… no, not beer. I mean the TV show. I like the show. But there’s one thing that really, really bugs me about it.
This past Sunday’s show was a great example of it.
Teen girl is murdered. A quarter of the way through, we find out that she was part of a ‘chastity circle’, of teens who make a commitment not to have sex at this point in their life due to faith in Christ. I immediately thought, ‘here it comes again…’. Sure enough. All the ghastly stereotypes about committed Christians get trotted out once more. In this case, of course the youth pastor had sex with a teen (or at least enjoying himself as she eagerly spoke her fantasies, apparently more than once), of course one of the girls was skilled at controlling the others, of course the couple was having sex and getting pregnant, and of course there was the closet homosexual who was denying it. (That’s right, the youth pastor and all four of the other teens fit a stereotype.) And the dead girl got stoned (who stones but religious folk?) by all four other kids, taunting her and calling her slut and other hateful taunts while they were killing her.
The show, like many shows and just about anything loosely connected with Jerry Bruckheimer, has a steady track record on this. Nuns are shriveled biddies or closet Nazis (unless of course they’re acting against a dogma, in which case they’re always heroes). Fundamentalists (which by their definition includes evangelicals, charismatics, religiously conservative and even moderate mainline Protestants and Catholics) are mad bombers, guilt-trippers, crooks, or sex perverts. Religious ideas are always not only part of the problem, they are portrayed as its root cause, and must be smashed for the sake of the show’s absolutist definition of ‘personal freedom’. It’s relentless. I can think of only one Cold Case episode in which religious faith and those who have it were treated with any real respect (a show that intersected two schoolyard murders last season, to the tunes of U2). Otherwise, it’s been treated as a relentless enemy. The stereotypes are not entirely lies, mind you. I myself have known perv pastors, shrill nuns, hateful churchgoers. But I also know of a whole lot more who aren’t – they’re really fine people who really live their beliefs. They have to live under the burden not only of the bad ones, but also the hateful stereotypes that others foist upon them. Do I really have to say that they’re not hate-filled? That they’d no more think of stoning someone to death than you would? Do I have to say they’re the opposite of dangerous? If I do have to say that to you, then I have to say another truth to you : you’re a raving bigot, and you have no business trying to foment more of your bigotry. And yes, I do know, very personally, what certain tightly-held dogmas can do to one’s life. I also know that it is precisely my faith in Christ, shaped rather strongly by that same Bible they seem to hate so much, that has as a very practical, real-life matter led me to a life of caring and loving, in spite of the brutality of life that is (in reality) worse where the faith isn’t than where it is. That is the truth. Can you portray that?
Of course, the show doesn’t really believe in the reason teens join such groups either — that is, to establish at least some level of sexual self-control. Even the attempt is ridiculed as being an inevitable 99% failure, and the people who make those commitments as invariable liars who are just looking for cover for their secret behaviors. They don’t think it’s even healthy to band together to at least try; better to feel free to have sex whenever you want to. In that view, their evidence is how often the effort fails. HELLO THERE — teens are humans, and are still learning about the side of themselves that’s their own worst enemy. That’s all the failures mean. And many of these youth circles are quite aware of that, applying grace instead of law. (Yes, even many of the evangelical-based ones.) Sure, some don’t; some can be quite cruel. But teens of all stripes and in all groups can find cruelty easy to do; being religious doesn’t stop them from being teens.
I wonder what would happen if the youth pastor didn’t go sexual toward one of them? If the couple could actually be shown as really dealing with their desires instead of just lying? If someone actually was trying to be a true friend to the dead girl? Couldn’t they do even one of those? That, I propose, is much more of a reality than the predictable script way. They could’ve still had a good murder mystery without having everyone turn evil. But then the show wouldn’t have reinforced its favorite set of prejudices in the minds of the public.
It seems that the one group that’s fair game for bigotry nowadays is any sort of conservative Christian. NO. There is no such thing as ‘fair game’; it’s always unfair, always wrong. All bigotry rots your soul out. All bigotry undermines public life. ALL of it. It seems that conservative Christians are far from being the only ones who need to learn that. I hope more people tell the TV show makers that.
A P.S. : I’m not one of those who likes to rant about this sort of stuff. It makes me sound shrill and far right-wing. (They’ve jumped on the same episode with fangs out.) But I’m not at all a right-winger, a rabble-rouser, or much of a ranter; you can check me on that. But Cold Case’s willingness to feed prejudices about a certain group of people has to be called to task. That’s way more important than making their political point, because their political struggle is supposed to be largely about getting rid of prejudices. Do as you say, please.