“Law & Order” & Its Special Victims: Us

Hi Readers — I wholeheartedly endorse this note!

Dear Free-Range Kids:┬áRecently I started watching hours of “Law and Order SVU” (streaming live on Netflix for graduate students wanting to procrastinate!) and it’s really quite absurd to watch after a year of following your blog. The episodes where there is a child abduction or attempted abduction always involve some crazy sicko, and the parents are hysterical messes vowing never to let their child go anywhere alone again, etc.

I have to say that, as I think about it, I cannot off the top of my head think of more the three or four names of children who have been kidnapped by crazy psychos (as opposed to by their own family members in a custody battle or something). But SVU seems to find it a pressing enough problem to make countless episodes about it…I guess my point is just that maybe people are so paranoid because they watch too many TV shows and movies that depict this kind of situation, and we allow fiction to creep into our reality.

Why do we automatically jump to Worst-First thinking? In part, because TV and movies have programmed our brains to think that the worst happens more frequently than it really does. — Emily Tanner

Yup, yup, EXACTLY, yup. And in my Free-Range Kids book I have a whole chapter on how the media chooses its stories, and how the brain stores scary images, and why these influence us even when we KNOW they are rare or even FICTION!

And speaking of my book — here’s a link! It’s $10.17 on Amazon and makes a lovely (non-scary! non-toxic! non-threatening!) present. — Lenore

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40 Responses to “Law & Order” & Its Special Victims: Us

  1. Jules December 10, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    Let’s not forget Without a Trace and Criminal Minds!

  2. Donna December 10, 2010 at 5:29 am #

    I’m an SVU fan and am also free range so I don’t think watching crime drama and helicopter parenting go hand-in-hand. Most people realize that TV is fiction.

  3. Wilson December 10, 2010 at 5:41 am #

    Except when the stories are “ripped from the headlines”

    Since I got married and having kids, the topics on SVU hit a little too close to home for me as it seems they mostly deal with abused woman and children. To keep my own sanity from over worrying, I have simply stopped watching and started playing card and board games with my family :) Anyone up for Apples to Apples?!

  4. Quincy December 10, 2010 at 5:48 am #

    I like to watch SVU, but stopped watching after an episode about child prostitution. I am not particularly concerned that my kids will be kidnapped and coerced in to such a horrible thing, but it was so upsetting to thing that there are some kids in the world in such a horrible predicament that I couldn’t sleep that night. Then I was a cranky mess for my kids the next day, which is the real fall out for me from the whole incident.

  5. Bria December 10, 2010 at 5:52 am #

    I finally stopped watching SVU this season, due to the utter insanity of the current plotlines. I’m afraid this one has been on the air too long – they’ve run out of reasonable stories and have gone full-throttle into crazy land.

    However, I still read recaps here: http://allisonleotta.com/blog/ Allison Leotta is a federal sex crimes prosecutor in DC, and offers fantastic insight into each episode.

  6. oncefallendotcom December 10, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    I watch Law and Disorder SVU just to point out the legal and tactical errors.

    For starters Detective (UN)Stabler would have been fired for his gratuitous use of physical violence and using illegally obtained evidence. The lady cop is not much better. Detective Munch (the import from the Homicide series) and the detective played by Ice-T isn’t as bad, they seem to play the devil’s advocate more often than the main two detectives.

    I’ve noticed also a lack of false accusation stories on the show. Most people plead guilty, and there are a lot of cases that are being overturned on DNA evidence. I wonder why they choose not to rip that from the headlines. Hell, I could write a more accurate SVU episode. Make that a whole season!

    #1- Detective Unstabler is forced to arrest his teen son for having a sexual liaison with a high school freshman. Just for good measure, Unstabler roughs him up. Kid gets off when Unstabler gets another kid to confess to deflowering the teen. Hilarity ensues.

    #2– Detective Unstabler is forced to arrest a 17 year old girl for sending explicit messages to her teen lover. Girl and boy ultimately commit suicide and some unrelated guy gets arrest for hell knows what while Detectives Munch and Ice-T question Unstabler’s mental state. Hilarity ensues.

