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Tv Shows offer more than entertainment

Media is often a useful tool to understand the current opinions and biases reflected in a given society. When discussing the criminal legal system, especially, popular shows and movies can show us our own biases and ways that we think of crime and who is criminal. In the case of the popular show, Criminal Minds, this plays out between two separate episodes.


Season 6 Episode 4 of Criminal Minds follows the story of James Thomas. James commits multiple murders of couples after forcing them to engage in sexual activity for his own satisfaction. The male of the pair is shot in a non-deadly fashion so he is forced to watch his female partner be stabbed and inevitably killed at the hands of Thomas. Thomas was discussed by the Behavioral Analysis Unit (B.A.U.) as being an “alpha male” and consumed with the order and structure of the crimes that he was committing.

Throughout the episode, the B.A.U. discuss Thomas and his relation to masculinity, as he has an unnerving desire for power and control which inevitably leads to the killing of his many victims. Not only is the language directly masculine, discussing his higher tendencies for violence and the innate sense he has “to be a hunter”, but the actions that occur against Thomas reinforce this inherent bias of men and criminality. Upon finding the individual, the B.A.U. does not stop to question or arrest Thomas, but rather he is shot in a nightclub because they assumed he was going to be quick to engage in violence, thus making him an immediate danger.


In contrast, Season 10 Episode 6 follows a female serial killer by the name of Claire Rawley. Claire commits violent crimes, similar to that of Thomas, and because of this, until later details surface, she is treated as a “male unsub”. The B.A.U. analyze the deaths of four men who were brutally murdered and assume it is a man so far as to assert that the unsub must be a homosexual man who was upset with the victims for romantic reasons. When this theory fails, the next is that an angry boyfriend must be responsible for the murders after finding out that the unsub had unknowingly filmed sexual encounters of his significant other. Again, this theory fails and upon discovering a stiletto heel as the murder weapon, the first assumption is that the murders were committed by a cross-dresser. In each of these cases, the theory that only a man would be capable and likely to commit crimes of this magnitude, show how unwilling we are to consider women to be violent criminals. When the suspect is finally recognized to be a female, she is discussed with different language such as “acting out”, “delusional”, and simply seeking out her prince charming and fairytale ending. In the end when they do find Rawley ready to stab her next victim, she is seduced and swept away by the B.A.U. rather than killed on the scene unlike her male counterpart in a previous episode.


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