Here I thought that the rather bad “Witch” episode of CBS’s show The Mentalist was an isolated quirk, but now it seems like it’s a part of a larger campaign to piss off minority faiths and assorted ethnic groups. Not content with making fun of Wicca, the CBS show Criminal Minds (which I personally enjoy) recently dabbled in some rather awful stereotypes involving a (possibly faux) Romani/Gypsy family. Author Elizabeth Bear, also a fan of the show, gives a pained overview of the episode for Tor.com.
The first time I watched this ep, I was wincing at the racist implications of a Romani family murdering families and kidnapping girl-children as child brides, being such an obvious and painful stereotype. It was only on the second time through that I caught on that we were talking about a case of cultural appropriation, aided by Rossi’s flat statement that Romani do not act this way. I’m still not entirely soothed by it, and I have to think a while longer about whether I think the deconstruction works. In any case, the narrative gets a little muddled, and that troubled me, and it’s not always entirely clear what they think they’re saying and about whom they are saying it. Especially since in many ways it’s a good episode, otherwise, but I’m having a hard time seeing past my gut-level reaction.
At least Criminal Minds put a disclaimer into the script, if only the wacky Witch Mentalist episode had thought to do that. Now fellow Pagan blogger Peg Aloi alerts me that a third CBS show, the very popular NCIS, is getting into the act.
The previews for next week’s new episode of NCIS show an episode dealing with satanism and the occult, complete with one victim who has a huge pentagram tattooed on his back. Because this show is both smart and funny, I hope they’ll deal with this topic in a less offensive way than The Mentalist did last week.
I think we may have hit some sort of occult-horror trifecta here. Witches! Gypsies! And now, Satanists! Do bad/exploitive television episodes come in threes or something? I’m still holding out hope that NCIS will buck the trend, after all, the show includes a positive goth character, so maybe the Satanic thing is a red herring, a misdirection from the true nature of the killer. One can only hope.