‘Criminal Minds’: Television’s Violent Crime and its Impact on Audiences and Reality
Whether you watch the news at six o’clock or at ten o’clock – or not at all – the devastating images seen on-screen are familiar. This could be due to the continuous and ongoing crimes, conflicts, wars, and reports of victims of numerous attacks and murders. It could also be due to similar scenes viewed on the same screen as part of the many crime and procedural programmes that have become increasingly popular. The exaggerated insight into the investigation of crimes such as homicide as entertainment usually do not show explicit content of crimes actually being committed, despite many being shown after the watershed, drawing a kind of boundary. Whilst most crime programmes often focus on the procedures involved, Criminal Minds has been accused of pushing past this limit with extremely violent and sinister depictions. In many episodes women and children are seen being abducted against their will, kept hostage in appaling conditions, and the barbaric actions of killers who torture and murder their victims are often depicted. For example, the two part season three finale/ season four opener shows random people in New York being shot and killed in a spree throughout the city; in the episode “Remembrance of Things Past” numerous young woman are abducted, tortured and forced to telephone their families before being killed by electrocution. These crime and procedural programmes, including Criminal Minds, are often repeated during the day, making fictionalised versions of the images on the news regular daytime television entertainment. Both reality and fiction become all too familiar, giving the news headlines less and less impact with each report.
The leader of the FBI’s Behavioural Analysis Unit on Criminal Minds, Jason Gideon, departed the show after season two for reasons revolving around familiarity of these dark scenarios, a stance written to appear almost as ‘art imitating life’. The actor playing the character of Gideon, Mandy Patinkin, has since stated the highly watched programme as his “biggest public mistake” suggesting he signed up without realising the writers, in Patinkin’s words, were going to “kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week”. As the statement comes from one of the on-screen individuals most involved in making the programme at the time, does this suggest that the material featured as edged too far beyond the lines of ‘civilisation’? Is the programme’s content really into a territory that is just too ‘dark’? As an experienced actor on set, Patinkin would have been able to see that week’s plotline in jigsaw form, before being put together by cast and crew to become what the viewers see on-screen. Actors are expected to understand the fictional nature of the elements built around them that resemble the world their character inhabits during filming. However, despite great experience in the industry, and seeing firsthand the construction, and subsequent deconstruction, of the characters and crimes on set every day, Patinkin still criticised the ‘dark’ state of minded needed to play his character, and the depictions of “torture and murder on a daily basis”.
Similarly to Patinkin, in a large number of the negative comments taken from message boards concerning the show – from which there were also a large number of positive responses– viewers stated that the reason they had stopped watching Criminal Minds when Patinkin left was due to the “sick” violence against women and “depraved” scenarios shown. Many have questioned the entertainment value of this genre and its extreme content, as, when similar large-scale atrocities are reported on the news in real life, the initial reaction is of shock and disgust.
The debate surrounding violent crime in programmes like Criminal Minds can be fierce on the internet, however, it seems the more we talk about issues in our television habits, the less we are surprised by, or even acknowledge, instances of violence in reality. Crimes like these have become part of our culture both fictionally and in our actual lives, despite how much they are condemned. Regarding the cause of this violence, the questi0n seems unanwserable: so far we appear unable to tell whether life imitates art, or art imitates life. Whichever is the case, society is exposed to this kind of violence; some commenters even suggested that Criminal Minds had made a difference to them by making them more safety conscious in their daily lives, as the crimes fictionalised on the show do happen throughout the world. Others suggested that crime doesn’t go away if ignored, suggesting the show confronts the reality of violent crime. However, neither does it go away if only confronted in the extreme in front of the sofa.
Another debate surrounding violence in forms of entertainment is that of whether viewing this material makes people more susceptible to committing violent acts; however violent crime has always occurred in society. What has not always been a staple is the apparent desensitization of the public towards these crimes in real life, which seems to stem from the prevalence of extreme crimes in media entertainment. In the U.K recently the BBC received a barrage of complaints from the press concerning their police drama Happy Valley, starring Sarah Lancashire, about the graphic nature of the show under the category of ‘violence and dangerous behaviour. In spite of these concerns, the programme received over seven million viewers per episode and was highly praised for its writing, performances, and the portrayal of the psychological effects on character Catherine. Similarly, the American series Fargo – shown on Channel Four in the U.K – was nominated for various awards due to its popularity, yet has been described as ‘brutally’ and ‘senselessly’ violent. The series is based on the Coen brothers’ cult film of the same name, released in the 1990s. Many critics have stated that while the film contained a lot of violence, most of it occured off-screen, and any violence shown was satirical, filmed in the style of the Coen brothers’ usual ‘black’ humour. In comparison, critics have suggested some of the violence shown in the series is too graphic; Lester is shown battering his wife to death with a hammer, whilst Malvo is seen mudering Sam Hess by stabbing him in the neck, both in the first episode. There are many other programmes depicting violence on television, both American and British.
