As regular readers of this blog know, I am a fan of mysteries in books, films, and TV shows. I am a sucker for the genre, even though some of them leave me feeling dissatisfied at the end either because the plot is ridiculous and full of holes or because the characters behave too implausibly.
But recently I have noticed changes in the central premises of the shows. It used to be the case that the murders (and there is almost always at least one murder involved and often more) involved motives that were either financial or had some kind of love triangle in which an inconvenient spouse or lover needed to be got rid of or blackmail over a dark secret or something of that sort. The basic idea was that it almost always involved adults. But nowadays, many of the stories seem to involve minors and there is usually sexual abuse and pedophilia involved.
It is a disturbing trend. If we assume that TV and films mirror the zeitgeist of the contemporary period, the question is what aspect of our culture is being reflected? Is it the case that this form of sexual abuse is now more rampant than it used to be and that is why we are seeing more of it or our screens? Or is it that it was always there but was a taboo topic in the past and is no longer? Or is it the case that society has not changed that much but that the old tropes are seen by the writers and producers as no longer disturbing enough to grab the attention of audiences.
My suspicion is the last. Most people live ordinary lives where there is unlikely to be major financial or romantic conflicts that might cause them to fear being murdered or blackmailed. So the old plots could be viewed dispassionately because they were so far removed from anything that we could conceive can happen in our own lives. But children are another matter entirely. Many people’s lives intersect with that of children, their own or the children of others, and the thought of them being harmed by predators can create a sense of fear and apprehension because it seems so random and can strike anywhere. This is why we have had periodic panics of Satanic abuse of children or stories of children being abducted off the streets or poisoned by Halloween candy and the like. Almost all these stories have been shown to be overblown but that has not prevented people from worrying that it might happen to someone they know.
Whatever the reason, I cannot say that I like the trend. These stories leave me with a bad taste. I have mentioned before my liking of old shows like Columbo even though they are quite formulaic. That may be because the abuse of minors was never, as far as I can recall, part of the stories. The new shows often have very good acting and production values and dramatic tension. They are well done. It is the central plot that I find distasteful.