Trigger warning: discussion of violence against women. This is an opinion piece, all views expressed within it are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Thrill.
Murder, She Wrote is one of my favorite shows. I love it. Mystery shows are my jam in general, but Murder, She Wrote just delivers on such a consistent basis. At least, it has so far. I’m almost to season five. It’s campy and predictable, but every episode feels satisfying, even when, or actually, especially when the solution is just goofy, like that time the killer was a trained dog pressing a button in the security room, causing a gate to run over the heiress as she was trying to get back into the mansion. Classic.
Honestly, though, the best part of Murder, She Wrote is probably Dame Angela Lansbury’s portrayal of Jessica (J. B.) Fletcher, main character and mystery solver extraordinaire. Although her character’s circumstances can be ridiculous, Jessica Fletcher manages to be pretty badass. Having retired from her career as a schoolteacher, and recovering from the death of her beloved husband, Frank, she accidentally launched a second career as apparently the most famous mystery author in the world, to a point where it gets silly. She doesn’t have children, which isn’t a signifier for badassery in general (there are so many badass moms out there) but on television, to be an older woman whose primary roles are not a wife and a mother (or at her age, grandmother) but instead a successful, independent person with her own career, interests and life – that’s pretty awesome. Then, to have that lead character be so popular that the show continued for 12 seasons? That’s pretty incredible.
While my love for Murder, She Wrote is very serious, I find it pretty funny as well, probably because I am (as a 21 year old) definitely not the target audience. When I was originally writing this article, it was going to mostly focus on another of the show’s untargeted audiences, specifically rappers, and the comedy that came from that incongruity. I knew “Ignition Remix” by R. Kelly referenced Murder, She Wrote in a way that I found hilarious, and I knew that I had heard some other references in hip-hop songs, so I started googling and compiling a list.
And then I started listening to the songs. And it became not funny, very quickly.
The worst song I found was “Murder Murder Remix” by Eminem, which is technically about a crime spree, but really seems to focus heavily on vivid descriptions of beating women, one of whom is a beaten to death by the narrator. The violence honestly struck me on a very personal level, and reading over the lyrics I realized why. The narrator murders two men in the song by shooting them, but the violence done against women is committed with his own hands. It is personal. A man gets “shot …twice in the back when he tried skatin’;” “This bitch tried to escape the jack/Grabbed her by her throat, it’s murder she wrote/It wasn’t nuttin’ for her to be smoked/ but I slammed her on her back until her vertebrae broke.” I found it immensely disturbing. The women are bystanders/could vaguely (in the delusional logic of the song) be seen as obstacles, but the narrator, on the run from the police for “a bunch of other felonies from A to Z like spelling bees,” takes the time out of his busy schedule of crime/getting away to take the time to beat women to death with his hands. For me, one of the most unsettling parts is the way that Murder, She Wrote is referenced in this song: to accuse the woman the narrator murders of writing the script for her own violent death, to put the agency and blame for the decision he made in her hands instead of his own.
I am honestly upset about it. Because it wasn’t enough to make me feel even more unsafe than I do on a daily basis, to remind me that there are people who casually believe on any level that women deserve this type of violence, or who believe that there’s nothing wrong with rapping about it, to remind me that my life and my agency and my safety are neither secure or important to a large constituency of Americans/citizens of the world, to remind me that this is funny to some people. None of that was enough, because my favorite show, a silly, entertaining mystery show with an empowered female lead was used to victim-blame women for the violence against them.
I take it personally. Because it’s personal. And it will continue to be personal.
If you want to talk, I’ll be watching Murder, She Wrote. You’re welcome to join me.
Stellar commentary, as always!