A psychological study by the University of Iowa found that increased exposure to violence through entertainment media in the form of video games resulted in “a powerful desensitization on a global level”. The study also concluded that these results can be extrapolated to similar test surrounding television media.
As audiences become more used to images of violence through this genre of television, are we also becoming desensitized to the reality of violent crime and its victims being reported across our screens? It has also been found by the University of Queensland that repeated exposure to crime and death through television on the news leads to desensitization. This can be seen in the coining of the concept of ‘disaster fatigue’, and is beginning to play out as a kind of ‘fatigue’ towards the violent crime going on around us both on the streets and on television, in entertainment and the news. On a daily basis coverage of real violent crimes if shown: for example the recent atrocities and beheadings of the terrorist groups in Iraq and Syria, the London riots of 2011, which spread throughout England’s South and resulted in five people being killed, and the tragic murder of pupils from American school Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Criminal Minds portrays crimes that reflect many of the crimes on the news, from terrorism and shootings to the riots caused by the videos released of brutal killings in the episode “Hopeless”.
The number of complaints about swearing, sexual and violent content on television have fallen, despite the prevalence vastly increasing. audiences are now just used to it. From the four major UK channels , the programmes shown most, and with the highest ratings per screening feature a number of crime and procedural shows, whereas the new is not listed at all.
Many television programmes now feature a high level of crime or violence, with even soaps and Downton Abbey being criticised, particularly for the apparently gratuitous scenes of Anna Bates being attacked and raped during the latter’s fourth season last year. Whilst all shows in this genre depict storylines of homicide, terrorism and other violent crimes, the majority of programmes, such as CSI and NCIS, focus primarily on the procedural actions of the team during their investigations, Criminal Minds can sometimes be seen as uncomfortable viewing during some scenes that portray the victims during the ordeals and crimes featured in that episode.
However the show does not glamorize or encourage the kind of crimes depicted, and instead focuses on the team of BAU characters and their determination and passion to provide justice and put an end to the various criminals they profile. The characters are given backstories, personalities, emotions, and connections with each other as a team in order to bring back a more ‘human’ element to the programme, without allowing the violence shown to completely take over the episodes. Each of the characters are shown as being affected by their experiences in different ways, including Agent Gideon, Mandy Patinkin’s character. Hotch suffers from guilt over his ex-wife’s death; Reid became addicted to narcotics due to one ‘unsub’; and Garcia volunteers with support groups for the bereaved or families of missing persons. The beginning and end of each episode features the voiceover of one of the characters with a quote or proverb that relates to the episode, which is meant to act as a kind of moral message to bookend the experiences shown. Criminal Minds is described by those involved in the show as being about the psychology of profiling, and what makes people commit such violent crimes, rather and about torture.
However, if audiances are watching crimes take place, fictionally or as part of news bulletins, does that somehow make us complicit due to the lack of response we are able to give to the images we have seen repeated over and over again from our sofas?
What do you think? Leave a comment.
Personally, I make it a point to not watch disturbing series as often as I have in the past. It truly does wreak havoc on your psyche…..Not that it’s obvious, but when you realize it, you notice how seemingly innocuous things (consciously/unconsciously) affect you.
Yes, I stopped watching all that garbage a while back. It messes with your head. If you want to succeed in life, put good things in your head, not trash.
I enjoy a lot of heavy depictions of screwed-up subjects, but Criminal Minds has felt much less of a depiction of terrible happenings and a more a “let’s see what disturbing stuff we can conjure up this week!” You know, exploitative.
Well, you have Criminal Minds, all the CSI shows, Cold Case, Without A Trace, and virtually every time you land on a network a woman is being held hostage by a psychopath.
I like a drama/thriller every now and then, but it got to the point where you get tired of the same routine.
Pretty much every crime show is the same.
I had a feeling, from the moment I heard about Mandy’s departure from “Criminal Minds”, I knew the reason instantly.
I recall hearing rumors and speculation surrounding the mystery behind his departure, so I suspected it wasn’t just about family or money.
At any rate, I tried watching the first few episodes, and I was so disgusted by the show’s content (and I have an extremely high tolerance for controversial subject matter) – not to mention what I considered dull writing and duller characters – that I canceled my Season Pass.
I really enjoyed your article and was pleased you included the rape scene of Anna from “Downton Abbey” into your discussion. That story arc just proved to be uncomfortable to watch the show. Great job!
