Double Voyeurism in CSI Las Vegas: The Scientist under the Microscope

Curator's Note

As personifications of science, the ultimate voyeur, the CSIs in Las Vegas use its superhuman eyes and technological gaze to penetrate all textures and alibis. However, in the process of revealing their scientific truth, the CSIs cannot help revealing themselves and their own secrets. This expands the intrinsically voyeuristic television experience. The viewer not only watches the scientists dissect the bodies and minds of the victims and criminals, but also scrutinizes the CSIs' minds at work. This results in a double voyeurism for the television viewer as now it is the scientists themselves that are on display. Thus, the question "Who are you?" as posed in the series' theme song becomes not only that of the scientists as they try to unveil who the murderers and victims are, but also the theme song of the television viewer who is trying to dis-cover who the CSI men and women really are.


Eva, I agree entirely. One common thread that runs through the program is the way that these characters neglect their personal lives in favor of their occupational lives. We have been allowed to catch glimpses into these personal lives throughout the seasons, but what we typically see is that these characters are not nearly as proficient in their relations as they are in their occupations. What does this say about the often contradictory discourses surrounding the American work ethic and the importance of the American family?

One of the things that's always drawn me to CSI is its representation of work. I admit to this voyeurism, particularly in the "investigation montages," where the CSIs painstakingly search for or process the evidence, as sexy techno music throbs on the soundtrack. Seeing other people methodically pore over data validates my scholar sensibility! As Eva and Chad mention, we see much of their professional lives, and only occasional peeks into their private lives. This has been a refreshing reversal of the general priority given to relationship drama on most TV drama since the 1980s, but done without sacrificing a sense of these professionals as also flawed, intriguing people. That is, this is still a far cry from Dragnet, where we never found out anything about what Joe Friday did on his weekends. It would be interesting to piece together the evidence of what we do know of their biographies. I think what would arise is less a serialized sense of character movement/development (though there is a bit of that) but more a fixed "state" of their being. Grissom has always been a hamfisted lover. Catherine has always had razor-sharp interpersonal instincts. Nick has always left himself exposed, and so on.

Derek, it would be interesting to piece together what we know about the lead characters and how we know it. An educated guess would lead me to believe that the two most well-developed characters are Catherine and Brass since there have been entire episodes devoted to their pasts and presents (see Catherine's relationship with her father, Sam Braun or Brass' rocky relationship with his drug addicted daughter). In contrast, the other characters' pasts tend to arise more tangentially when there is a connection to the case they are investigating (see Grissom's acknowledgment of his prowess as a poker player or Sara's revelation of her time in foster care). Harkening back to yesterday's discussion, it's also interesting to note that the more well-developed characters seem to be more closely tied to the city thereby providing us a way to see Vegas from a more localized perspective.

Chad and Derek, Thanks for the insightful feedback. In terms of private life voyeurism, I am especially interested in the presentation of Catherine as object of desire. She is always dressed in a very sexy way and we are very much aware of her past as an exotic dancer. What I find very intriguing is the way she has turned the tables by changing occupations. She was the one to cater to the viewer's gaze (usually male) by taking her clothes off and putting her body on display. Now she is the one who does the gazing and who dis-covers bodies. Nevertheless, she still manages to remain an object of desire, perhaps now more than ever because her new power (intellectual and official power) only adds top her old power (sexual and intimate power).

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