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Some thoughts on race portrayal and CSI [Dec. 9th, 2005|12:58 pm]
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation
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I posted this on my journal a few days ago, then it occured to me that this community might find it interesting, so I'm reposting with some edits. Original post here. New post starts...

I don't watch as much TV as I used to. I'm not really supposed to be watching TV at all, but CSI is just so much fun. And I can't see the point in renting the DVDs since I have seen many episodes scattered all over the place. So I watch the reruns on Spike and try to ignore all the sexism and stupidity. But this post is not about sexism, it's about racism. Sexism will have to wait for another day.

Last night I was watching a CSI rerun and there was a black victim. Anyway, seeing this victim made me realize that there aren't many black victims on CSI. I think maybe, in my viewing, I have seen one or two more, but I can't recall the episodes. There have been a few black perps, but this is an overwhelmingly white show. Gary Dourdan just makes that all the more painfully obvious. What annoyed me even more was that this was one of those damn episodes where the victim doesn't get full justice for some stupid reason or another, which makes you wish that Grissom would cut that stoic act out and just shoot people every once and a while. I felt the injustice of this keenly. Almost every other episode someone busts their ass to get some obscure evidence to send someone away for 40 million years but a black woman is raped and almost murdered and all Gil can say is: "You shouldn't let it get to you, Sarah."

If he'd said that to me I would have given him an angry black whoopin'.

Two days after the episode with the black woman came the episode where the little black girl was killed in the drive by and her father is one of Warrick's mentors or whatever. Firstly, does every black person on TV have to have been raised up out of the ghetto to betterness? Could've fooled me if not. And here again we have an episode involving black people where they just can't find the perp, get justice, and move on. It has to cost someone something, and the people it ends up costing the most are all black. I'm not a conspiracy-minded person by nature, but this is starting to set off alarms all over the place.

I think I'm supposed to be happy that black people aren't often portrayed as bad guys on the show. But in terms of victims, there are far fewer, ratio-wise, than there are black perps. (This is, of course, based on my non-scientific memory of episodes seen, so pick the salt grain size of your choice and go forth) I know black people live in Vegas. I've seen them. I know black people go to Vegas to gamble, or even to kill or be killed. Why is this show so damn white?

I could add a side rant here about how the only black regular on the show is the one with the ______ problem, just like on most shows. But I won't.

I've also been thinking about this because I recently watched all of Lost's first season. That show has more minorities in the regular cast than most of the other shows I watch. Yay for that. But damn, some parts of that still annoy me. 40 some odd people on that part of the island and the Iraqi dude hooks up with the whiny white blond bimbo incest chick? What? Are there no sisters, no Arabian beauties for him to tryst with? Can't he just pine away for Nadia forever? Don't get me started on what Shannon should be doing.

And what of Michael's girlfriend/baby mama? She is the most annoying black woman on TV besides Condoleeza Rice. She's what we negroes call Trifflin'. I really like that show, but damn, people. Can't we be a bit more, I dunno, less stupidly clichéd?

This should not surprise me. It shouldn't, but it does every time. And it pisses me off because it messes with otherwise enjoyable TV watching. I don't think that, in 2005, I should have to be worried or annoyed by these kinds of things anymore. And yet they still exist. The only thing safe to watch is the Boondocks. Who knows how long that show is going to last?

[User Picture]From: theatresporter
2005-12-09 07:05 pm (UTC)
This could come down to two things, really: the casting and the writing.

Now, if the writing is to blame (ie. they have specifically written in that all these white people must be white, and whenever they have a black character, they've specified that, too) it really comes down to the writers then. "No shit, sherlock" you might say - but: the first rule of writing is "write what you know" and I should point out that all of the writers are white as far as I'm aware. Not that I'm excusing them for anything, really, on this point - but it could make sense. It's not that they're trying to be racist, it may be that they're just uncomfortable writing about people from a race they don't belong to, in fear of portraying them wrongly.

