The Woman Show
As has been previously established, I think chick programming is antediluvian swill. Were I asked to offer a second opinion, I’d tell you it’s also a cynical ploy to exploit social stereotypes. Chick programming tends to smack of patronizing me-tooism, which sets my teeth on edge, and that I was willingly watching this nonsense was a sign of how low I had sunk.
Anyway, as I scraped my spoon around the lid of the Chubby Hubby carton in an effort to get the last of the tasty, tasty fudge, I sat through an hour of Snapped. The program is proof that Oxygen’s gynomania is capable of laming even that most sturdy of nonfiction TV programming warhorses, the true-crime genre. Nearly every cable network turns to this genre at some point because it’s a winner: cheap to produce, and filled with riveting drama revolving around sex, drugs, money and mayhem. If you’re really lucky, a good true-crime show also produces some poor civilian who, after having consented to appear on camera, either comes off like Ma Kettle or Sylvia Plath. It depends on whether the producers want a colorful rube or a high-maintenance hausfrau that day. Breakdown of the social order, real people crammed into stock character molds for the purposes of storytelling, the patina of legitimacy via the story’s origin in real events: a good true crime story is a great guilty pleasure.
Snapped has none of this. The episodes I watched were each thirty minutes, or twenty-six minutes too long. The basic narrative arc could have been more succinctly told in a country-western music video. Man does woman wrong, woman snaps (hence the title) and kills him, woman gets caught. As a matter of fact, I believe Garth Brooks already covered this territory in “The Thunder Rolls.” And Martina McBride covered it in “Independence Day.” And the Dixie Chicks covered it in “Goodbye Earl.” Three more videos, and I’ve just given you a half-hour of programming (with commercial breaks) devoted to the same basic message “Snapped” sends. And you can hum along to it too! That more than makes up for the lack of facts in a song like “The Thunder Rolls.”
So I shrugged off Snapped as another lame cable show and figured it would die of neglect, until I read “Women! Who! Kill!” on Alternet today. Apparently, I have not given Snapped the social critique it deserves, as others have examined the show and decided that it sensationalizes and distorts the women as monsters. Moreover, it focuses on the few women who do send their partner into the next life, as opposed to looking at the women who are killed by their partners. Apparently, Snapped is anti-woman and it’s even more injurious that it’s shown on a women’s network.
The first episode I saw featured Diane Zamora, a high school senior who responded to boyfriend David Graham’s cheating not by dumping his ass, but by insisting he kill the hussy what let him astray. After luring Adrienne Jones out of the house on false pretenses, Zamora bashed in her victim’s head with a free weight, then insisted her boyfriend finish the job with a gun. Later that school year, Zamora accepted an appointment at the U.S. Naval Academy, planning to attend school on the taxpayer dollar . She was stupid enough to confess to classmates that she and the boyfriend had skipped the exchanging-class-rings step in the relationship and zoomed straight ahead to mutual alibis. The classmates, who actually took the parts about lying and responsibility in the Navy’s honor code seriously, reported Zamora. Zamora continued to lie about her involvement in the Jones case; on her suspension from the Academy, she took a detour to the Air Force Academy in order to school Graham on what to say to the police. Eventually, he broke and confessed first, and she followed suit. In court, she claimed that the killing was all Graham’s idea and she was the real victim here — a victim of his crazy abusive Svengali ways.
Portraying Zamora as a monster requires no great efforts of distortion. In fact, Snapped goes a long way to avoid portraying Zamora as anything other than a nice young woman. The show all but suggested that Diane only resorted to brutal, premeditated murder because, like other young women with shaky self-esteem, she craved male approval. If Snapped is guilty of anything, it’s of exploiting two sexist tropes: nobody makes a woman nuts like a man, and women who kill are perverse, unnurturing creatures.
Frankly, those two ideas are more offensive than anything the activists are protesting. They suggest that women are unstable and incapable of self-sufficiency, and that an angry woman is an unnatural woman. By suggesting that murder is the logical end result of a girl’s bad temper, the show undermines the idea that being pissed off is a universal human condition. That is the kind of sexist stereotyping that women’s programming ought to avoid, not reinforce.
There’s no denying that domestic violence is a serious, often fatal problem. And there’s no denying that a lot of women in prison are there for reasons other than spousal murder. But Snapped never purported to cover the entire women-in-prison angle; it’s as minutely focused in its scope as a true-crime series on serial killers. Those predators are a tiny proportion of the prison population, but they also attract disproportionate attention. Why? For the same reason chicks-who-kill do. It makes for a more luridly compelling story. At the end of the day, TV programming isn’t about accurately representing social woes. It’s about exploiting our fascination with the unusual.
If you’re going to ding Snapped, do it because the show’s as vested in stereotypes as Adam Corolla’s schtick. Do it because it makes for boring true-crime TV. Don’t do it because of what it’s not. Snapped never purported to be a realistic portrayal of what lands women in prison, or a look at the horrible things men sometimes do to women. It intended to be cheap and sensationalistic entertainment for women. That it fails at that, and disrespects its audience in the process, is the problem.
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