Sunday, August 14, 2016

Murder She Wrote

Someone forced me to experience Murder She Wrote over the course of the past year. Blessed Axom, I didn't have to deal with the full effect of "watching" it, in the sense of being captivated in front of the screen for the roughly 44 minute ad-less portions of the program, and I was duly compensated. And on the plus side, like with paying taxes and seeing the doctor and watching legislative assembly footage, I've now done that part of "modern Terra" and can check it off the list of things to do while here. Anyway, the show is not merely the empty dross of the modern mystery novel, although it certainly is that, and it's not merely feminist, though it certainly is that to some degree. The more important messages I gleaned are as follows:

1) People who participate in mass media culture are better than those who do not. When the protagonist, Jessica Fletcher, travels around the world (not merely the U.S., but internationally), she meets two kinds of people: people who are familiar with her work and her fandom, and people who are not. The people who are not are almost invariably presented as stupid, boorish, backward, and either cold-blooded murderers or selfish obstructionists who facilitate or condone murder. Her greatest fans are almost always trustworthy, levelheaded, and free of sin, although they are often initially arrested or accused of crimes which they of course did not and could not have committed. Like Captain Kirk, Jessica Fletcher is always right in her wildest suspicions, and is validated by the end of the episode, making out as stupid those who had reasonable evidence-based suspicions in the early stages of the game.

2) Relationships are best built upon mass media connections. In the way that we're encouraged to become friends and/or un-see each other based upon what professional sport or reality show or cigarette brand etc. we do or do not purchase/consume, Fletcher builds relationships across the globe based upon participation in mystery publishing culture, or to a lesser extent professional publishing culture in general. When she meets new decent people who are unfamiliar with her and her work (very rare), she generally guides them into becoming "fans" of her work by the end of the backdrop/plot. The cultural minutiae of references from her work and other similar work forges global connections that transcend petty human concerns like friendship, family, community, experience, etc.

3) Childless old women lead thriving social lives. Contrary to the lived and reported experience of women, and to the statistical reality and medical/hospice experience of the aged, Murder She Wrote is perhaps most strongly defined by this audacious message. Fletcher is constantly socializing with and being courted by younger, high-status men who are very interested in sharing her life. When men's entertainment fantasizes in this manner--about chubby sixty-year-olds being showered with constant attention from women in their twenties and thirties--we dismiss it as idle fluff or softcore. Old-timey pornography dealt with these themes, although it was far more realistic, as the male protagonists being showered with such attention were presented as being rich and powerful, and the females generally interested in only the riches and power, or being forced to feign interest through the machinations of said wealth and power. For Fletcher, though, things are different. Young single men with promising careers and the attentions of young women fall over themselves to take Fletcher to dinner, to invite her on expensive vacations, and to sit in her living room and have two-hour teas where they listen to stories about her life. Every few episodes, a powerful multimillionaire, respected scholar, globetrotting financier, or some other sub-pornographic fantasy invites Fletcher to the spacious mansion on his palatial estate, and either intimates that he has romantic interests in her, or outright begs her to marry him. Random strangers bump into her on the street and offer to put her up for the night, introduce her to people, and hint that they'd like to see her later. When she's not traveling the world, Fletcher is pursued around her hometown by the local physician who runs his own private practice and would marry her at the drop of a hat. In the meantime--with no strings attached--the doctor is happy to check up on Fletcher's health, drive her around town, or show up at 1 in the morning to help her investigate a strange noise or move a heavy piece of furniture.

When Fletcher does feel a tinge of family longing, she has but to drop in on her many nieces and nephews, all of whom desperately want her to be part of their lives, listen to her relationship advice, and not permit their mothers/fathers/guardians to interfere with their relationship with their beloved old aunt.

The message to girls and women contemplating aging is as obvious as it is directly contradictory to life expectancies and to the demographics of the aged and vulnerable. In part, the show could be excused away as soft porn for the large western population of aging widows, in the same way that elder men can go to the local titty bar and imagine the women are dancing for their personalities, rather than for their tips. Murder She Wrote was targeted at a broader audience, though, and its greatest effect may have been helping show a generation of little girls that being elderly and barren is the ticket to life fulfillment and lots of new friends. Feminists who care only about young women should consider their feathers ruffled, while feminists who care about all women, who've seen and heard of the agony and loss firsthand from among those millions of lonely old women, should reevaluate their perspective.

4) Legislators, judges, teachers, police officers, and other authority figures who do not enthusiastically participate in pop culture are evil. Similarly to how social connections with non-authority-figures are revealed in their truest light through their connections, or lack of connections, to pop culture. This bolsters the pre-existing template, which was not even nascent still during the 1980s/90s (the first term of Fletcher's reign), of subjecting all actual and perceived authority to cultural content managers, rather than to petty humans or their physical/mental relationships. Viewing this process in that time period provides foreshadowing of the increasing need for monocommunication, modal language, simplistic vocabularies and ideas, and the trend of everyone to now sound like a political candidate's public relations team when expressing their "grief and outrage" over the latest "senseless tragedy" on the internet. Human reactions are subjected to corporate infotainment norms; anyone speaking outside those boundaries is necessarily evil. This has echoes, of course, and it also has echoes of little puppets like Marcobot or Hillary.

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