People like to be scared – especially in theatres or at Halloween. So it’s no surprise that television is always looking for ways to join the screaming crowd and frighten the pee out of us.
Criminal Minds has been shocking viewers for a decade. In the beginning, I liked the way it looked at the psychology behind the crime – not just the who, but the why of it. However, over the years, it’s seemed that the writers have revelled in the horror of these twisted minds. And as the show enters its tenth season, it appears that’s what most viewers want.
What does it say about us that we love to watch people maim, dissect, hunt, and kill others? Are we that bloodthirsty? Or are we simply better preparing ourselves for the real world?
Of course, these TV characters are the extreme, but they give us a comforting sense of “us” versus “them.” As we recoil at their sickness, we feel safe knowing we could never do that – or be a victim like that. Meanwhile, we surreptitiously glance at our neighbours, watching their every move with a newfound awareness.
So when CBS’s Stalker joined the fall line-up, I wondered what it would bring to the table. I admit, I was intrigued by the ads. And again, I found the crime scene psychology and victimology à la Criminal Minds rather interesting. But I’m not sure I got anything more than an unsettled stomach from the show.
So far, Stalker has outlined new ways to spy on women and how to turn stalking into a game for fun. Apparently, dating a model or buying a sports car isn’t an option for most married men in the midst of a mid-life crisis. Instead, they hit on girls at the gym and then break into their homes with a spin class instructor.
Of course, boys are victimized on the show too. This is, after all, an equal opportunity crime that has no guarantee of ending once the police are involved. However, on TV the problem was solved with a cop attacking the perpetrator in a dark alley instead of going through legal channels – because there aren’t any.
Stalking is hard to prove although experts know why it occurs. Meanwhile, the justice system isn’t equipped to handle this kind of behaviour any more than it can manage the growing problem of cyber-crime.
And despite police involvement, the results are not always favourable. In fact, it appeared that the show’s back-alley confrontation caused the stalker to redirect his focus on the cop and follow her home.
So yes, I was scared by Stalker. Not because the characters were frightening or the crimes were horrific. No, I was scared because apparently there are no warning signs, no safety measures to take. And evidently, nobody is safe – not even the cops who are both victims and perpetrators on the show.
There is no safe sense of “us” or “them.” We’re all at risk. And that is scary.