Well, I’m a CM fan and I’ve seen every chapter of every season. Damn, I like it. I LOVED the time when Mandy was in the show and I was sad he left. He has the right to think that the show is violent and all… but if you think the show is too farfetched and unrealistic, full with exploitation… then you are living in a nice little bubble. Life is harder than fiction, I’ve seen crimes far worst than tho ones on the show (and by the way, they do their homework with the profiles and psychology behind every episode). And also you can learn to take care of yourself with this, they show real MOs, real psychopathologies, they just make up the context and drama.
If you hate it, don’t watch it and don’t judge does who do.
Personally I do watch Criminal Minds, and I’m a fan of many crime/ procedural shows. Some of the graphic depictions in shoes like Criminal Minds can be uncomfortable to watch because of how real some of the crimes and victims are. Part of my point was that if we’re seeing fictionalisations of these images so often,, will we become somewhat complacent towards the real crimes, especially as they are happening so often? If we become complacent, do we become complicit in a culture of violence both real and fictional, in spite of the fact that the perpetrators are a minority of society? I think it sometimes can be a bit too violent. I liked Patinkin, but I prefer the character of Rossi.
I think it’s a bit harsh to say that people who consider the show farfetched and unrealistic are living in a nice bubble. First off, it’s more likely that people who don’t care for the show are aware of just how realistic the show is, and would much rather watch something benign to curtail the awful things we hear about on a day to day basis. After all, we often refer to TV and film as a form of escapism, so what good can come from a show that defeats such a purpose and shows violent crimes in vivid detail.
Second, most people have built a tolerance for depictions of violent events, but there is a thresh-hold that they employ to ensure that they don’t go too overboard. Georgia’s mentioning of “disaster fatigue” is a very real psychological condition by which people become aloof when confronted with awful things in real life. In that sense, it’s vital that people take a time away from such things and remind themselves that there’s also a whole lot of good in the world.
You say “life is harder than fiction”, and I’m in total agreement. And while it’s important for artists to be honest about the nasty things in life, it’s just as important, if not more-so, to remind people of the decent things in life.
And on your last statement, I agree whole-heartedly that if you don’t like a show you shouldn’t watch it or judge those who do. But be sure you take your own advice to heart and be understanding to those who are a bit more sensitive than others. It may be annoying, and trust me I’ve felt such annoyance before, but a person is afforded just as much a right to look away as those who choose to watch.
Clearly there’s an audience for these… which is just as disturbing.
These shows (Criminal Minds is the worst offender) parade around as “crime procedurals”.
We need to spawn a new level of creativity and quality entertainment on network programming.
This is a very hard topic to discuss, and I appreciate the calm with which you write about it Georgia.
Tolerance to depictions of violence is up to every person to decide for themselves. For example, I can usually handle things of a violent nature (e.g. fisticuffs, battles, shootouts) except for sexual abuse. It is at that time where I’ll look away from the screen. It’s also hard for me to handle emotional abuse but I can usually watch it. This, however, only accounts for theatrical releases; when I’m watching a documentary about such things, even about the aforementioned violent scenes that I’m relatively okay with, I really have to steel myself when watching them. The trick, of course, is to allow compassion in at the same time; if you harden your heart too much then you’ll become insensitive.
Again, this is a very tricky discussion because it depends on what each viewer can watch, but I think that the best thing to do is to strike a balance; ensure that you’re being honest about what your depicting while making sure not to exploit your subject with needless violence.
This was a very insightful and well argued article Georgia, I hope to see more from you in the future.
I haven’t watched CRIMINAL MINDS at all since the first year. It is reprehensible the amount of violence towards women and children on that show.
Some shows are dark, some are light. It’s called variety. This is a 10pm show, idiot. That’s when risks can be taken. If the audience doesn’t like it, then they can change the channel to… wait for it… ANOTHER PROGRAM.
Its also shown on repeat throughout the day in Britain. Whilst I agree you can switch over, calling someone an ‘idiot’ for not agreeing is unnecessary and small minded. I watch the show, but sometimes the graphic violence can be uncomfortable as others have stated. Please don’t comment just to call people names, Ponced Wood’s point was that’s why they did stop watching the show.
your little “wait for it” phrase shows what a sheeple you are, imitating the way that pathetic little man “Barney” from the the TV show How I Met Your Mother talks.
You sound like a small person who doesn’t see past his nose, not smart enough to analyze his environment and what it does to you.
Really thought provoking article, thank you! It seems that violence against women is a particular favourite amongst the shows you mention (although as I haven’t watched Criminal Minds myself, I’m just going off your article here). If that’s the case it reflects a common and potentially troubling trend in TV/film. I watch a lot of violent shows, but I think violence for violence’s sake is unnecessary. The best depictions are where that violence is intimately connected with the thrust of a real, complex plot and I don’t think this is always the case in a lot of crime TV shows today. I also think ‘off-screen’ violence, for example in the original Fargo, can be a lot more effective dramatically speaking!