    #3– Detective Unstabler gets a hot tip from an online vigilante group, “We pervert Justice,” claiming a random creepy looking guy to be a pedophile. Unstabler roughs guy up. Turns up creepy looking guy was found innocent after We pervert justice refuses to turn over chat logs and was found to have made it all up. Hilarity ensues.

    #4– Detective Unstabler ultimately gets arrested for having sex with lady detective in the squad car. Detective Unstabler beats himself. He now has to register as a sex offender. Hilarity ensues.

    Take that, Dick Wolf!

  7. dmd December 10, 2010 at 6:19 am #

    I will say that I saw a few minutes of it last night (DH was watching) and apparently some kids had been attacked at a playground. Usual SVU stuff. Some vigilante started putting flyers out about a mentally handicapped guy b/c he was on the sexual predator list. But the cops took up for him b/c it was a bogus call – he was determined to be a sexual predator because he peed in the bushes and someone saw him.

    Didn’t see more than that, so I don’t know how it turned out. But it did seem like it was ripped from FRK – at least the blogs about how being labeled a sexual predator has many meanings.

  8. deanne December 10, 2010 at 6:22 am #

    The problem with saying “I know the difference between fact and fiction, TV doesn’t affect me” is that TV has only been part of our lives for a few generations. For thousands of generations, if our stone age ancestors saw a child being harmed or killed, it could only mean that a real child was being harmed or killed.
    Hence the gasp of breath, the tensing of muscles, the physical signs of stress that happen when we see these scenes; our logical minds know they’re fiction, our instincts still respond. This is the emotional involvement the producers count on to keep us coming back week after week. (Or at least they should. If you can sit on the couch and calmly eat popcorn while watching something terrible happen to a child, you have a whole different set of problems.)
    Unfortunately, you can’t disengage these instincts when you make decisions, no matter how logical or self aware you are. Your head might say, “letting my child walk to her friend’s house is statistically safer than driving her” but your gut is saying “I saw 3 kids get kidnapped just last week!” You may not think its influencing you, but once the images are there, you can’t get them out.

  9. TripleZmom December 10, 2010 at 6:29 am #

    I started watching those while pregnant.

    That was a mistake.

    Excellent point!

  10. EricS December 10, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    LOL! It’s Television/Movies. Do you think people would continue to watch shows like this if they made it more true to life? I doubt it, because it would be boring. Why? Because just like the show, it rarely happens, and the extremely rare times a psycho stranger (if it even does happen) it’s one in 100 million kids. It’s all about the ratings people, and obviously it works. It’s just not television and movies that get people’s brains going, it’s also the media. I think it’s more the news than television shows. The news is much closer to reality, but even they only report the worse case and even embellish them for ratings. TV shows and movies, just enforce those fears in these people more. Solution: use your common sense. Common sense doesn’t distinguish between fear and non fear. Its just common sense.

    I’m a fan of the CSI series, Criminal Minds, and some L&O. I often laugh at them and pick apart their reasoning, and the tools and speed of which they conduct their investigation to solve a crime. So it’s doubly entertaining for me. lol

    Man, if only crime fighting was just like it is in the movies and tv. The bad guys would always get caught within a day or two, and most of the time the victims come out relatively unscathed. Scared, but unscathed. Justice is always served. Maybe these people who believe in these shows can take solace that their community has super cops that are geniuses, and can solve a crime in lickity-split. OR they can know the truth that the world isn’t like it is on tv. That there isn’t a psycho killer around every corner waiting to specifically take THEIR child. I’d love to be at a party with these people. lol

  11. Blue December 10, 2010 at 6:34 am #

    @ Wilson

    Apples to Apples is fuuu-uun!

  12. EricS December 10, 2010 at 6:42 am #

    @deanne: fight or flight is in our DNA. It’s part of our natural instincts. But that’s in the case of facing eminent danger, right in front of us. NOT what MIGHT happen, IF it ever does happen. No, what your saying is in the individual. Most people here don’t think like that. Does that make us a different type of human species? No. It just means we can distinguish what is, and what may be. That “what is” can and is happening. And that “what may be” is something that is uncertain, and as easily as some can say it’s possible, it’s just as easy to say, it’s not possible. So we chose to think that although it’s possible (anything and everything is), but statistically it’s rare, we’ve never experienced it in our lifetime, nor have any of our friends or family.

