Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rampant Cultural Imperialism- and Some Particularly Delectable Man-Candy

So, last night I watched Criminal Minds- my new favorite show (as of about 2 weeks ago, when I started watching/Tivoing it), and the rampant cultural imperialism that was embedded within the context of the episode was staggering.

"Machismo" (the name of the episode) takes place in Mexico, where there is a serial killer targeting elderly women. Now, besides the blatant mono-linguistic attitude that pervades the BAU [Behavioral Analysis Unit] team (excluding Elle's character)- where the only a grasp of basic high-school Spanish is found in one member of the team- Dr. Reid, who does a literal translation for the idiom "doghouse" [as in, "In the doghouse"] as "la casa del perro".

Since I only have a couple of years of high school Spanish and some minimal conversational skills (which I realized when I was having an actual conversations with people from Spain in the Tehran airport), I just about died laughing. First, because idioms rarely translate effectively (hence the need for multi-lingual environments, to better express oneself), second, because it was exactly the right thing for his character to say.

Now, Dr. Reid rocks my socks off in EVERY way. [The actor, Matthew Gray Gubler, is pretty awesome, too.] You could say that the character is an exact definition of what my nerd fetish is about. Now, having said that, there are some problems with how these characters are written. Dr. Reid has 3 Ph.D.s, according to the background given on the show. How can you have that much education and not understand that idioms don't translate? Or have more than a Sesame Street grasp of Spanish? Maybe it's because I've grown up in California. Who knows?

In any case, each character has a specialty; but nobody does linguistics? Language and word choice/semantics are how people express themselves and can make a major difference in how things are interpreted. This has been further impressed upon me in the three episodes that I've watched; one specific thing that an "unsub" ("Unknown Subject of An Investigation", defined by Wikipedia) says often breaks the case. Not like the writers will ever read this, but in my opinion, adding a linguistics expert would be a great choice. Especially if she's 5' 1 ½", brunette with wildly curly hair, and is, well, me! (Hope springs eternal, I'm not holding my breath, but I think there should be more short people on television, and I could/should be one!) Or at least let me help write dialog. (Dialog is really difficult to write, but I have extensive experience speaking. I talk ALL THE TIME! I am so very qualified for this job!)

I've wandered off of my original issue with the episode- Cultural Imperialism. The writers seemed to not take notice of the fact that machismo and modesty go hand-in-hand, culturally. In a religious community, where virginity and purity are the measure of a woman's "goodness", women are discouraged from speaking out against rape, and discussing sexuality of any kind- consensual or not, would be very awkward. In this episode, the rape victims all came forward and appeared to be at complete ease describing their attacks to the mostly male BAU.

Stop for a minute and think about this; in America, women who are raped have a difficult time reporting and describing their attacks to the police officers who are supposed to be helping them. American culture is much more accepting of promiscuity, and part of the cultural method of dealing with the psychological damage caused by rape is to talk about it with a trained professional. In the US, the victim is also not considered somewhat responsible for her attack, which isn't necessarily the case in heavily patriarchal cultures. Women who were raised not to talk about sex would not be comfortable talking about it with another woman, never mind a man whom they have just met. Additionally, none of the BAU men speak Spanish! How would they effectively be understanding what is going on??!! Suspension of disbelief, yaadaa yaadaa. This isn't "Charmed" where you can make stuff up as you go, people!

The episode also portrayed the Mexican police as stupid and ineffective. I haven't had any personal experience with the Mexican police, but I found it more than a little improbable that a precinct that couldn't afford a crime lab (more than a fingerprinting kit from the '80s) could afford to have a BAU. Yes, profiling is important, but it's not exact or as easy to determine as DNA or fingerprints. It's like icing on the cake; that's why it appears that America has one BAU to the majillion crime labs across the country (take for example, the three different incarnations of CSI). When the DNA is wrong, you know you have the wrong suspect. When a profile is wrong, they stop and think more. Which doesn't solve cases quickly, except in the rapid-fire profiling on Criminal Minds.

Don't get me wrong, I get all flustered when they geek out, but the lack of cultural research and consideration was a bit bothersome. At the beginning of the episode, the main police officer tells Gideon that his lack of cultural knowledge made his profiling ineffective anywhere but the U.S.A. Then what happens? Everything falls together perfectly, the crime is solved and the BAU ride off into the sunset.

I truly do enjoy the show, I just feel like they should stick to domestic psychos. In their favor, with the package bomber episode, they didn't immediately jump on the "we hate towel-heads" bandwagon. Which is awesome.

And Matthew Gray Gubler is a stone cold FOX!

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