Naturally, Law & Order and Law & Order: Criminal Intent are facing the possibility of cancellation while Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has already been renewed. Fans have started a petition to keep Criminal Intent on the air, but Dick Wolf seems more concerned about the old series.
I’ll state my bias up front just so you know. For me, the original series jumped the shark when they decided to create sleazy and trope-ridden romantic tension between two of the lawyers back in the mid-90’s, so cancel away. Criminal Intent, now that they’ve learned a little of Vincent D’onofrio’s character goes a long way, is pretty damn entertaining and occasionally does some groundbreaking stories for women and is now home to some very good female regulars and one of my favorite long-term characters from the franchise. SVU is… oye.
First, as Purtek said, SVU routinely shows professionals mishandling rape victims. It also presents false accusations and false memories as far more common than any estimate puts them in reality. And in general, the entire show is set up to be “using rape instead of addressing it” – a phrase I first saw from Angry Black Woman, which sums up neatly why 99% of TV rapes don’t work for people who care about rape as an issue, as something that shouldn’t be happening at all, as something we could prevent as a society if only we could get as many people on an anti-rape crusade as we can get on an abstinence crusade.
So why does it work just fine for audiences? Do audiences conflate rape with sex and therefore think they’re getting some free erotica? Or is it more complicated than that? Is it that rape is such an automatic melodrama that audiences unconsciously perceive rape cops as more heroic, complex and sympathetic than homicide cops? Perceive the victims as more… well, “special”? And what about the consistent positioning of women as victims? Even though SVU features female cops and judges and lawyers who are our allies against rape, it also parades across our screens a never-ending series of women who need rescuing and women who are beyond rescuing. Is there any good the show can do that would outweigh the damage it does by pandering to the idea that women are dependent on the good will of men, and when that good will is not forthcoming, all we can do is try to clean up the mess?