This is a great article! My mom loves crime shows, so I showed this to her as well 🙂
Great article and topic! I used to love these types of shows. But I agree, it’s just crazy how shows can impact it’s viewers. I just published a similar article but about the show Weeds on this site.
The reason that shows such as “criminal minds” are successful is that they do not glamorize the crime, but focus on understanding and prevention. Some of the shows may be right from news headlines, while others are fictional. These shows build a repertoire with their audiences and keep them invested through this understanding.
Spreading brutality,horrors and various autraucities for your viewing pleasure.
Just like the nightly news, keep that gloom and fear spreading across the land.
I have never watched Criminal Minds because it looks too similar to SVU (which I cannot watch without feeling dirty and angry at the world). I agree that we are a society desensitized to violence, and we are less involved and horrified by the violence in the world today.
But I think shows like Criminal Minds expose us to things we may have turned a blind eye to in society. Like Downton Abbey showed, violence and rape are nothing new. Women were taught to hide their shame. By becoming aware that these horrendous events do occur and should not be kept quiet, we can establish safety measures and laws to protect our society.
I used to like Criminal Minds. Because I love detective shows. But then I stopped watching it. The storylines became exhausting.
These are provocative questions.
Some of these shows pull together plot lines based on actual cases. For example, there is a Law and Order episode called “Consent” that pulled together several stories of campus sexual assault, and wrapped them up into one tv episode. The result was jarring, and difficult to witness. But now campus sexual assault is being talked about in mainstream news, and schools are being pressured to create safer environments for students. I would not presume to say that this outcome is a result of Law and Order, but I would say that the Law and Order episode is reflective of issues of cultural relevance. And it is possible for tv shows to be conduits to critical cultural discussions, as many articles for The Artifice can attest.
The themes of the shows are drawn from crimes that are believable, that we fear, and that make us feel powerless. The end goal for crime dramas is, as you say, justice for victims, and so I think sometimes a show can be cathartic and reassuring. People want to see justice being served, and so the process of participating in the quest for justice via these tv crime dramas is satisfying for many viewers.
On the other hand, when rape, torture, kidnapping, and murder are gratuitously depicted, displayed only for entertainment value, and not dealt with sensitively, I think it is possible to actually reinforce things like misogyny and rape culture.
I think that you chose a really interesting show to examine and did a good job of presenting all aspects of Criminal Minds. This television show is quite complex: showing viewers violence and trauma while also presenting the process of the “good guys.” In a way, this show gives people a little bit of both. Criminal television shows are a guilty pleasure for a lot of people (including me!) and it seems to be so successful because we are content with the amount of violence ONLY if there is a solution in the end. However, I completely agree with you that this show has become difficult to watch and I think it has become empowered by the violence aspect.
While I will admit to binge watching Criminal Minds, and enjoying the episodes, I often find myself wondering how much I like the episodes, or just the fast paced episodes. Most times, I believe that I enjoy these kinds of shows simply to keep me engaged because more often than not, I get bored by slow paced shows. Having said all that, Criminal Minds is so twisted and I hate that aspect of it. Shows like Castle aren’t so bracing for me because there is so much of those social story lines that help take you out of the crime, but Criminal Minds does not have that.
I too watch Criminal Minds and find myself at times wondering how I can watch such violent and disturbing scenes without the need to flinch. I think, as you mentioned in your article, that the problem does indeed stem from the perspective of ‘fiction’. By realizing that the show is nothing more than fictional stories portraying the lives and cases of FBI agents, it in turns grows the already formed disregard for being silently able to watch all the episodes. It does indeed prove that society has written off on serious offenses and daily news has become less shocking but more along the lines of the norm.
Watching dark scenes such as those present the thought that even though things like this happen everyday, “it’s just fiction”. We are so use to dismissing what goes on that the nature of what actually occurs doesn’t drive a serious emotional concern. However, on the other hand the show does present the process of what one is thinking that leds them to there actions, going indepth into the character’s lives and bringing out a resolution that is either a ‘happy ending’ or ‘an ending’ with moral standing.
The show itself is engaging with well developed characters who have stayed throughout the majority of all the seasons, thus we grow attached, for instance I love Agent Morgan and Gracia’s character and inter relationship as friends. How they are able to deal with the cases before them and live their lives at the same time, knowing what kind of horror they face everyday, to me the idea is in a sense amazing and unreal.
I greatly enjoyed this article and hope to read more in the future 🙂
As much as I ADORE Criminal Minds, I have to agree 110%! After I watch like 6 episodes in a row I am afraid to go outside. For no reason!
I’ve seen most of the episodes of this show, but I admit I am uncomfortable with the violence. I actually fast forward much of the scenes with the killers and just watch the parts with the heroes figuring things out. I never feel like I missed anything important to the story. To me, this shows we don’t really need those graphic scenes or at least not all of them.
