Monday, November 19, 2012

A Gymnast's Post-Mortem

Last night, I was watching an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, you know that show that's totes progressive by insisting that men should not rape women while at the same time reminding women (especially the ladies living alone) that they'll never truly be safe until Stabler (Christopher Meloni) comes to the rescue. (For the record, even though his police skills are highly suspect, I'd be happy to be rescued by Meloni's beefy arms any day of the week).

But this wasn't just any ol' repeat with rape and genital mutilation and a completely telegraphed plot twist. This was the gymnastics episode from Season 2.

The show begins the discovery of a body of a young girl--12? 13 perhaps?--dressed in running clothing. It's deemed a rape because of the presence of fluids and the youth of the victim. The detectives are off and running, looking for pimps who use extra young girls in their business.

And then comes the autopsy. Not only did our victim die of blunt force trauma to the head but there seems to be a pattern of abuse--a history of fractures and broken bones. And then there are hands, which are rough and calloused. Warner, the medical examiner, who is by far my favorite character (and the most competent) won't even hazard a guess at what sort of work she was doing.

It turned out that the "manual labor" was gymnastics! She's an elite (like the gymnasts on MIOBI are elites, right?). This episode trafficked in every single negative stereotype about high level gymnastics--from eating disorders and laxative abuse to mean coaches to underage nymphette appearance. It was pretty laughable, actually. (I won't give away the ending if you haven't yet come across this episode in a USA SVU marathon or during one particularly bleak Netflix binge.)

But upon this third viewing, what struck me most about the ep was the aforementioned autopsy. It was a particularly sobering perspective on the sport. Is anyone else disturbed that an autopsy of a gymnast, even a fictional one, can reveal information that can plausibly be mistaken for child abuse until it's properly contextualized?

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