    So do we chose to stress of over a remote possibility and let it affect us and ultimately our children (in a bad way). Or do we over come it, and live a happy normal life, that is conducive to a healthy environment for our children. To me that’s a no brainer.

  13. poppy December 10, 2010 at 7:11 am #

    Wilson,
    Me, me, me! I’m always up for a game of Apples to Apples… or any good game!

  14. msmama December 10, 2010 at 7:48 am #

    Books?!?! For presents?!?!

    But you could get a paper cut!

  15. deanne December 10, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    @EricS
    Actually, my point was that our heads, the logical part of our mind, can easily tell the difference between fact and fiction.However, we evolved as creatures of instinct.

    And yes, the “flight or fight” response does kick in to dangers right in front of us. And when we sit in our living rooms watching graphic, horrific things happening to people just like us, we can’t help but respond on a visceral level, even if we are able to contain our reactions to a grimace of horror, rather than hitting the tv with a club.

    But to say that I’m not the “sort” of person to be influenced by my instincts that I analyze everything logically and choose to only be influenced by reason is pure denial. We are all influenced by what we choose to see and hear. Its been proven in study after study. Some may be influenced more than others, but to say your decisions are always based 100% on logic is either arrogance or denial.

  16. anon December 10, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    I read somewhere recently that there are more murders depicted yearly on the L&O franchises (put together) than there are each year in the whole of the actual New York City!

  17. bmj2k December 10, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    SVU is a great show and unlike those in this thread who claimed to have watched it, it really does show false accusations and the ramifications of being on the sex offender list. It is generally non-preachy about FRK issues. Sure, a high percentage of kide get into danger, but that is due to the nature of TV and the show.

    I realize this show is about as realistic as Star Trek. I don’t expect to teleport to work, and I don’t expect to see predators on every corner.

  18. Jules December 10, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    @Wilson: Apples to Apples is one of my family’s favorite games!!

    I do like watching the crime drama shows, but I know they are fake and for entertainment. My mother watches them and thinks that the plots are all ripped from real life.

  19. Donna December 10, 2010 at 10:17 am #

    “I read somewhere recently that there are more murders depicted yearly on the L&O franchises (put together) than there are each year in the whole of the actual New York City!”

    And this surprises you? That is like saying “Murder She Wrote” had a lot of murders. They are all shows about solving crimes, predominantly murders (although to a lesser extent on SVU). It’d be a rather strange premise if a show about solving and prosecuting murders didn’t have an actual murder in it. And, face it, other crimes are just not good television. Are millions of people going to tune in to watch cops investigate a lawn mover theft?

  20. Steven December 10, 2010 at 11:20 am #

    this a good point and so true. I forgot to email Lenore about this a few months ago, but the fall 2010 SVU premiere had a kid kidnapped and the (mother anyway) was so psycho about her daughter like no unsupervised time on the computer or that there were keystroke loggers on her daughters account, etc. the parents were this kids adopted parents, and the mom kept trying to make the adopted kid look like the biological daughter who went missing many, many years ago.

  21. Staceyjw December 10, 2010 at 12:51 pm #

    I love SVU and CI, and watch it a lot. I must be weird, because it does not bother me. If I see shows like “Animal Cops”, which is true, then I get emotionally involved.Fiction rarely does this.

    Even so, I know that because of watching this type of TV, I DID think that of all kids kidnapped by strangers, 90% are murdered within a few hours to a day of being taken (60% are returned alive, in a day). Also, I thought that true sex offenders REALLY couldn’t be rehabilitated, and almost always reoffend (The rate IS higher, but still only 17%, which is nowhere close to 99%).

    These things are not true, and do a disservice to those who believe them. I remember reading the REAL stats and feeling foolish. I know its fiction, but these statements are repeated with such confidence, on all those different shows, it seems correct.

    Still, I think the news is way worse. Today in San Diego, there was a controlled burn of a house that had so many explosives in it, torching it was the only safe way to deal with it. It was discovered a week or so ago (maybe less)by investigators doing their jobs, and was dealt with in a safe and professional manner.