I really do think that these types of shows desensitize our society. Especially in believing we will catch the person in the end. Like Criminal minds the criminal is caught or killed at the end of each show, this is a big understatement for what happens in real life. However, we know over the course of Human history we have been fond of and have participated in local/public executions. Back then these events, most very gruesome and awful, became the entertainment of children and adults on a daily basis. I think its in our nature to watch these shows because they are mind boggling to us. It intrigues us. We then ask ourselves the question: Who would do such a thing?
So many things especially psychological goes through our minds to allow us to watch these shows and be entertained. The media is constantly evolving to grab our attention, if it means being violent, they will go there. This ties into the whole realm of violent video games. Why do kids get such a high off these? Regardless, Criminal Minds won’t go away and new shows/games will arise that are violent and very brutal.
I honestly don’t think that television shows desensitize their audiences, more that they show what really happens. While watching the shows the audience is more focused on the story of the teams or the main characters the victims on the shows are just to show how these people work, which is what most people are interested in. Although these scenes maybe gruesome and down right terrifying, these things happen in real life and people never really know about them.
I agree with chandler. However, what can we do? Sure, the news reporters as well as those affected (the rape victim or the family of the murder suspect, for example) tell us to help, but all they offer (a majority of the time at least) is either a description of the perpetrator, a photo, and/or a telephone number to call. Not to mention the fact that it’s not in our profession. They have security guards, FBI agents, and police officers to do that for us. And not only that, but if we do take action, who’s to say it won’t happen to us?
I love Criminal Minds and I know it has made me more paranoid especially when I move around in the night. But I think it’s helped me to read people more, especially a show like Lie To Me*. I do tend to skip episodes that have to do with the kidnapping or any kind of abuse of children because I usually can’t handle it.
I agree with so many of the comments here. I turned off tonight’s episode halfway through and will probably never watch it again. I have a wife and a daughter and am really kind of in tune with all of the vilence (typo I decided to keep) against women so enthusiastically depicted on this show every single week. Tonight they kept showing photos of dead women spread eagle on beds. Tied to the bedposts. There was **possibly** a reason to show the photos ONE time. Not three or four or five. Totally gratuitous and slimy. I felt like I needed to take a shower after they kept finding reasons to work these photos into the scenes just so we could take another look. Will never watch this crap show again.
I think it’s really important to note that the reason that Criminal minds works for me is because of the character of Garcia, who genuinely is affected by her job but doesn’t let it affect her outlook on life. She’s one of the best characters on TV.
I stopped watching very early on due to the incredibly disturbing nature of the show. If they want the focus to be on the team profiling why do they give so much air time to the “un sub” and his crimes?
I detest that EVIL “show” beyond ALL limits of human comprehension.
Even one of its actors trashed the show, see after my comments. Listen They need to have a TELEVISED ELECTRIC CHAIR for all proven truly guilty very violent criminals,You know any knife violence, jelalous sposues, real egregious and unconscionable stuff, “homor killing” all that evil ISIS , BOKO HARAM GARBAGE. So in addition to that VERY WOODEN AND LAUGHABLE PERFORMANCE from that thomas gibson actor(Dharma and Greg) the ultimate hypocrisy of the show is that they show sickening evil and COWARDLY violence toward victims who never are displayed successfully FIGHTING BACK, but they never show the FBI BEATING THE EVIL-DOERS UNTIL BLOOD POURS OUT OF THEIR COCK-SUCKING MOUTHS CLINT EASTWOOD/CHARLES BRONSON STYLE !! ALL SERIOUSNESS MAYBE GOD THROUGH EVOLTION CAN LET THE SCUMBAG PRODUCJKERS OF THIS SICK SHOE GET BRAIN CANCER SOME DAY, HOW DARE THEY FOIST THIS GARBAGE ON AMERICAN TV VIEWERS, SIMPLY UNSCONCIONABLE, GOD BLESS REAL ACTORS LIKE SIDNEY POITIER,AL PACINO(SCENT OF A WOMAN), JAMES DEAN, AND BRAD PITT IN THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAOM BUTTON) “HUMAN TV SHOWS INCLUDE, BARNEY MILLER, SANFORD AND SON, HAWAI 5-0 AND MAGNUM PI WITH TOM SELELCK, NOT THAT EVIL STUFF, THANKS FOR READING MY RANT !!
,Mandy Patinkin Regrets Criminal Minds: It Was Destructive to My SoulIt’s hard to imagine Homeland without Mandy Patinkin, but thanks to Criminal Minds, we almost had to.
During a recent interview with New York Magazine, Patinkin opened up about his abrupt exit from the CBS procedural in 2007 after only two seasons. “The biggest public mistake I ever made was that I chose to do Criminal Minds in the first place,” Patinkin said. “I thought it was something very different. I never thought they were going to kill and rape all these women every night, every day, week after week, year after year. It was very destructive to my soul and my personality. After that, I didn’t think I would get to work in television again.”
