CSI Archive: Wendy and Diversity
I’ve written about this before, but I’m going to write about it again. I’m going to write about it again because as the TV season gears up and I get ready to spend way too much time weeping and gnashing my teeth over fictional characters, I want to have a moment of fangirl logic. Yes, it can happen and yes, it’s a perfect way to get this blog going again.
This, today, is an open letter to CSI, CBS, and really all of the network TV shows out there. Something is missing. You know it. We know it. So let’s talk.
Dear CSI, CBS, and the Powers that Be:
First off, thank you. Thank you for Sara Sidle, who while being the typical TV female cop trope are also fully rounded, real characters. Thank you for giving me a woman with flaws that cycle like mine do. Thank you for giving me an introverted physics major who studied at Harvard and Berkeley and shows her stripes as a gun-toting liberal who gets frustrated at little things like constitutional process. Thank you for giving me a married woman who knows she deserves better than what her husband is providing but who also does not need him to be complete. Thank you.
Thank you for Catherine Willows, who is everything the 3rd and 4th waves of feminism embrace. She is not ashamed of her time as a stripper, she is unabashed in her femininity. She is strong, she is capable, and she often sucks at her job. She was not a great supervisor, she was riddled with political paranoia, and it worked because her flaws were revealed. Catherine’s backstory was a muddled mess but it allowed me as a viewer to pick through it, to think about it. I appreciated what you gave me.
Thank you for Morgan Brody and her impossible youth and excitement to learn new things. Thank you for Julie Finlay. Thank you for the male characters who have come and gone and who stay throughout. All are real people – strong men who can cry, funny men who are smart, crazy men who are the most thoughtful in the room. Over the last thirteen years, we have seen tropes become something real and stereotypes washed away in a sea of brilliant storytelling.
Now, however, we have to talk. Because CSI, something is missing.
In the early seasons, CSI was awash in diversity. As awash as any network show ever is, but still. The stories were full of blondes and brunettes, people of color, men and women, people with disabilities, and even the LGBT community. Characters popped as stories were told, and while there was a natural pushback against the consistent victimization of certain marginalized populations, this media theorist had no problem with the way most of the stories were presented. I appreciated seeing characters come to terms with new vocabulary such as trans and male-to-female. I appreciated characters who adapted to disability issues and asked questions.
I also appreciated seeing women and people of color in focused roles on the series. Finger print techs Mandy and Jaqui were strong, sassy women. The DNA experts of Wendy and Mia showed young girls that science wasn’t just for the boys. Warrick. Archie. Ray. Sofia. Ronnie. Vega. Moreno. My list goes on and on. It was a fictional world that felt, more than so many others, actually representative of the real one we live in.
Now this show that I hold up as a beacon of diversity is increasingly white, male, and blonde. Jorja Fox is the only brunette and there are scenes where my TV is so awash in blonde hair that my eyes have squinted. Gone are Wendy and Mandy. In their places are Henry and Hodges, two characters I adore, but who were much more fun before I wasn’t sure exactly what their place on the show was. After all, in Forget Me Not, Hodges was the one doing DNA.
I know the television landscape is shifting, CSI. I know that you are faced with changing revenue sources and pressure from networks to keep things at a certain level. But you have fallen behind, far behind, where you were when you premiered thirteen years ago. Instead of writing stories where gay kids are killed, why not introduce a recurring gay character. Instead of making us wonder what Hodges and Henry are up to, give us a print tech or AV tech again. Give us the landscape that is the world around us. Because let me tell you something, your fairy tale of a crime lab that solves its cases and has the best team in the West is a bit too white bred and straight for this devoted viewer.
Just one last thought, CSI. Women are entering law enforcement at higher rates than ever before. Maybe you might want to go back to showing them all sides of the options. We don’t need Wendy or Mia or Archie or Jaqui back. But we need something. We need someone.
Me and many of the fans I talk to.