    But was the skill of the investigators, bomb squad, or firefighters the center of the story? Of course not! That public safety did their JOB properly is a non-story for modern news.

    Instead, ALL week the house has been the focus of breathless newscasts about “The house next door- it might be a bomb factory!!!” The impending fire also made lots of news, the “What IF’s” were really crazy, and meant to scare people.

    The story was already pretty sensational,because of its about explosives found in a rare situation. The news had enough to work with, they didn’t need to make it into: “EVERYONES GONNA DIE” “Terrorists are everywhere!” “You’re not even safe at home in the burbs!”

    Overall, some truly scary days for the neighbors,a little inconvienence for nearby neighborhoods, and hassle for drivers that take the freeway that was shut down during the blaze.THATS IT. No more to see here, folks.
    *-*-*-
    There is a great book referenced in the sidebar “How to Live Dangerously”. It describes how TV alters our emotions and thinking, just like one of the first commentators mentioned.

  22. Christina December 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    I don’t watch legal shows because I usually end up yelling at the screen. The number of times people I know have cited these shows as a basis for their “legal” reasoning is mind-boggling. My own MIL uses SVU and CSI as examples of why I’m too relaxed as a parent. When I try to discuss reality-based statistics, she mentions the whole “ripped from the headlines” thing. Which is REALLY annoying because I’m the one who live in NY – the city which generally produced said headlines. So, while some of you who commented above may be able to tell tv from reality, I’m afraid that does not hold true for the majority of the country – even the politically liberal, multiple-degreed demographic to which my inlaws belong.

  23. Christina December 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    oops – that should have been “lived” and “produces”.

  24. gramomster December 10, 2010 at 2:14 pm #

    I love SVU! And many of the plotlines (I’m having medical treatment all winter, and just watched all. 11. seasons. on netflix) DO have perpetrators known to the victims, even if the first suspect or 3 are people on ‘the list’. It often turns out to be a known person.
    The episode that was rerun this week, with the disabled guy who peed in the bush, turned out to be the neighborhood crusader! The guy who’d put up the pictures of the disabled guy! He was awesome at deflecting attention, but they gave him no end of grief for getting in the way, made a point of ‘not all offenders are the same, you can’t raise public anger like this’ with the guy, and then it turned out to be him. And he ran a kids karate class to boot.
    Anyway… I know it’s fiction. I love all the L&O permutations. Wish they’d put the old regular L&O on netflix. That being said, I couldn’t watch it when my kids were young. It did hit close to home. Once they got older, I started watching it again. Currently though, I’m in love with The Sing-Off. About as far from L&O as TV gets! LOL

    I also love reading horridly graphic crime novels. Patricia Cornwell, Kathy Reichs, good stuff, good stuff.

    Apples to Apples is awesome! Can’t wait for the boy to be old enough! Man, that’s a fun game!

  25. Babs December 10, 2010 at 4:03 pm #

    @Staceyjw: Your post is a good example of why I’ve stopped watching network news. Aside from the fact that the local newscasts contain very little, if any, relevant stories, the old adage “if it bleeds, it leads” is the key point. They will do everything to scare the bejesus out of people.

    The constant access to media — esp. via the internet and television — have done more harm than good for some people. While there are dangers in our world, in general, going about one’s day to day life shouldn’t be fraught with anxiety over every little thing. Fostering this attitude in our kids is even worse.

  26. Larry Harrison December 10, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    If we’re going to talk about TV shows, my favorite may be “Highway To Heaven” (which ran in the mid 80s, starring Michael Landon). The people there HELP each other & don’t treat the lead characters as a couple of dirty-old men or others offering to help with any “they may be trying to set your kids up for an abduction” warnings. Parents who are struggling are helped rather than lectured & threatened with social-services calls. Kids are depicted playing out in the woods or down the street with other kids without it being a big deal.

    A show like that is FAR more uplifting than a lot of what I see nowadays. I’m 42 on Monday by the way, in case someone thinks I’m engaging in “back when I was young” musings.

    I have the ability to separate hype from truth, but even so any show that hypes up “kids are NEVER safe! Don’t let them out of your site,” even in a fictional sense, is not deserving of airtime on our set, anytime ever. If people think that’s “boring,” I say–go work-out, listen to some punk rock or other energetic music. Ride a motorcycle. Go to an amusement-park.