8 spoilers for Criminal Minds Season 8: A season-long unsub, Alex’s past, a Prentiss return?
Thankfully, Patinkin changed his mind and signed onto the critically acclaimed Showtime drama last year. And while Homeland features a fair amount of violence, according to Patinkin, it’s of a completely different nature than Criminal Minds. “I’m not making a judgment on the taste [of people who watch crime procedurals],” he explained. “But I’m concerned about the effect it has. Audiences all over the world use this programming as their bedtime story. This isn’t what you need to be dreaming about.
I, too, am fascinated by the crime drama phenomenon. In fact, I am writing a book which will appear chapter by chaoter on my blog: culturemulcher.blogspot.ca I would love to get your comments as I go along. sharon
Despite the grizzly scenarios on this show, I can’t help feeling that it falls back on the team’s ultimate morality and commitment. To me, that’s the true lesson of this show.
Action must be taken. Let’s all get together and form a worldwide movement against TV violence. Anyone interested and how to start?
I like that your article is so thoughful and balanced. Thank you for mentioning the character dynamics and -developments of the show, which have so far been mostly disregarded in the comments.
I admit to being a huge fan of Criminal Minds, but I fully understand why people might be put off by the violence depicted in the show. Personally, I keep watching because of the brilliant characters and rather unique team dynamics of the BAU. While the crimes shown in CM can be exceptionally brutal and repulsive, the protagonists are just as exceptionally loving, trusting, and shown to have a much deeper relationship precisely because of the nature of their job and the things they have to face together. This aspect of love, essentially family and humanity is what makes the show worth watching to me.
I agree that the show could be less explicit in its depiction of violence, but then again, I also think that its graphicness might not be the worst approach to the subject matter. Other crime shows often seem to be sugarcoating the crimes, which I think is more conductive to desensitization, because crime is shown as something that “just happens” and is dealt with in the aftermath. You don’t really get to feel compassion for the victims, because you only get to know them as the subject of the investgation, a catalyst of sorts for the plot.
Take Castle, for example. I’m a fan of that show as well, but they tend to make light of murder by showing crime scenes to cheerful pop music, as well as Castle’s misplaced enthusiasm for murder. Is that really any better than showing crimes in all seriousness? Just a thought.
I do skip parts of Criminal Minds episodes. I flinch and look away when things get too graphic and horrible. I certainly don’t re-watch episodes that solely focus on the crimes, and not on the characters. But I still appreciate the way they handle it all. In the end, I think it all depends on the people who are watching it, and there’s no general answer to whether it desensitizes us or not. I agree that the show shouldn’t be aired during the day and thus made too accessible for a younger audience, but that decision isn’t down to the creators of the show, so we shouldn’t hold them accountable for it.
I do agree that the on-camera violence in “Criminal Minds” is sometimes unnecessary. However, I do enjoy this show for other reasons. What separates this show from many other crime shows, such as SVU, or CSI is that the focus is on understanding the “un-sub” (unknown subject) as they call it, and their state of mind, the way they think. I enjoy trying to put together the pieces, the clues that hint at what the un-sub has experienced, or what led him/her to make the terrible decisions that he/she did. There is a certain element of trying to understand the psychology and sociology of the characters and the world that draws me in. Aside from their, the fun and quirky relationships between of all of the FBI agents often provides some comic relief that is often needed when watching a show filled with such dark content.
Ever since I was little I’ve always watched crime shows and I’m only now realizing it does have an effect on how you react to tragedy. When I hear about shootings or murder I’m not really too sympathetic and I’m not very good at empathizing. But it also affects you in a positive way in that you learn about the science behind crime fighting and how the justice system works in the US.
Death is a part of life and these shows present it in a way where you can be aware of it but also how we work to prevent it.
I’m an ex cop, and watching this type of shows daily or several times a week is like an exaggeration of what you’d experience in real life, especially for a civilian. I don’t let my kids watch this stuff and explained to them why.
I used to watch them, and it does cross the border. Unnecessary amount of violence for sure.
If you want to learn ways to prevent criminal situations from happening to you, there are much better ways to do it, such as learning martial arts and taking other courses in your community for women’s safety.
Aside from being a huge Criminal Minds fan myself, this show suggests exactly what the audience will get: an all exclusive view inside the sick mind of criminals. As sick and insane as some of the “unsubs” can be on this show, it is expected that the view is not a glamours one. The issue that critics may point out is the disturbing images that suggest crude and ugly experiences. Some where out there someone is being raped, tortured, and or murdered. It is obvious that viewer discretion is advised before watching an episode, especially with children present.
