Racialicious Roundtable: Law & Order: SVU, “Funny Valentine,” Or “The One About Chris Brown And Rihanna”

By Tami Winfrey Harris, Arturo R. García, and Joseph Lamour


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Tami: I am a dedicated fan girl of the Law & Order Mothership. And I kind of liked Vincent D’Onofrio’s Sherlocky Det. Goren on Criminal Intent (though he does have an element of the white guy super detective about him). But Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has always seemed particularly sordid and crass. This heavy-handed, “ripped from the headlines” exploitation fest is a great example of exactly why I just can’t with this series.

Joe: I usually like Law and Order: SVU (because I secretly want to be Mariska Hargitay’s best friend forever), but sometimes there’s a misstep. When they rip things from the headlines, usually, it’s not this close to what actually happened. This episode felt more like a dramatic reenactment on the Investigation Channel than a show that has won six Emmy Awards.

Tami: “Caleb Bryant?” That’s the name they’re going with?

Arturo:
Yeah, that was elegant. All of the “twists,” though, were really shortcuts: Micha wasn’t presented as being a star at Caleb’s level; she was just starting out; and her producer gets shot and there’s nothing the cops can work with.

Joe: At least they didn’t go with Chuck Green or something vaguely like that. Mischa Green. Let’s all say it together: “Boo.” I would have suggested Hannigan. (Get it?)

Tami: Does Dave Navarro have a crushing tax debt? Has the Jane’s Addiction and Chili Peppers cash run out? Why does he have a bit role in this horror show?

Joe: Maybe he was a victim of the Madoff scandal like Kyra Sedgewick and Kevin Bacon. I do love his show Ink Master, though! I also love that I still find that hair sexy. He can do no wrong for me. I can only guess he joined this episode as an open protest to what’s happening in the music industry. Although there’s no interview that clears that up. Sigh.

Tami: Can someone define “beef cookie” for me? Is that an insult that hasn’t made it to the Midwest yet?

Joe:
It hasn’t made it anywhere. LOL. It’s not on Urban Dictionary (’cause I’m sure Faux Fenty wasn’t calling Faux Karreuche “a small gathering of boys”), and I thought I found it in an ASAP Rocky song, but the person who put it in misheard “When the beef cooked”… so, in short, I have nothing but a guess: I think it means a woman who hits on a man even though she knows he has a girl already… so it’s like she wants to have a fight (beef=fight, girl=cookie). I think. That is nothing but a complete guess, however.

Chris Brown Caleb Bryant just uttered “Call my Jew,” and we are six minutes in.

Tami: The Law & Order franchise is notoriously bad at portraying the “urban music” community. It’s as if they cannot separate the rhetoric of genres like hip-hop from, you know, real, multi-dimensional people. [Remember when L&O, original recipe, did a “ripped from the headlines” epi about JLo and Puffy and that nightclub shooting? Puff Daddy was renamed G-Train and the episode was called...wait for it... “3 Dawg Night.” Yeah.]

It’s very meta when Bryant’s lawyer complains about the demonizing of young, black men in hip-hop within a franchise that is just as capable at that. “Call my Jew?”

The real “Caleb Bryant” is somehow talented and charming enough to make people forget that he is also a babyish, swaggering, violent fool. SVU’s Caleb Bryant is just a stereotype.

L&O screencap4Arturo: I think they tried to lampshade that with the Wendy Williams and Perez Hilton cameos. It’s not just that an abuser in this position has any sort of “charm,” but there’s a mechanism in place designed to protect those brands, as Mischa’s manager indicated.

Joe: Is it just me or is this actor playing Caleb Bryant wearing a lot of makeup?

Tami: He is. He looks like Nipsy Russell as the Tin Man in The Wiz. Is it just me or is the acting in this episode a pox on humanity?

Joe: That’s not just you.

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Tami: As if the name “Caleb Bryant” isn’t anvilicious enough, we have a suggestion that the fictional couple go on a double-date with Chris Brown and Rihanna.

It would be one thing to draw from the Chris Brown-Rihanna saga, which really needs zero embellishment to be a disturbing cautionary tale, but to take that story further and imagine the death of a fictional Rihanna at the hands of her boyfriend is simply abhorrent. She is a real person, who, from the little we know from the outside, remains involved in a dysfunctional–and possibly dangerous–relationship. I can’t help but wonder how something like this affects her psyche.

You know, in general,  the public finds black men easy to hate and black women difficult to love. And so, it is worth considering whether the public’s enmity for violent, young black man Chris Brown is so strong that it overshadows any compassion for his black woman victim. I think that it often does.

Joe:
I agree and disagree on some points, Tami. I feel like this episode was intended as a letter to her and the girls who go back to men like this. A heavy-handed and badly done letter, but I can at least see the intention. Let me put it this way (and I’m looking forward to Team Breezy death threats…): as over-the-top and poorly rendered as these characters are, the real people involved are acting a lot like Caleb Bryant and Mischa Green (I still can’t with those names). Chris Brown is, to this day, arrogant and entitled. People in his camp keep saying he’s changed, but everything points to the contrary. Just read the Chris Brown tag on DListed. Michael K never reports that Chris Brown went to a children’s hospital just because, or that he sang at a charity drive for abused women, or anything of the sort. And it’s not that MK wouldn’t report it, because that in itself would be such surprising news that it would make it around the world. And, this just in from Elle magazine: Rihanna says she wants to have a baby with Chris Brown now. So, I’m just going to retire to my fainting couch, because I’m tired of thinking about this any further.

Arturo: I thought it was more of a release valve for people who aren’t just upset at Brown, but at Rihanna, as well. It would have been one thing for Mischa to lie on Caleb’s behalf and then walk away; that would have afforded her some sense of agency. Instead, the way the ending played out, the creative team seemed to blame her character as much as they did Caleb.

Tami: I just don’t trust the entertainment-industrial complex to be that altruistic. Oh, I know primetime network television likes to run “very special episodes” about social issues and say that it’s to make the world a better place, but my cynical mind is certain this was more about ratings than concern for women in abusive relationships. In a landscape where Edward and Bella’s disturbing union is promoted as true love and a show that claims to be serious about sexual violence stunt-casts a convicted celebrity rapist as a rape victim, no woman should take lessons from the entertainment industry regarding her well being, seriously. NBC can miss me with its “letter.”

  • Medusa

    I definitely do not get the “Hannigan” thing. Can someone explain it to me? Please?