Popular Culture Meets Psychology

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Human Trafficking, Popular Television and Depraved Culture

Human Trafficking, Popular Television and Depraved Cultrure

Ripped from the Headlines! Who can forget that voiceover announcing an upcoming episode of Law and Order, the gritty urban television crime and punishment drama that spawned a billion dollar annual income stream for NBC.image Nor are we soon to forget Detective Lenny Briscoe, aka recently departed actor/entertainer Jerry Orbach, standing over New York's most recent corpse, sipping coffee and offering commentary that often bordered on the sardonic. And just when we thought that Lenny and the squad wore out their welcome, along came the spinoffs-Law & Order, Special Victims Unit; Law & Order, Criminal Intent and Law & Order, Trial by Jury.  Gripping and disturbing, one and all!

Did America and the world tune in simply to see the latest form of brutality that the wirters could contrive? Were we mesmerized by the witty banter between the police officers, detectives and attorneys as they attempted to zero in on the criminal(s)? Or did we hold our collecitve breath in anticipation of the meting out of justice to the depraved. Was there a sense of vicarious vigilantism as these ne'r do wells met their fate or a sense of outrage when the bad guys got off scott free because of some clever legal maneuvering?  The shows were intelligent, fast-paced, evocative, painful and often deeply disturbing-for the very reason we are drwan to them...becasue they were indeed ripped from the headlines.

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And then came Crime Scene Investigation (CSI). Set at first in Las Vegas, the show soon morphed into CSI Miami and then CSI New York, and it too generated a fortune for its parent network, CBS. Every week, there was not one but three opportunities to follow the intrepid, oftentimes brilliant and occasionally predictable investigators, laboratory technicians and morticians, as they attempted to provide a glimpse into the minds and motivation of the most heinous, perverted and disturbed among us.

And perhaps that is what compelled me to write this posting, because at the moment, I sit at the edge of my couch awaiting the third installment of the long-awaited CSI Mega Crossover Event, or CSI, MCE if you will. And it took no less than Human Trafficking and organ theft to get and hold my attention.

Human trafficking! The multi-billion dollar global industry that capitalizes upon women and children, and capitalize is a poor choice of words here because this practice is about the buying and selling, the raping and killing, the torturing and brutalizing of the vulnerable! And if we are to believe that these, and other crime shows are indeed ripped from the headlines, then Human Trafficking is also about the theft and selling of human organs. 

Why exactly does television have to use this most despicable act of human depravity for ratings, and will any part of the proceeds from the revenue generated by this trilogy go to the fight against human trafficking?  Have they simply run out of new ways to shock and horrify us? Certainly, we should just turn off our televisions, but we don't...and we won't.

Truth be told, I am glad to be a part of the audience who possibily for the first time has become aware of human trafficking. I have been motivated to learn more about this heinous practice and can and will carry the message to others-not necessarily to watch the televsion show-which I am sure will be marketed as a 'special edition'...but to become aware. This is art, not imitating life per se, but art as a communicative and self-reflective medium, one that shines back the light of truth, but also  the inescapable darkness within that truth.

For insights from social sicentists into this truth, please look at a recent report by the Department of Health and Human Services on human trafficking, and in particular, at a review of the social science literature by Heather Clawson, Nicole Dutch, Amy Solomon and Lisa Grace entitled Human Trafficking Into and Within the United States: A Review of the Literature.

Take a look, but please continue looking beyond the sensationalistic and dramatic, to the real and the ubiquitous.

Lawrence Rubin, psychologist and counseling professor, is co-author with psychiatrist Mike Brody of Messages: Self Help Through Popular Culture.

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