Criminal Minds does a fantastic job with these disturbing images without crossing the boarder into just another gory film, such as Saw. What is more pleasing about this show is the attachments viewers build with main characters. Personally, mine is with Spence. I believe this show offers much more than out of the ordinary and typical crime shows.
Our culture is old, sick and dying. Taxi!
Just wanted to compliment the writer GeorgiaHakin on this great, informative and socio-critical (in a good way) article! All the best for your future in writing!
You have done a good job of showing the ambivalence of our fascination and horror about the topic and our continued interest in it. Thanks for not being judgmental. I watch CM but if it gets too dark I turn it off.
Thanks for the interesting article! You bring up an interesting conversation about violence in media and its influence on society. I enjoy watching Criminal Minds, and I will admit it’s because I find stories about crime and serial killers interesting. Though I consciously do acknowledge that the violence depicted in the show is awful, it is so easy for me to just see it as a story. I would bet that a victim of horrible violence in real life would look down upon shows like Criminals Minds as it trivializes their experiences. Just like the proposed video game/violence relationship, determining if violent media truly has an impact on violence in society is an extremely complex and difficult question to answer definitively or even try to measure objectively.
honey, there’s no question about it.
Violence in the media does have a big impact on society. Plenty of studies have been done about it. The cat is out of the bag on this one.
It’s all a little different for me, I started out watching law and order and csi but only for the small taste of the psychology and profiling that criminal minds is chock full of. That is my obsession getting into and understanding the mind of a criminal I say criminal bc it’s much broader than killer but I’m more drawn to understand serial killers. Before criminal minds aired I had no idea there was an actual job where people studied and depicted the minds of criminals and I thought there was something wrong with me for wanting to know. That’s bc most people want to get into psychology to get closer to the way minds work but I wanted to take psychology to get closer to criminal minds. what makes people capable of these things I want to know I need to know?! I think it is because I am the exact opposite that I cannot comprehend what could drive people to it but I also believe we all have what it takes to be driven to a point of violence yet there are predispositions and circumstances as well as certain genetics that make some people more prone to such violence. I’m seeping with empathy I feel too much, commercials can make me cry. Not once has the amount of crime television shows both fictional and true I’ve watched impacted the empathy I have for others. I cry for fictional characters pain and loss and I mourn for real human beings I hear about on the news and on shows like dateline on investigation discovery channel. Sometimes I feel like i know them after hearing about their lives and horrible demise and for days some times longer, depending on the circumstances of the crime, I mourn and pray about them and their families. There are times some of the stories and scenes on criminal minds makes me squirm, for instance stories that involve children i cannot stomach at all its a personal worry i obsess over for my own children so real or not i will not watch those storylines play out. Where i am adamant crime shows dont desensitize me to real life violence I will however admit they do cause me to worry and fret more and add to my paranoia. I often have to take breaks from crime shows when I start to try and talk my husband into moving to a tiny town in the mountains and begin homeschooling. I want to be completely secluded from places where people travel or pass through writing this now makes me want to more it just reminds me of the dangers in the world and I want my kids completely safe. yes I’d love a bubble to put them all in and I know those are personal issues but criminal minds and other shows like it make me more aware they help me make safer choices for myself and my children and family. They also feed my hunger to get to know the criminal mind they help me delve into the minds of the most dangerous killers and criminals without being in harm’s way and without being too unhealthy consumed. I learn the things I’ve always desired to know although it’s never enough I always want to know more. Other crime shows like csi and lae and order are lower in violence however they do not explore the minds of the criminals they portray. I admit it’s an odd obsession for someone like myself with such intense episodes of paranoia but I just need to understand I want to dissect the gears of their mind maybe its because I’m so paranoid although I’ve been drawn to it since a young age when my paranoia wasn’t as bad but I admit it probably did add to it. I do this with everyone in my life too I over analyse motives and actions trying to figure out why the people in my life say and do things. I’m not sure why it’s just a fascination. One thing I will agree with is these types of crime shows whether real or fictional does make criminals smarter when it comes to covering crimes up and evidence although since most aren’t planned and are spur of the moment it’s not much of an issue.
Needless violence. Don’t watch this crap, it’s not doing you any good.
It desensitizes people from crimes.
Be smart, choose things that will make you better in every way, not what some greedy TV producers want to shove in your face. If you’re not stupid, use your brain.
A lot of people I know have stopped watching this wave of unnecessarily violent tv shows. I know a girl who was becoming paranoid about stepping out of her house and it was because she would watch so many tv shows depicting violence, and a lot of it towards women, and even children.
It’s kind of sick when you think about it, of these writers who sit all day trying to come up with all this trash in their heads. I understand you need to make money, but really, you’re just intoxicating your minds and those of your viewers, as if society needs more negativity.