    Not trying to be preachy, but feed your mind with POSITIVE and encouraging things. It makes all the difference. Yes a little fictional journey on TV now & then is fine I guess, but overtime people very often are somewhat effected by what they CHOOSE to feed into their minds, I think.

    Now I’m going to go “feed” myself some more “Highway To Heaven.” My favorite quote: when Jonathan Smith remarks, to seeing locks on a tool shed, “100 years ago you didn’t need locks except for prisons,” & the person he said this too replied “times have changed Mr Smith,” his reply: “no PEOPLE changed–we stopped trusting each other.”

    Exactly.

    LRH

  27. BMS December 10, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    I just feel like the whole L&O franchise has been beat so far into the ground that it just needs to die. Seriously, they ran out of ideas about 5 years ago. I’ll only watch it if I am traveling and it is the only thing on in the hotel room, and the kids aren’t there.

    I have been recently enjoying Bones on Netflix, having never seen the series at all before. But I am much more into the geeky scienceness of it all than the actual crime.

  28. Peter K. December 10, 2010 at 10:59 pm #

    @ Jules: Actually I was kind of impressed with the first episode of Criminal Minds I ever saw because there was a stranger kidnapping of a little girl, and the investigators pointed out how extremely rare it was for children to be kidnapped by strangers.
    . . .
    My tastes in crime drama tend toward NCIS, maybe because there’s some humor and camaraderie among the investigators, and they don’t just feel like crime-solving robots with back-stories tacked on.

    But my wife points out that all the mystery shows are about murder these days and bemoans the fact that you just don’t see many heists. Personally I’m waiting until they come out with:

    Law and Order: Tax Evasion

  29. Randy S. December 10, 2010 at 11:31 pm #

    @Peter K:

    Awesome, a good role for the aging Wesley Snipes.

  30. gramomster December 11, 2010 at 1:03 am #

    @BMS

    I too have recently been enjoying Bones on Netflix. Watched all the seasons they have, and then have been DVRing, or watching, depending on how I feel on any given Thursday night, usually my worst day of the week.
    I love the scienceyness, and yes, the commaradarie. I also worked my way through Buffy and Angel, and most recently, In Plain Sight, about Federal Marshals in Albuquerque who deal with people in witness protection.
    Also, yes, you’re right about the beaten into the ground thing. I think they’ve all jumped the shark, but part of my enjoyment of them, I think, is just that. They’re very predictable, and familiar, and my life for the last few years has been completely chaotic. It’s weird, but L&O is like video comfort food. It requires no thought and no investment. I can put it on to provide background sound, and it is completely non-distracting. If I can’t sleep, and it’s on USA, it lulls me right out. I know the voices so well, and there is no need to focus on anything being said. Ah…. relaxed, warm and cozy. Totally weird, I know. The only other thing that works as well is Star Trek: The Voyage Home. You know… the whale movie. Number 4 in the franchise. Man, out like a light! Usually before the crew even gets off of Vulcan. LOL

    And @ Larry,
    I am not one for what I experience as kind of sappy sentimentality in shows. I’m 44, so I too am not ‘oh, back in the day…’ reminiscing. My favorites as a kid were Little House on the Prairie, The Waltons and Eight is Enough. As an adult, no. Eye-rolling ensues for me. I also cannot watch ‘chick flicks’. If I go to a movie, I will always choose an action or disaster movie. Man how I love ‘natural’ disaster movies! Volcano! Asteroid! 10.5! 10.5: Apcalypse! Meteor! Hell, I love the real ‘what if’ natural disaster stuff on The Discovery Channel, like the Yellowstone Eruption, or Giant Hurricane, or Earthquake on the Coast or whatever. Maybe I’m a frustrated adrenaline junkie. Who knows. That’s just what I find enjoyable.
    And believe me, if I could go out and actually DO exciting things, even go for a long walk, I’d about give a limb to do so this year. I am largely housebound and sick, and expect to be so until March at least. Now, next winter I’ll be on the slopes and in the river. So, yeah, I’m getting my vicarious thrills through tv and netflix. I did manage to make it downtown on Tuesday night for Ozzy. That was pretty fun! Mostly sat (boo), but the show was good (yay!) and I got to spend three entire hours out of the house with my husband, and without the 4 year old. Extra yay! So, so rare….

