CULTURAL REVOLUTIONSrn” R E A L L I F E ” C R I M E shows are thernlatest rage on American television. Feedingrnon this fury, there is now for sale anrnencyclopedia of crime, where one canrnexamine the “true stories” of derangedrnpersons like Jeffrey Dahmer. The firstrnbook in the series is titled Serial Killersrnand was out in time for last Christmas.rnAnything dangerous, destructive, or (bestrnof all) perverse seems these days to haverna series devoted to it, and a willing andrnwaiting audience. There are shows thatrnfollow real police officers around as theyrncorner criminals—the latter often of thernhard-bitten drug dealer or titillating prostituternvariety. The entire spectrum ofrntragedy, criminal or accidental, that canrnbefall one is now grist for the media mill.rnNew shows seem to be appearing everyrnday, each offering a glimpse of a worldrnthat is dark and horrifying.rnThe thrust of many of these oftentimesrnlurid productions is that disasterrnand terror can afflict anyone, at almostrnany time. Taken collectively, and includingrnthe proliferating talk shows andrnnews programs, these broadcasts create arnclimate of fear, and the trust that shouldrnexist between neighbors and friends dissolves.rnEven a loved one could be a maniacalrnkiller, the shows instruct us, andrntrusting someone else is putting your lifernin his hands. Having trustworthy relativesrnis not even a sure guarantee againstrndisaster, as the several “rescue” showsrnnow on television, which concentrate onrnpurely natural disasters, attest.rnOn the one hand, perhaps some goodrnis served by these broadcasts. Americansrnhave lived too long in wealth andrnsafety and have forgotten how precariousrnis humanity’s physical existence. Havingrndispensed with every sort of instructionrnthat attempted to explain the facts ofrntragedv and violence in terms of parablesrnand moral truths (such as the Bible,rnMeGuffey’s readers, and traditional fairyrntales), a gap needs to be filled, and therernis a chance that these shows provide arnpartial remedy. But, due to the media’srnown moral ambiguity, it is doubtfulrnwhether these shows will have any lastingrnpositive effect. For although seeming torndisapprove of criminal behavior, therngenre is supported by human evil andrnthrives on the violence-addicted naturernof its audience. It is not surprising,rntherefore, that these shows claim to providernnothing more than entertainmentrnor “information.” It is not easy to disregardrnone’s benefactor.rnWhat redeeming value there is in thernnew breed of “true crime” shows is eidentrnin one of the oldest of the genre,rnAmerica’s Most Wanted. This show hasrnsomewhat revived the American traditionrnof vigilantism. More than 200 criminalsrnhave been apprehended due to thernexposure their crimes have received. Butrnagain the message is mixed; the differencernbetween the hunters and the huntedrnbecomes muted and fluid. The criminalrncould be a father, brother, sister,rntrusted friend, or any other in whom peoplernmight place their confidence. Whilernone episode might showcase the activitiesrnof fearless police officers collaringrnthe bad guys, another features cops on arnrampage, abusing their authority andrntaking advantage of those whom theyrnare supposed to protect.rnAnother facet of this fury is evidencedrnby a show that has aired for several yearsrnnow but has only reeentlv gained a sizablernfollowing. The show is AmericanrnGladiators, and for the first time lastrnyear, action figures of the show’s majorrnparticipants were marketed as Christmasrnpresents, a sure sign of popularity (asrnwell as decadence). This program combinesrnall the violence of the “true crime”rnshows with none of the actual pain, althoughrneven in the crime shows almostrnall of the criminal and violent acts arern”simulations.” In Gladiators, two contestantsrncompete against each other andrnthe gladiators in a variety of pseudomartialrnevents. The gladiators bear suchrnnames as “Gold,” “Gemini,” “Star,” andrnthe like. Their outfits, both male and female,rnare suitably revealing to satisfy thernappetite of the crowd, which is adolescentrnin both age and maturity.rnMixing violence with sensuality isrnnothing new, of course, and RichardrnWeaver long ago explained that the risernof sensational journalism is always the resultrnof “man’s loss of points of reference,rn[of] his determination to enjoy the forbiddenrnin the name of freedom.” Inrntimes past, a Legion of Decency couldrnbe depended upon to preserve some sortrnof standards and to keep a watch for egregiousrnbreaches of public morality. Butrnthese days, those who would protest arernsilent; what is worse, apparently the generalrnpopulace does not see anythingrnwrong in letting their own childrenrn(mostly boys and young men) watchrnscantily clad men and women cavort forrnan hour. As St. Cyril of Jerusalem put itrnin the fourth century: “Be not interestedrnin the madness of the shows, where thournwilt behold the wanton gestures of players,rncarried on with mockeries and allrnunseemliness.” Now, it seems, suchrnmadness is relished.rnNo wild animals or devoured Christiansrnare in attendance as of yet, and nornone actually gets hurt, a situation whichrnreveals a certain amount of cowardicernand squeamishness on the part of thernviewers. At least the Romans had thernstomach to watch real violence; we arernsatished with heavily padded yet lightlyrnLIBERAL ARTSrnMFFON’S DIR’I Y L.l!M)RYrn”HiiJM-siTM.”‘ or girls’ ii.sed uncierwcir. li;i.s lunt; IXTII jvaihiblc iii lokvii [xmi shops, butrnnow l IS for sale in vt’iiding maeliint:s ID t!if city’s suburbs. ‘•Rnrii” approximatelvrnmeans biooiiicrs, and “sera” refeis to the sailoi-st!o uniform’; that Japanese ijirls «’earrnin junior high and hitjii school. M least 20 .siiops in lokui huv tiie iinifonns and usedrnunderwear of teenage girii, the iainiclii Daily .Wu’.s reports.rnriiousiiiids ot l()kvu suburbanites have signed j>t;tition.s seeking the leinoval of therndirtj-lamulry machines. While the goxernnieiit prohibits the sdic of uncensorcdrnpornographic inaga/ines and sideolapes in the area, a siiljurban ollieial .says hern'”never aiilicipatcd the i|iit:.slionol vvomeii’s secondhand iiiiderveai coming up.”rnJANUARY 1994/5rnrnrn