The Christological semiotics of CSI

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The Article

If, like me, you find the world of the soi-disant Humanities to be a rich source of unintended humour, read on.

During this week’s Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences at Toronto’s York University, an academic paper was presented to a meeting of the Canadian Society for the Study of Religion. Its thesis is that the Trailer Park Boys of Cable TV fame symbolize a postmodern Trinity. The author claims, for example, that the character Ricky—although superficially a foul-mouthed criminal—is actually a Christ figure “who echoes the suffering servant from Isaiah.” Bubbles is not really the cretin he seems, but the Holy Spirit who “will help, listen and guide.” And the alcoholic Julian represents “God the Father … who has a set guideline of morals and ethics.”

Deep. Inspired, and hoping to qualify for a Social Sciences and Humanities Research grant myself, I too came up with a thesis—this one drawing from the three immensely popular CSI shows made south of the border.

Here goes. CSI’s “Trinitarian” heroes—Gil Grissom in Las Vegas, Horatio Caine in Miami and Mac Taylor in New York—are all variant Christ/God figures. Their female sidekicks—Catherine Willows, Calleigh Duquesne and Stella Bonasera, respectively—are Magdalene figures, beautiful women with (patriarchal) back stories who have found redemption as CSI apostles.

These saviours and supporting apostles (including the occasional FBI mole/Judas figure) are engaged in the holy task of “resurrection”: making a corpse “live” again through the “miracle” of forensic evidence. CSI personal lives are willingly sacrificed for their “religion’s” advancement. The dissections—the process of turning flesh and blood and DNA into innocents’ salvational “truth” in the courts—symbolize a postmodern “high mass,” presided over by CSI “priests,” whose findings can “absolve” the innocent and “damn” the guilty.

Like Jesus, Grissom, Caine and Taylor are heterosexual, but chaste. In the season finale of CSI: Miami, white knight Horatio Caine marries a victim-figure with leukemia, but their ceremonial kiss was platonic, and experienced viewers knew she had to be instantly bumped off by a bad guy. (Satisfyingly, she was.) CSI: Las Vegas’ finale was more problematic, with the season’s final moment showing Grissom in an apparently post-coital moment with Sara Sidle, an obsessive investigator/acolyte who has yearned for his affection for years, and from whom he has kept a series-long professional distance in spite of his own attraction to her. If they have actually had sex, then CSI: Las Vegas has, sadly, jumped the shark.

These men/gods are secular ascetics, icons of a new cultural hero-worship paradigm replacing real-life discredited American priests, as well as evidence of a puritan backlash to our increasingly matriarchal, hyper-sexualized society.

Grissom is a “God” figure. He is omniscient, rattling off obscure data about anything from the history of whalebone corsets to algorithms governing casino slot machines. His lifelong scientific passion is entomology. No insect is too gross for his tender attention. Like God, he loves those creatures most despised by everyone else. Though all-understanding, he is, like God, judgmental and often stern in his professional “performance reviews.” Grissom’s apostles toggle between affection for and fear of him.

Although the physically courageous Caine willingly wrestles with evil (he shoots many bad guys), usually in rescuing the especially vulnerable, he specializes in sweet sensitivity as a “suffer the little children” Jesus figure. Viewers often see him kneeling before orphaned or distressed children, and comforting them.

Taylor is the warrior Christ who chased the moneylenders out of the temple. A former marine, he broods over his wartime failure to save a fallen comrade. In Taylor you have the Jesus who agonizes because he can’t save everyone. But he keeps trying. He’s tough on himself and on his team.

The CSI world represents the constant struggle between God and Lucifer—a world in which satanic evil is again and again routed by the Higher Powers of science, and perfect justice is rendered. Saintly, selfless men and women work together in sexless, dignified harmony, using rarefied skills and technology inaccessible to ordinary people as, case by case, they redeem the impure world.

Golly, that was fun! Show me the money! But you be the judge. Which holds up: the Christological semiotics of CSI (one hour’s work at no expense to you), or that of Trailer Park Boys (two years of graduate study funded by your tax dollars)? E-mail me your vote. I’ll publish an honest tally.

Barbara Kay
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