I think a lot of actors are not happy to work in these gory type of tv shows but do it because they’re desperate for work.
Then all the nastiness takes a toll on them.
As long as people keep on watching these shows, they won’t give us better things to watch.
A smart person once said that common sense is not very common, and wise people are a minority.
Thank you for writing this article. I only hope that a great number of people read it and respond.
I am very disturbed about the common practice of extreme violence and evil in movies and TV. I don’t see how or why any sane person would expose themselves or their families to this massive onslaught.
I would say, at the least, one would have to desensitize themselves emotionally to this stuff just to get through it. Why we are so preoccupied with this is beyond my comprehension.
We are definitely in need of a Core of Decency to help offset this very disturbing behavior. Like the media in general we are too focused on the worst that happens rather than the best. What a shame!
I think that viewing violent crimes in movies can potentially encourage some viewers to even perhaps instigating or committing a crime , and if this crime leads to a priceless loss of life, then it is not worth showing.
I think it would hit home even harder if we would happen to know or become the victims of such a sad consequence.
The shows are a bit like advertising, they put ideas in peoples heads that most of the time were not there in the first place.
So promoting violence and crimes weather serious or petty only creates potentially negative sensations that even though to most of us have no evident final consequence, they still can prime negative behaviour in some prone individuals and cause anxiety in countless others .
so I think they are dangerous to societies.
It’s so interesting that when a new particular way of committing a crime occurs somewhere in the world , the media covers it, then in some instances the same method gets used by someone else who most probably had no intention of committing a crime prior to the media coverage of the initial crime.
Then this may even be repeated a few other times.
In the meantime many totally innocent persons become victims of the crime .
Its good for money making in the media or film-makers or producers, but if the pushed lighter comedies or series with consideration and love but no hatred, the idea would become the norm and people would shift their thinking, and the profit would be the same. People like to belong and will follow a good lead whether bad or good depending on the belief of the majority.
That belief I think can be controlled by the truth that people place in the media, so the media is taken as the voice of the people even though in reality it’s the voice of a few (the media) which then turns in the voice of the people.
Show manners, caring, compassion, considerate, family values, discipline, love for long enough on shows and tv , and people will become,
(You tell me who or what you follow and I tell you who you are)
But if you show shows of deceit, conniving , murders and vilence.
I am sure its not good.
We know that people that come from violent societies have many members that act the violence on others even In different societies, just because for them violence as we see it was not really any more considered violence it their part of their society.
So for sure even though the shows are about investigating crimes committed by different individuals in every show, we know that in a thousand shows, 1000 criminals are either imitated or fictionalised, but the cast of the show may only be 5 or six, so we have at the end of a thousand shows , a 1000 criminals and 6 good guys.
(what is the norm (majority)>>> 6 good guys or 1000 criminals ).
Thank you for this insightful article regarding a topic I find most distressing: the desensitization of the viewing public. It’s such a relief to know that you and others feel the same. As if life isn’t sufficiently fraught with all-too-real horrors that we need to seek out more! It seems impossible to believe SVU and CM (an especially poorly written show, capped, as you pointed out, by those glib excerpts from Bartlett’s Quotations mouthed by what seem to me dim-witted “profilers”). If anyone wanted to render the US public (plus whoever else is watching this outside the US) insensitive to others’ pain, and possibly making them less sensitive to their own potential pain, this looks like the way to go. That thought creeps me out. Big time.
At Career Day 2018, I found detectives discussing Criminal Minds with my students. I was very disturbed to find that fifth graders watch this show that I had decided was too violent for me to watch, but after that interaction I decided to watch Criminal Minds so I could give meaningful feedback when 10 year olds tell me they are watching violent shows with their family. (OMG, I can’t even, but this is the world we live in.)
At first I was drawn in by the characters, but by Season Two I started to realize the show was affecting me personally; I was getting this weird feeling about watching it. I kept watching (I am a scientist at heart), and started to realize that the brutal violence displayed is done in a voyeristic way! I found myself feeling complicit! Then I started wondering about the writers of this show, thinking they need to be profiled because I was getting the sensation the writers were “in to” the violence! The show definitely affected me, and I am 55, I cannot imagine how a 10 year old would process these feelings.
Contemporary 10 year olds grew up with a screen in their hand. These are children who have lived their young lives online, unsupervised. I do not know what these children will be like as adults, but I think we are in for a rude awakening, because I do believe life imitates art; art is created by intelligent, imaginative people (writers, actors for example) but only a small percentage of the population can differentiate between abstract and real, and most viewersare not artists, and will follow what they are fed.
With great privilege, (having the unusual mind of an artist is a privilege) comes great responsibility, and the creators of these types of shows are not acting responsibly.
A good essay. I guess “Happy Valley” just stopped, I kept waiting for more episodes.