On the other hand, if the casting is to blame, well jessiekins1's point about the makeup could be a very valid one. Also, my guess is that there are far more white actors in LA than black ones, and they're just picking the best of what they have access to? I mean, why settle for a black actor for the sake of "racial equality" when there's a better actor for the job who happens to be white (when the role could go to anyone of any race)? Not to say that black people can't act, it's just that if there are more white people for the job, then the odds are in their favour.

It could also come down to their target audience, which may be white middle-to-upper class Americans, but I really have no idea -just like you, I haven't done any real research on this particular aspect of the show.

I think you have very valid points, though, and unfortunately many shows suffer from the same thing. I don't think anyone's really going to get anything just right so that everyone's happy, though, y'know?
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[User Picture]From: theatresporter
2005-12-09 07:06 pm (UTC)
PS: I love your icon, hehe :)
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[User Picture]From: jessickuh
2005-12-09 07:40 pm (UTC)
I agree with^.

OMG...is that Roxy from Jem in your mood theme?
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From: ktempest
2005-12-09 07:48 pm (UTC)
yeah :) See my userinfo for whoever made it. I got it through one of the Jem communities. starlightmusic I think.
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From: _devilkin
2005-12-09 07:46 pm (UTC)
What about the black volunteer fireman whose family died in a house fire?

And Warrick - he has a gambling problem, and happens to be black. However, Catherine has a problem - she lets men/relationships get the best of her. Sarah's problem - social phobia, can't relate to people well, bad on-the-job crushes. Greg, well, he's just kind of a wanker, though I do love him. Grissom is really one of the most messed up characters, with all his personal relationship weirdness. And Nicky has/had his mustache problem.

I agree with one of the other posters - it's probably the writers being primarily white, and the show's target audience being white. Being a writer myself (and being white), a lot of my characters are white. That's because, a. I write what I know because I feel it's more real that way, and b. I'm terribly afraid to offend someone of another race because I don't understand their culture as well as mine.
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From: ktempest
2005-12-09 07:54 pm (UTC)
I had forgotten about the fire episode, and that was one of the better ones. That's one episode out of how many, though?

Warrick is the only character that has a problem that involves a 12-step program. I'm serious about this - the other characters have quirks of personality, Warrick has a PROBLEM that he must OVERCOME. Even Sarah, who has her brush with drunk driving, isn't portrayed as having an alcohol problem, but past issues she must work through and drinking is a symptom. Warrick is just a damn gambler.

But Nick's 'stache problem is probably more serious. I was certainly more worried for him than ever ;)

I'll address the white writers thing later (when I have more time) because that's another hot button topic.
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[User Picture]From: arainbowcat
2005-12-09 08:07 pm (UTC)
Wow. Nick with a 'stache was scary if you ask me. I'm glad he shaved it off. I would have died if he kept it on.
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[User Picture]From: mukhy0
2005-12-09 11:40 pm (UTC)
I don't think they're trying to be racist or anything. Like other people have said, the writers are probably just sticking to what they know so they don't tread in unknown territory and offend people, but I guess it offended some people anyway ;) I think it's also partly casting and what types of people are more likely to be in the storylines. Target audience probably plays a big part on the show too.

Hell, I don't really remember Asian victims or criminals in the show but it's not really a big deal for me. I don't watch a show for the number black characters or white characters or Asian characters and I don't really think it should affect whether or not the story is good or bad. I'd rather just have them stick to what they're good at rather than trying to put in different characters for the sake of racial equality.

If writers are negligent and write something that directly offends a group of people, that's when I'll be worried.

... And what do you mean the Boondocks is the only thing safe to watch?
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From: ktempest
2005-12-10 03:45 am (UTC)
My response to most of what you said is here

I also don't watch shows specifically for the number of ethnic characters. But I do notice these things. Not always - I mean, I've been watching CSI steadily for about 6 months now (thanks to Spike's reruns) and I only noticed this stuff this week. Oddly, all the black people episodes have been on this week. I think it's fate. :) Anyway, the main reason it bothers me is because it just highlights what is wrong with media and our culture. Then I get my anger up.

