Cucklanz & Moorti

Cucklanz & Moorti - Critical Studies in Media...

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Television’s ‘‘New’’ Feminism: Prime-Time Representations of Women and Victimization The prime-time program offers a unique blend of characteristics, with its avowed focus on sexual assult and its location within the tradition of the historically masculine detective genre. We argue that SVU ’s depiction of sexual assault integrates feminist insights, but its depictions of women criminals and feminine qualities remain problematic. Analysis of episodes that center on the dynamics of the family and crimes committed by women helps to point out how the series recreates the idea of the ‘‘monstrous maternal.’’ SVU ’s contradictory combination of feminist insights and denigration of feminine qualities represents a new stage of televisual feminism. Keywords: Crime; Feminism; Prime-Time Television; Sexual Assault In the fall of 1999, NBC debuted its second program in the franchise, (hereafter SVU ), a scripted series devoted to crimes of sexual assault and rape. Although the runaway success of the original Order helped assure an eager audience for the new venture, the seemingly narrow focus on a subject as emotionally and politically charged as rape took the television crime genre in an unexpected direction. SVU ’s popularity over the last five years raises questions about the series’ ability to introduce the topic of sexual violence into the prime-time arena and sustain viewership. How does a prime-time fictional chronicling of sexual violence, trauma, and victimization operate within the confines Lisa M. Cuklanz is Associate Professor and Assistant Chair in the Department of Communication at Boston College. Sujata Moorti is Associate Professor and Chair of Women’s and Gender Studies at Middlebury College. The authors thank Boston College for support through a grant program providing student research aid. Portions of this manuscript were presented at the 2004 National Communication Association and 2005 International Communication Association annual meetings. The authors thank Sarah Projansky, Elayne Rapping, Nina Gregg, Linda Steiner, and the two anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. Correspondence to: Lisa M. Cuklanz, 21 Campanella Way, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA. Email: cuklanz@bc.edu ISSN 0739-3180 (print)/ISSN 1479-5809 (online) # 2006 National Communication Association DOI: 10.1080/07393180600933121 Critical Studies in Media Communication Vol. 23, No. 4, October 2006, pp. 302 ± 321
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of the traditionally masculine genre of detective fiction? What forms of feminism, if any, does such a prime-time focus on sexual violence enable? With its ‘‘ripped from the headlines’’ storylines
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Cucklanz & Moorti - Critical Studies in Media...

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