Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ghost Whisperer Needs Live People Skills

CBS, what WERE you thinking?

You had a real opportunity, and you blew it. Big time.

Perhaps you didn't realize that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. You had an opportunity during the October 16, 2009 episode of The Ghost Whisperer to say something intelligent about dating, relationships, and abuse. But you blew it.

Lots of things about The Ghost Whisperer I don't understand. Like whether Melinda's husband is dead or alive, or both. Like how she suddenly has a five-year-old son and I never ever realized she was pregnant. Or like how merely sad ghosts can't pick up material objects, while the violent ones throw things.

But I do understand the warning signs, or "red flags," of potential abuse.

Melinda's sidekick Delia decides to stop dating Roger for screaming at the maitre'd in a restaurant. OK, the maitre'd insisted on opening a "special" bottle of wine for them even after they declined, and then spilled it all over Delia. Roger jumped to his feet, and let loose a verbal barrage (fortunately appropriate in language for prime time TV). As her mother told her, don't date a man who's mean to the waiter, and Delia saw a mean side she that just didn't appeal to her. So she does not return his phone calls.

Then strange things begin to happen. On a show about talking to ghosts, that's to be expected. But these strange goings-on were from a live person. Rose petals and roses on Delia's car. A shower of violet flowers. A mime sent to pantomime love. Delia suspects Roger is trying to woo her back.

Melissa encourages her to reconsider: "Are you sure you don't want to give Roger a second chance? But it proves he has a romantic side, and besides you told me that that maitre'd was obnoxious and had spilled things on you before! So, maybe, Roger was just, I don't know, protecting you."

Melinda had this GREAT opportunity to affirm Delia's intuition. She could have said something like, "Delia, he's still really interested in you and wants a second chance. If you do go out with him again, just look out for controlling behavior, it could foreshadow an abusive relationship." I'm sure you have at least a couple of scriptwriters clever enough to turn some of the behaviors of potential abuse into scintillating TV dialog. (If you want to know what they are, download this Signs of Batterers list and Campus DV Safety flyer. Or read Domestic Violence for Beginners, by Alisa Del Tufo.)

But no, she made excuses for a man she did not know, evoking romance.

Sure romance is sexier than domestic violence. But when all rates of violence in this country are at 40 year lows EXCEPT for domestic violence, when domestic violence is the #1 lifetime hazard facing women today, and when in all of my self-defense classes for teen girls most already know of friends who've been in abusive relationships, popular TV shows have just got to do a better job of making at least a discussion of abuse more mainstream. Abuse is not romantic, to either the living or the dead.

[To watch this episode, paste this URL in your browser: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/ghost_whisperer/video/?pid=fVzaCoSHqUzAFBWSWl5NfT_DYYVFwRmt]


  1. Thanks, Joanne, for highlighting this missed opportunity. I've never seen the Ghost Whisperer, but speaking generally, it seems to me that it's less bad if a character acted as you indicate (Melinda ignoring Delia's intuition), if the show then goes on to portray the controlling boyfriend as controlling (and perhaps escalating) instead of romantic. Of course, I would especially like to see television where women interrupt and prevent violence, which I think is your point (and one I agree with).

    To rephrase, I think it's ok to show women who buy in to this kind of romantic myth, as long as it is eventually exposed as a myth. On the other hand, it's extremely irresponsible to portray the myth as true. Similarly, I think it's ok to portray war on television or film, but would find it irresponsible to portray war as wonderful and glorious.

    Again, I've never seen the Ghost Whisperer, so I have no idea which direction it went (or will go?).

  2. Dangerously--the first five Signs of Batterers from your list (jealousy, controlling behavior, quick involvement, unrealistic expectations and isolation) are too often re-cast in the media as romantic. Is he inappropriately jealous, or is he just so into her that he can't stand someone else looking at her? Are things moving dangerously fast, or is it a whirlwind courtship? As parents and self defense instructors, we must empower our girls (and boys!) with the competencies they need to identify and establish healthy, safe relationships. It's regrettable that Ghost Whisperer/CBS missed the boat on this, but not at all surprising. There's an absolute dearth of positive relationship models in mainstream media.