Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Machismo in Criminal Minds

Has anyone else watched the show Criminal Minds on ion television? For those who are unfamiliar with the program, Criminal Minds is about the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) of the FBI who travel to help solve murders in areas where the local police have been unsuccessful. The BAU aids law enforcement officials by providing them with a profile on the killer based on evidence left at the crime scene and the nature of the crime itself.

Last class we discussed the concept of machismo in Latin American culture and it took me back to an episode from season 1 of Criminal Minds in which the team flies to Mexico to help catch a serial killer who targets elderly women. In the show the characters repeatedly discuss the concept of machismo in regards to the case they're working and as it applies to Latino culture in general. The lead detective of the Mexican police squad comments that the BAU's tactics are not completely adequate for profiling in Mexico because it doesn't consider the important role of family and machismo in Mexican culture.

Here is the episode:

I also thought the following scenes were notable and wonder what others think:

While flying to Mexico, JJ asks why there are so few serial killers in Mexico, Hotchner and Gideon tell her that there are probably many, but few are documented. “It’s the Chikatilo syndrome,” remarks Gideon. Reid explains that Russian serial killer Andre Chikatilo wasn’t caught until he’d killed over 50 people, mostly because the soviets refused to believe that there could be a serial killer in soviet society. They assumed serial killers were a product of American culture. In Mexico it is believed that serial killers arise when the family breaks down, and there are 12 times more broken families in the USA than in Mexico. It’s possible there are fewer serial killers in Mexico, Gideon states, “But in my experience, evil is not a cultural phenomenon, it is a human one.” (Summary taken from:;recap)

There's a scene in which Roberto's sister, Rosa, comments that they--referring to the American FBI--do not understand the shame her brother's homosexuality brings onto the family, ending her comment with the statement "La familia es todo".

The show also deals with the idea that rapes in Mexico are rarely reported because the men who commit these crimes have some sort of power over the women and there is the feeling that the police do not see the importance of such.


  1. My mother watches this show and one of the last times I went for a visit she happened to be watching this exact episode. I watched it with her and also felt that Mexican subjectivity was essentialized and portrayed in a negative way. It also seemed interesting to me to read the text through the lens of colonialism: México was unable to solve their own issues and required the assistance of the United States in order to resolve problems and return to order. The idea that they did not have the resources or know-how to solve the crime of a serial killer served to mask undertones of racism and hierarchy. The episode seemed to reinforce the unfounded and extremely problematic notions that the Mexican people were somehow backwards and required salvation that only the U.S. could provide (the typical rhetoric used to justify colonization and U.S. involvement). Hiding this under the guise of México "asking" for help allowed the veil of political correctness to remain intact.
    Another "issue" I had was the use of Spanish when a new character (Mexican) was introduced, to establish that this was in fact México, but once the viewer was reminded of this fact the character would switch over to English. This is a method commonly deployed to create a sense of authenticity, but it somehow seems even more unrealistic, as if to suggest to the viewer that if they travel to this exotic, faraway location, they won't have to really understand the language or culture because everyone can accommodate their own limitations. Furthermore, it seems as thought it would be more appropriate to have the dialogue in the spatially/geopolitically appropriate language and provide subtitles to actually make the scene/text realistic, or else just do everything entirely in English and not even pretend.

  2. I LOVE Criminal Minds and have been obsessively watching it since Season 1 ( so I'm also understandably jealous that someone's snagged this episode). This was one of the more interesting cases of the season, one of the reasons being that the cast travels outside of the continental US to Mexico, a country of unfamiliar terrain for most of the unit. It was interesting because one of the characters, Elle Greenway, was of latin american descent and here she was able to shine, showing off her spanish chops and a side of her not usually seen. Does the fact that the BAU, a US team, had to be flown in to help catch a Mexican serial killer somehow reflect a sense of imperialist superiority or a sense of "we are better and more equipped than you?" attitude? Perhaps. But the team doesn't sail smoothly and solve the mystery using the knowledge they've cultivated and honed in the US. Throughout the course of the episode, they begin to understand that they have to adopt the Mexican understanding of culture and life and incorporate family and culture into their analysis in ways they never have. In fact, the people who end up ambushing and capturing the serial killer are not the BAU, who arrive moments after, but rather, Mexican citizens (a group of rape victims). They emerge as the true victors of the episode. I walked away feeling like I had a sense of the family and the culture of 'mashismo' that permeated Mexican culture. I feel that there is a validity to the analysis presented by the BAU team on why there are so 'few' serial killers in Mexico and why they are on the rise; I also feel that the show hopes to achieve a deeper understanding of murder and killing that lies beyond thresholds like ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, country of origin and instead, champion the the idea that at the end of it, "evil is not a cultural phenomenon, it is a human one." And that leaves everyone responsible; it is no longer a question of where you are from, how much spanish you can or cannot speak, identifying racial and cultural insensitivities, whether or not the US is attempting to impose this or that on us,etc. It is simply a question of being human and the code of ethics that we, as a singular race, collectively abide by.