it not a jot less well than she did before (and again, taking comfort from her work).

    I’m starting to wonder if the disgruntled writers from CSI:Original are using Stella to fix the mistakes people made with Catherine. Because I remember when the HIV arc was starting, and as soon as I heard about some super test their lab could run if it had this that and the other, I started quietly saying “No, no, please don’t do it” having flashbacks to Catherine’s unapproved paternity test.

    And then… Stella walks into her boss’s office and calmly asks if they could please order this test because it’s killing her not to know. Like a rational grownup type person. I was in shock.

  8. MaggieCat says

    Actually, a quick perusal of IMDB tells me that Anthony E. Zuiker, the show creator, wrote the episode of CSI:NY where Stella was attacked. And he’s written quite a few of CSI:NY’s episodes (7/66), but only a few of CSI:Miami’s (3/126, one of which was the CSI:NY crossover pilot, another was the other crossover), and hasn’t written a CSI:Original episode since 2003.

    So that’s what happened on CSI:Miami. The leader is away, and the inmates are running the asylum.

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