Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Distorting Mirror

This article crystallises certain thoughts I have expressed on other occasions in conversation. One of the great influences on the life of most of the population of this country, and of the world, is television. For this reason, television broadcasters have, potentially, a great deal of power. Television brings both reports of the factual (news and documentaries), and fictional drama, into the home.

As a 'factual' source, the spin that the broadcaster puts on the facts is all-important, and if only one side is shown, it appears to be the only side. Thus television's depiction of an issue is important for the formation of public opinion on it. It as said that the Vietnam war was lost, not in Vietnam, but in the living rooms of America, as the public at home saw a war that seems unwinnable (though arguably no more so that World War 1). It makes some of us wonder what would have happened had the Trenches of Flanders been shown on television in America? Would America ever have entered the First World War?

But this is just an example. More dangerous, in terms of opinion-forming, are dramas that are set in 'the real world'. I have always argued that Eastenders is far more dangerous than Harry Potter for children. Harru Potter, after all, lives in a fantasy world of magic, with dragons and other such magical creatures. Eastenders, on the other hand, is supposed to depict real life. But it cannot. After all, real life is not dramatic enough to hold an audience! The audience do not want their life to be depicted on TV (after all, they already live that!), but excitement, danger and adventure. Now, it is one thing for that excitement to be shown in a thriller, but the Soap Opera is supposed to be a realistic depiction of life. In fact the modern soap (with the possible exception of police soap The Bill) is a distorting mirror. The soaps have adopted ever more improbably storylines over recent years, in one case even bringing a character back from the dead! And so the depiction of a Christian pastor as a deranged killer is only to be expected - after all, the religious nutter is a common trope in sensational fiction (and let us be honest, that is what modern soaps are).

If this were an isolated incident, I would mutter something about a lack of imagination and go and do something else, but this is part of a pattern. The BBC has also been responsible for a number of dramas in which 'Christian' terrorist groups have appeared, despite the fact that no such group has ever existed. It is almost as if in the world these fictional characters inhabit it is Christians, not Muslims, who are making terrorist threats!

Despite the increasing Muslim population of many British cities, and the mosques rising among the chimneys and church towers in these cities, Islam still has the status of a "foreign" religion on TV, and therefore the BBC generally depict it favourably. All well and good. But it seems that there is an undue bias against Christianity, with Christian characters often being depicted in a negative way. What is the danger? It is that this distorting mirror will encourage people to think of Christians as "nutters", and all the while the protest is "we are just being true to life." Nonsense, TV is a distorting mirror. And if what people see on TV does not affect their behaviour, why does anyone buy advertising on commercial TV?

It has been said of the press that they possess power without responsibility. The BBC would do well to remember what Uncle Ben told Peter Parker: "With great power comes great responsibility," namely the responsibility to use that power wisely. As fr the viwers, we must recall that TV does not, and cannot, depict reality. Drama depicts the world the writer creates.

Incidentally, the murderous religious nut is a tired, hackneyed idea as well, and indicates a failure of imagination. Plus the writers of these negative potrayals (I myself saw the offending episode of the dire BBC series Bonekickers, which is second only to the BBC's Robin Hood in terms of direness) seem to have done minimal research on Christianity, leading to their characters acting like no real Christian on earth, mixing Protestant and Roman Catholic practice freely... and now I will be silent, before I burst a blood-vessel.

1 comment:

Hiraeth said...

Assign a person a reason to kill, especially religious, and you absolve most of your audience from the blood-guilt which attaches to murder. You allow a person to pat themselves on the back for not being a 'freak', and so not a potential killer, rather than facing the brutal fact that we are all potential killers. As you know, and as we all know, the source of moral evil is not be be sought outside of man, but within. Through creating fictional scenarios where killers comport to our own stereotypes, writers reassure themselves and their audience that they are not 'as other men are'. Well, I spoke to a murderer once. I don't know why he killed, but he seemed a calm, rational person. In all probability, the reason he killed made perfect sense to him at the time. The problem was that a lethal weapon happened to be at hand at just the wrong moment.

That is why most people who kill do so. As one lawyer once told me, most murderers kill once. Spouse, parent, or rival. Jealously, leading to anger and anger to murder. As it was in the beginning. But mankind has an infinite capacity for self-deception, so we concentrate on the 'psycho', not the run of the mill murderer. Because when we look at the run of the mill murderer, from Cain, to David, to Doctor Crippen, we see ourselves looking back, rather than the monster we'd like to see.