Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Racist? Or Just Minority Interest?

Midsomer Murders racism stormWe have a long running detective drama show in the UK called Midsomer Murders. It’s been running for donkey’s years and the format never changes. And neither does the plot. Basically each episode runs like this: a quaint, idiosyncratic, stereotypical English personage of a certain age who on the surface has their roiling emotions constrained by their stiff upper lip suddenly goes on the rampage and murders another quaint, idiosyncratic, stereotypical English personage of a certain age with something profoundly incongruous like a Black & Decker hedge trimmer or a Moulinex hand blender. Cue police investigation led by grumpy, cranky genius detective who solves the crime just in time to enjoy a cream tea at the local cricket club with his bridge playing wife and university graduate daughter. Cue titles.

Do feel free to take me to task (those of you who are fans of the show) if I have missed out any important plot points; I don’t think that I have.

The show’s creator, Brian True-May has, this week, got himself suspended by ITV chiefs for comments he made along the lines of “Midsomer Murders is the last bastion of Englishness” and he’d like to keep the cast all white as he feels to bring ethnicity issues into the show would change what the show is about. Basically he sees the show as being a fictional representation of an England that, if we’re honest, has never really existed. It is a stereotypical view of what we (the English) and more likely what others (the Americans) would imagine is a traditional English village. Cricketing whites, tea and scones, old boys clubs, war veterans with walking sticks, toffs with chips on their shoulders and Mellors the gardener nobbing one of the posh ladies of the amateur dramatics society behind the back of her boorish husband.

It ain’t real, folks, and it’s never been real. But this is the show’s very successful shtick. It has after all been running for over 14 years and been sold to 231 territories around the world (I wonder if any of those are Indian or African?).

The question is: is Mr True-May being racist in his adherence to a formula that has earned those very same ITV chiefs an awful lot of revenue over the last decade and a half. Is Midsomer Murders as a concept, racist?

‘Cos the backstabbers are coming out of the ITV executive director’s office with their knives of righteousness gleaming and freshly polished. They are “appalled” by his comments. An “investigation” has been launched. The story has even made the papers and the internet – no mean thing when it’s hardly been what you’d call a slow news week.

I’m going to stick my head out here and say that, in my opinion, neither the show nor Mr True-May are racist. Not on your nelly. What he and the show are being, however, in non-representational. But that is very different from being racist. But – and here’s the rub – the show isn’t meant to be representational. It’s a work of fiction. It taps into a stereotype of middle class Englishness and runs with it. Metaphorically the show is like drinking a cup of tea with your pinky sticking out. Chin-chin. Fancy a game of croquet?

I feel quite annoyed at the unspoken suggestion that the show should suddenly acquire itself an ethnic family just to tick that particular demographic box. I can’t think of a more cheap, shallow and cynical reason to get a black actor onto the cast. And I’m at pains to point out here that I’m not a fan of the show. What I am a fan of though, is the freedom of writer’s to be able to write what they like without having to jump through hoops just to appease the politically correct brigade who are so scared of offending anyone that they feel the imperative to impose the same restraints on every single show until all shows tick the same tick boxes and everyone is happy but no-one is watching the bloody show in the first place because it lacks character or individual personality.

Maybe I’m wrong. Christ, maybe I’m being racist. Am I? If the show was about an Asian village and about Asian life and values would someone be demanding a white family move in? Would that argument even get aired? Maybe that’s over simplifying it – which is a bad idea as this topic is a bloody minefield as it is.

As far as I can see, the show is a cultural backwater. Literally. What sells the show is this fake, incestuous, closed-off Englishness that inevitably leaves little room for an ethnic dialogue. The show is not real and makes no attempt to engage with real life and the real culture of England which – thankfully – is wonderfully diverse and culturally rich. But that is this particular show’s selling point. I think True-May is right. To meddle with that formula – for all it does little to appeal to me – would kill it off and ruin it for those fans who wish to suspend their disbelief and wallow for a couple of hours in a dream of England that didn’t even exist in E. M Forster’s time.

Ethnic issues are well represented on other shows and in other dramas. Nobody is being hard done by. What is happening is that the fear of racism and the fear of being perceived as being racist is resulting in a good many Union Jack bloomers getting themselves tied up into a right royal twist.

Chill out, people! It’s a minority interest show! Doesn’t that tick a tick box too?

For those of you that are interested here is the opinion of a Midsomer Murders viewer from India: Ramana's Musings...

P.S. Thank you for all reading my 700th post.



Share

55 comments:

Kelloggsville said...