If an intellegent, well-written show like CSI can't even bring itself to put cliches and antiquated ideas about race behind them then what hope is there for any television? I'm not talking about turning this show into New York: Undercover, I'm just wondering why the show is so overwhelmingly white when the real life setting so overwhelmingly isn't?

If a writer cannot get him or herself together enough to write a convincing character who isn't from their exact same ethnic background then I wonder how they can write so convincinly for murderers, adulterers, addicts, and psychos?
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[User Picture]From: ninja_demongirl
2005-12-10 02:22 am (UTC)
what about in the other CSIs? i dont watch them so idnk the cast for them xpt for that one guy in miami. And agreeing on the write what u know. Arts the same way really witht he subjects. For nick's problem further up the list hes just prone to pain. either hes a suspect, having an indoor stalker to being put in a coffin with xplosives....and fire ants

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From: ktempest
2005-12-10 03:45 am (UTC)
response to write what you know is here
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[User Picture]From: ayodele
2005-12-13 09:01 pm (UTC)
interesting post, i'd like to link to this on deadbrowalking.
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From: ktempest
2005-12-13 10:35 pm (UTC)
be my guest
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From: (Anonymous)
2005-12-14 02:56 am (UTC)
Your problem is you see everything in terms of race.

Why CAN'T the middle eastern guy date the "bleach blonde bimbo"? Why should he wait for a middle eastern woman? For someone so against racism you sure spout it out with the best of 'em.

It's television, it's not a political attack on Black America. It's a SHOW. I never see anyone HAPPY with the tv portrays "people like them". There's such thing as stereotypes, the media stereotypes everyone, this isn't a pure "OH NOES I'M BLACK AND NO ONE GETS ME" issue, it's more of a "the media is stupid" issue.
Also note that Lost and CSI are fictional shows. If they were real we'd call them "documentaries". On behalf of white people I'm SORRY that "your people" weren't portrayed accurately in a fictional tv show, and that this is causing your life to have a giant upheavel. This simple fact must mean that all of white america is a bunch of racists that hate black people.

If "black people" keep crying out about stupid petty things like the way black people are portrayed on fictional tv shows, you're damn right people are going to start getting fed up with the constant victim crying.
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From: ktempest
2005-12-14 03:16 am (UTC)
sigh. I'm really done with people like you anonymous. You're not interested in listening to anything I have to say on this subject because you got your privilege up. Fine. Continue wallowing in ignorance, hon. I'm done with you and your ilk.
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From: ktempest
2005-12-14 10:21 pm (UTC)
I've been watching episodes from all over the place. I have seen at least half of each season with the exception of two and four. and I've seen all of Season 6. I was sad when Aisha went away! but the actress that replaced her is one of my favorites from back in the day (when she was on All My Children).
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From: _devilkin
2005-12-14 07:10 pm (UTC)
I also forgot to mention Catherine's being a single mother - raising her child pretty much without the help of her husband (sorry, Linds, no two loving parents for you!) - and the fact that she had a coke habit when she finally left Eddie.
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From: dreamskye1983
2005-12-14 09:56 pm (UTC)

some facts.

I was personally interested to see if I could find out who the writers and producers are for CSI. To see if there was a race trend, etc. IMDB, has some information on the entire cast and crew. I thought it would be intersting to find out. Here is a list of the names of writers and producers:

Anthony E. Zuiker, Ann Donahue, Andrew Lipsitz, Carol Mendelsohn, Josh Berman, Tish McCarthy, Eli Talbert, Jacqueline Zambrano, Elizabeth Devine, Jerry Stahl, Marc Dube, Corey D. Millar, Naren Shankar, Danny Cannon, Elizabeth Devine, Naren Shankar, Dustin Abraham, Sarah Goldfinger, Bob Harris, Judy McCreary, Quentin Tarantino, Ethlie Ann Vare,

