There’s a new ad for a television program called THE GLADES, for which the very nice writer Lee Goldberg has written. So please be clear, this is not a critique of the television show, only its ad.
A beautiful woman in a red bikini floats in a swimming pool under a gorgeous sky. A peppy traditional version of “Blue Skies,” the old Irving Berlin* tune, plays. POV shifts, we are seeing the body from beneath the water, we can’t hear the music, hands appear to be reaching for the woman. Back to the above-water world. The hands are a CSI tech (I’m guessing), fishing the gorgeous woman’s body out of the pool while a handsome detective (I’m guessing) stares at the now-ironic (I’m guessing) blue sky.
(I thought I could find this on Youtube, but I couldn’t. I did find an ad where “Blue Skies” plays while an orange gets shot. The orange spews blood. I found another promo where the main character kneels next to a dead woman on a chaise, noting that the corpses smell worse in Florida’s nice weather. But aside from her pallor and the marks on her face and neck, she looks pretty good for a corpse. Her death is less graphic than the orange’s.)
Anyway, every time I see this ad, I flash on an old Stokely Carmichael quote: The only position for women in SNCC is prone.
Sometimes, I feel that the primary position for women in crime fiction is prone. No, I realize lots of men are killed in crime fiction, maybe more than women. One thing of the many things I admire about the work of George Pelecanos is that he’s examining violence by and against men, that it’s grounded in the larger context of what masculinity is.
But there is still a lot of crime fiction where women show up only to die, although preferably after having sex with the protagonist. It happens in a lot of bad books, but it happens in some otherwise good books, too. Years ago, I interviewed a writer who had done well in other genres who was taking a flier on crime fiction. His main character had sex with almost everyone woman who crossed his path; at least one was murdered immediately afterwards. I said: “Your character has a lot of sex.” He agreed. I asked: “Does he wear a condom?” (It was the early ’90s.) He was truly nonplussed.
Later, he switched to YA crime.
I haven’t seen a lot of corpses, but I’ve seen a few. None of them were gorgeous. None wore red bikinis, come to think of it. I’ve seen a young man, only 24, dead of heart attack suffered in the middle of a job interview at a department store. He was large and fleshy and blue. I’ve seen three girls flattened by a train; the justice of the peace, who pronounced people dead in McLennan County, Texas, noted that they were wearing clean underwear, which meant they were nice girls. (Some things I am NEVER going to forget.)
There is much to love about Kate Atkinson’s STARTED EARLY, TOOK THE DOG, but one of its great strengths is that it insists on humanizing its female victims, some of whom are prostitutes and not very nice ones at that. Of course, Atkinson makes every character vivid, even the titular dog. Shouldn’t we all aim that high?
Feel free to yell at me, tell me to lighten up, etc., in the comments. Meanwhile, I’m not the least bit objective, but I thought the violence in this week’s episode of Treme was handled wonderfully. And I’d credit the performer who had to carry the weight of those scenes, but — no spoilers here.
*An earlier version incorrectly credited Gershwin with this song. Thanks to Katharine Weber for setting me straight.