Thursday, October 12, 2006


######!!!!!! Warning - Disjointed Brainfart Ramble ahead !!!!!!######

I can't stand soap operas. Really, really hate them. They are such a waste of time, and yet so many people are completely hooked. From what little of the genre I have been unfortunate enough to study, in the UK at least they are a case of life imitating art imitating life. I've blogged before about the Eastenders effect - people base their expectations and attitudes towards life on their experience as seen through the flickering tube just as much as through any reality. I sometimes wonder how many of the millions who tuned into The Royle Family didn't realise it was meant to be comedy. I know families who live exactly that way.

So what got me thinking about soaps again? Well I was trying to identify potential sources of background material on the internal workings of the British police force for the novel I am about to start writing. I know that I need to talk to actual policemen for the facts of everyday police life, but the banter, the rivalries, the conflicts, all the things that make a tale interesting and engaging, are not in the procedure so much as the interactions between characters. There's a vast mine of useful information and examples out there, from the books of Mr Rankin, Mr Wingfield, young Master MacBride and others to the endless cop movies and police shows on the telly. If nothing else, a study of these should show me how to put together a story without being too derivative.

And one of the shows I thought of was The Bill. At which point I thought I might crawl back under my fantasy blanket. For The Bill is not really a cop show. It's a soap opera masquerading as a cop show. Actually I'm not even sure it's still on, but my gut reaction was one of horror at the thought of having to watch it 'for research.'

Likewise pretty much any of the endless series of detective shows that are usefully repeated ad nauseam on ITV4 of an evening. With perhaps the exception of old Mark McManus episodes of Taggart, and maybe Ken Stott's Rebus, I can't think of any that I've managed to watch more than a single episode. And watching Rebus is a bit like poking a sore tooth; you just know it's going to keep on hurting, but somehow you can't stop yourself.

Perhaps it's as John said a while back, that the problem with setting crime fiction in the UK is one of suspension of disbelief. Certainly if half the murders in Midsomer Norton were reflected in real life, the Cotswolds would be very sparsely populated indeed. And yet without a decent body count, audience figures soon plummet. To drag the topic back towards the soap operas a bit, I think that is one reason why I don't watch much home-grown drama either. If it isn't 'gritty and realistic', it's downright depressing, or unbelievable in the worst kind of way.

For entertainment, as opposed to education, I prefer fantasy, science fiction and the like because, counter-intuitively, it's easier to suspend your disbelief when the drama isn't trying to pretend to be true. In the original Stargate movie, James Spader's character, Dr Daniel Jackson, was brought in because he was an expert in languages. He was able to communicate with the people at the far end of the stargate because they spoke a version of ancient Egyptian. Never mind that this didn't seem to have mutated much in the three thousand years since the two populations had been separated; it was believable within the premise of the movie.

Then came the television series SG1. At first there was a little head-nodding in the direction of different languages, but mostly everyone spoke good old American English. In the latest incarnation, Stargate Atlantis, the intrepid US explorers are in a completely different galaxy, and yet still, everyone speaks as if they've lived their whole life in California. Even the uber-baddie Wraith, albeit with a funny synthesised tone.

And you know what? It really doesn't matter. In fact it would considerably detract from the story if they spent half of each episode trying to work out what each other was saying. Let's move straight on to the action, please. Shoot at the towel-heads and blow some things up.

OK, so that makes me very shallow in my entertainment preferences, you might say. But television (and to a certain extent, the movies) is a very shallow entertainment medium, really. I find it very hard to understand why people watch depressing simulacra of real life when they can get that everyday at work, in the supermarket checkout queue, down the pub. And the more realistic you make that entertainment, the more I want to run screaming from the room. Give me spaceships and explosions any day. Or at least make me think.

This might be one reason why American dramas are so popular over here, apart from the fact that they are usually a breath of fresh air - a slap to the face and a 'pull yourself together, man.' America is foreign enough that we can just accept the reality portrayed as believable - I don't know how the Navy Criminal Investigation Service really works, so I'll accept that they would employ the Man from Uncle as a pathologist. Even if he did do his training at 'medical college' in Oxford. Hmmm.

Since I so rarely watch any television at all anymore, let alone enough American and English drama back to back, it may well be that I haven't got a clue what I'm talking about. And the Horse Doctor only watches sport these days. But I do think that in the UK we tend to drag our drama down by making it too believable, too mundane.

So in my search for an understanding of the dynamics of a policeman's working day, I shall avoid The Bill and its ilk. And if Inspector McLean gets himself abducted by aliens, then work with me, people, work with me.


Blogger Trace said...

I hate soaps too. They are just so ridiculous! There are certain shows I love to watch. Justice, Bones and CSI are must-sees for me. Oh, and Grey's Anatomy. American shows. I don't know if you get them over there.

October 13, 2006 4:57 pm  
Blogger Daniel Hatadi said...

A rant after my own heart. Fiction for me has always been a realm of escapism. Why would I want to read stories about things that could actually happen to me? Give me ghost pirate ninjas in space any time.

AND what the poms find interesting in Neighbours, I'll never know.

October 16, 2006 5:30 am  

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