Friday, June 28, 2019

A thought or two on crime as entertainment

Amid the welter of bad news and going-to-hell-in-a-handcart news this week, which I believe to be the source of the vague sense of depression that continually hovers around me, two items caught my attention.  The first was about a new Jack The Ripper Experience, to which an action group were objecting, saying it glamourised abuse of women. The second was a comment by a very respected crime writer and ex-police officer (female, as it happens) complaining about the portrayal of a police procedural TV series.

Now, these two things don't, on the surface, look at all similar. But both reflect on Crime as Entertainment. Let's take dear old Jack the Ripper first. Ever since the crimes, and yes, they were ghastly, were committed there has been speculation about the perpetrator. Had they been committed in the present century there would still have been horror and fear, but let's face it, he would undoubtedly have been caught, if only because of the amount of DNA available. But it wasn't available then, and he became almost mythical. And as such - entertainment. It wasn't long before the ballads were written, the murders were re-enacted in the penny gaffs and what would now be called "think pieces" appeared in the press.

Subsequently, he has been incorporated into hundreds of stories. Various versions of the Whitechapel murders have been told in novel, film, television and even computer games. And up and down the country, and probably overseas, for all I know, Jack the Ripper Experiences exist as entertainment, recreating the murky fog-ridden atmosphere of Victorian London. But all of these are concentrating on the still unsolved mystery of "Jack" himself. They are not concentrating on the victims, except as victims, objects of horror. So surely to suddenly up and complain about one new "experience" is a little naive? I would argue that, should it need it, it only helps to draw attention to the plight of the abused, of both sexes. We cannot wipe out the fact of this murderer's existence, only perhaps deplore the fact that he wasn't caught but was glamourised at the time.

The second item to catch my attention was simply a Tweet which came up in my feed. I happened to have got caught in a discussion about a new daytime TV series centring on a London MIT - Murder Investigation Team. It is one of those 5 day things, which I have on series record on Sky to watch in the evenings. It has an excellent cast headed by Sharon Small and Hugo Speer, and is a lot simpler and easier to follow than many of its fellows.

BUT - some of the comments have been quite vitriolic. Aforesaid crime writer complained about the mistakes made in the portrayal of a police investigation. I did not answer her (she sells a lot more than I do and is a bit of A Personality) but I should have pointed out something that many a crime writer before has known, the minutiae of a police investigation would bore the pants off your average reader/viewer.

This is a short series of short, snappy episodes. They can't get bogged down in due process, however much a female former police inspector may deplore the fact. I don't write procedurals because I don't know enough about a police investigation or the force, and I therefore apologise to police forces everywhere in the acknowledgements in my books. After all, Libby Sarjeant wouldn't have a series if I worried about real policing. And I've been writing long enough (longer than she has, actually) to know a lot of other crime writers, many of us good old mid-list types who don't hit the New York Times bestseller list but simply write for the entertainment of others. And that's what it comes down to. However much we shake our heads and raise our eyebrows about the state of the human psyche which allows us to treat disaster as entertainment, the fact is that it DOES. Whether it's Jack The Ripper and the Whitechapel murders, or a fictional London police investigation in the present day, it's presented as entertainment.

I'm sure there will be people who take issue with my views, and there is, of course a wider argument to be had which I will not attempt to broach. But at least it's a different argument to all the going-to-hell-in-a-handcart arguments that currently dominate the media.