  31. gramomster December 11, 2010 at 1:06 am #

    PS… also love Storm Week on The Weather Channel. Nothing lulls like a good thunderstorm, with high winds and whipping branches, whether directly over my house, or on tv. I sleep most soundly in the midst of violent storms.

  32. walkamungus December 11, 2010 at 3:50 am #

    On the fall 2010 L&O: SVU premiere, that was Joan Cusack as the over-the-top helicopter mom. I watched it just for her, ’cause she’s excellent!

    L&O can be like eating potato chips: “Just one more … oh heck, one more, what will it hurt …. hmmm, I can get up early tomorrow to do X” and before you know it you’ve watched four episodes!

  33. gramomster December 11, 2010 at 3:59 am #

    @walkamungus…

    EXACTLY!!! Potato chips… perfect analogy! Comfortable junk food. And yes, Joan Cusack was awesome in that episode! She does trippy characters so so well.

  34. Eleanor (undeadgoat) December 11, 2010 at 4:39 am #

    Some more thoughts on crime shows: A lot of the “big franchises” are lazily written, or get lazily written after a while, and as far as I can tell the function of the writing room is just to come up with more and more outlandish criminals and crimes instead of telling really compelling stories about their lead characters, and coming up with sympathetic and intriguing victims & suspects to explore. Jealousy, love, revenge, and money are maybe a little harder to write than “Pedophiles–they’re totally everywhere!” but I personally am of the opinion that truth is beauty.

    Plus, when a serial killer shows up on Castle (a cop show where the kidnapper turns out to never be a rapist or killer) it’s SO MUCH SCARIER than that time on Bones when the anti-Freemason cannibal turned out to be one of the main characters.

    . . . There is a reason that despite enjoying the procedural and action genres I watch a lot more sci-fi than cop shows.

  35. gramomster December 11, 2010 at 9:28 am #

    AHAHAhahahahaha!!!!!
    Oh yeah! The cannibal episode! I actually find Bones quite funny.

  36. julie December 11, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    what deanne says has a lot of validity… I was in a play that was very emotionally charged…after a few weeks I just couldn’t “get it together” The doctor told me that my body was reacting to ‘trauma” because it didn’t know the difference between reality and make believe every-night even if my brain logically did.

  37. Kimberly December 11, 2010 at 11:54 pm #

    Sorry but if you let a FICTIONAL show color your view of the real world you need to check yourself into a home for the feeble minded. You shouldn’t be walking around unsupervised.

    I wish the world was like my favorite stories, but I know there aren’t charming rouges that shoot first, gangs of teenagers saving the world because they are the next step in human evolution, or a crazy guy in a blue box who changes his appearance regularly while traveling through time and space.

  38. ebohlman December 12, 2010 at 9:57 am #

    Kimberly: Unfortunately, human psychology just doesn’t work like that. While people can rationally distinguish between fiction and true stories, emotionally it’s much harder.

    I wish I could find the original blog that mentioned it, but recently there was a study, done by market researchers, that showed that when people had to make an emotionally significant decision and sought outside advice, the perceived likability of the advice giver counted for much more than their perceived expertise (I call this phenomenon “Jenny McCarthyism”).

    Now it’s pretty hard to imagine a decision more emotionally significant than a decision a parent makes about their children’s safety. And that means that fictional characters who are crafted to be likable are going to carry more weight than cold impersonal numbers.

  39. oncefallendotcom December 12, 2010 at 11:10 am #

    L&O rarely shows false accusations because most of the shows are “ripped from the headlines.” How often do we see a high profile EXONERATION? Think about it.

  40. Bob Davis December 14, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    My wife watches these shows more than I do. Even though I realize that the people on the screen are actors, working from a script created by a writer, some times the “bad guys” are close enough to real life criminals that I hope they “put up a fight” so the cops/FBI/sheriff’s deputies have an excuse to “blast them into next Tuesday” and “save the State the cost of a trial”.