Frank Ballou, Josh Berman, Jerry Bruckheimer, Danny Cannon, Cynthia Chvatal, Philip Conserva, Kim Cybulski, Elizabeth Devine, Ann Donahue, Peter Dunne, Steven Felder, Kenneth Fink, Sarah Goldfinger, Bruce Golin, James C. Hart, Bernie Laramie, Richard J. Lewis, Andrew Lipsitz, Jonathan Littman, Corinne Marrinan, Judy McCreary, Carol Mendelsohn, Louis Shaw Milito, Ron Mitchell, Henry Alonso Myers, William L. Petersen, Naren Shankar, Scott Shiffman, Sam Strangis, Eli Talbert, Brad Tanenbaum, Anthony E. Zuiker

This does not include their race, because I don't know what it is. I do not think you can determine race via names. If anyone is interested you can find the cast and crew information here:

Personally, I don't believe in racism or stereotypes. I think that this type of behavior, racist and stereotypical behavior, is a detriment to society and prevents growhth. I also think that if there is a problem it is good to confront it in an open and honest intellectual manner. If you refuse to look at others view, even for a second, no matter how ignorant and off the wall they seem to you, you will never learn. I understand that racism is still previlent in many places, my own grandfather is racist and he believes STD came from african american men having sex with white women and always uses the n... word. I am not standing up for my grandfather and I have had many arguments with him concerning his racist views. He does not believe in interacial relationships and it caused a real gap in our family.. (on a quick side not, please don't insult my grandfather, no matter how wrong he is, he is my family)
I understand that reacism is still a bad part of our society, but also consider as a society we have come along way. Alot of men and women, black and white, fought for equality.. while thier work is not done, there has been progress. If you are truly concerned with the lack of races other than white on CSI, I encourage you to contact the network and creators of the show. If Rosa Parks hadn't had the courage to sit in that seat, where would we be today? Maybe your letter will be the letter that changes their mind, or if it is an unconscious decision, not consciously racist, it will open their eyes to their decisions lack of races on the television show.

On another note, did you tell someone to "put it in their priviledge" just based on the fact that they are white? I'm just curious, because I know personally being white for me does not automatically equal priviledge. I've had my own personal struggles to get to were I am today and I don't believe that my race had anything to do with it. (I'm not trying to attack, but it seems very racist to assume that just because one is white, automatically means one is privileged.) I agree that we need more minorities (men and women of all races) in positions of power. I think we should have a president of another race beside caucasian (or gender).

Also, just curious.. why should you not be watching television?
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From: ktempest
2005-12-14 10:18 pm (UTC)

Re: some facts.

I know I really ought to stop replying to comments here, but yours was very thoughtful and non-attacking, and I feel you deserve an answer in kind.

As for contacting the Powers That Be for CSI. I actually have tried, but I can't find any contact info except for the general feedback thingy ont he CBS website. So I sent them a note. Who knows if anyone who matters will ever see it? At least I tried.

As far as privilege goes, you may not be understanding my use of the word. White privilege is real, no matter if you understand it or perceive it. It's not about you having money and not having to struggle. That's class or economic privilege and is different. see this article for what I mean: http://www.amonhotep.com/2002/privileges.html and this LJ post: http://www.livejournal.com/community/feminist/2305380.html (the comments are v. interesting as well)

Hope this helps you to understand where I'm coming from.
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[User Picture]From: littleeva
2005-12-16 04:03 pm (UTC)
I think you raise an interesting point. It's worth debating and worth questioning.

Take a show like ER. I work in a hospital and have worked in one for over 20 years. I have yet to see a big city hospital on TV portrayed realisticly regarding the racial make up.

I just chalk it up to lazy writing.
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From: (Anonymous)
2009-04-29 01:38 pm (UTC)

Racism? Get a mirror

You write: "40 some odd people on that part of the island and the Iraqi dude hooks up with the whiny white blond bimbo incest chick? What? Are there no sisters, no Arabian beauties for him to tryst with?"

You find it racist that the guy actually DOES cross the inter-racial dating taboo? You'd find it more acceptable if like stayed with like, and nobody dared to show relationships which cross ethnic boundaries?

Seems you haven't deconstructed your own racism yet.
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