A lot of the villages around me are exactly like that. They do exist. Honestly! I think the token minority person could be as offensive as none. I think they should just leave it alone. Agatha Christie would be turning in her grave. They may not be as 'politically correct' as they ought by they are a damn good read. I think the setting is relevant. You wouldnt put the token White person in a Pakistani Market nor the token aboriginal in the Cotswolds country fair. True representation makes for fair play UNLESS it is fictional writing then the writer should be able to write whatever they want. But it may need to be screened independently, not be the representational BBC.

rb said...

Happy 700th post! That's an amazing achievement, Steve!

I tend to agree with you. I always fall asleep halfway through Midsomer Murders (it tends to be rather long and as you say the plot is always much the same).

I certainly wouldn't be upset if they didn't have gay people in it (although I think they have from time to time - murderous ones no doubt!!) because it is just so far removed from real life anyway.

If you analyse it and think about it, the programme is annoying on all sorts of levels - the portrayal of marriage, women, class, British weather, the misrepresentation of rural areas as havens of murderous individuals - but I don't think we are meant to think about it, simply bask in its summery glow.

Gorilla Bananas said...

They should put in a Scotsman to widen it's appeal. A hairy-legged fellow in a kilt, who repeatedly pinches the big arse of a middle-aged spinster he fancies. I would call him McTavish. If there isn't a middle-aged spinster in the show it's a total travesty.

Steve said...

Kelloggsville: ooh! The BBC will be bristling with righteous indignation because Midsomer Murders is actually an ITV show! Shame on you! Other than that I totally agree.

RB: lovely to hear from you. The programme is indeed annoying! It's why I can't watch it. Unless I'm ill. In that situation I find I can mong out to it quite happily mainly because I am not in a position to think about it much.

Gorilla Bananas: there are spinsters aplenty (is this representational of a typical English village?) and I for one would be very happy to see a big gingery Scotsman tossing his caber into the village boating pond while encouraging the locals to indulge in a good old hootenanny...

Nota Bene said...

700? get on with some work!

I didn't know Midsommer Murders was still going until the furore...strikes me that it's as anachronistic as you can get...and it should stay that way..that's the appeal to the people who watch it. You can't make all things appeal to all people...or at least you shouldn't.

Mind you that Kumars at 42 was pretty damn racist wasn't it? :-)

Steve said...

Nota Bene: not to mention Goodness Gracious Me...? ;-) I think you've hit the nail on the head far more succinctly than I managed. The show is anachronistic - and that is it's one (and possibly only) selling point. You'd have to be a dunderhead to change it.

Trish @ Mum's Gone to... said...

Sorry I can't comment just now. I'm waiting for the gardener to turn up: we only have an hour or two before rehearsals in the village hall later.

Steve said...

Trish: not called Mellors is he...?

the fly in the web said...

700 posts...and unlike Midsomer Murders no one has dropped off half way through a post.
Lang may your lum reek, Steve.

What lobby or pressure group are the ITV bosses so afraid of?
Might as well put a band of asians grooming young English parlourmaids into an episode of Miss Marple.

Steve said...

The fly in the web: shhh - Andrew Davies is a local writer. Don't want to be giving him ideas for his next period drama...!

clareybabble said...

700 posts? Well done!

I am a huge fan of Midsomer Murders. My mum and I have spent many a Sunday afternoon watching it.

The appeal IS the farfetchedness of it all...the fat old doctor sleeping with all the beautiful women, the fact that there have been over 200 murders in such a small area...about a quarter of them, Mrs Barnaby just happens to witness!!

If you try and add anything into that mix for the sake of political correctness then it becomes serious, and that's not what the show is all about. It isn't The Bill for heavens sake!

They should all get off of their PC soap boxes as far as I'm concerned.

Steve said...

clareybabble: it is not The Bill. There is a true endorsement if there ever was one! ;-)

missbehaving said...

it's crap isn't it! not the show, I don't know, it competes here with Cold Case so I never watch it,
the idea. Another case of common sense being chucked out the window.

Steve said...

MissBehaving: a case of commonsense being birched, branded and stoned and then paraded through the streets in chains before being hung, drawn and quartered and then its suppurating remains burned at the stake. Yes, absolutely.

Marginalia said...

Dear Steve, I live in a tiny village in a county that was disbanded in the 1970's. We've not forgiven Ted Heath.

We don't have a single TV in the village; not because we wouldn't like it but because we live in such a deep dale that we can get no signal.

"The Archers" is brought round weekly by the mobile library in cassette form and we pass it and the cassette recorder around the village.

The last colour person to appear in our village was an Indian Raj who'd lost his way and after a futile attempt at opening an Indian restaurant converted to CofE and is now the verger of our lovely 13th century church which retains its original font.

Although it's not called into use much these days as most of the women in the village are past child bearing age.

We do have a policeman but we share him with the next village 4 miles away.

What crime we do have is fairly petty: sheep stealing, incest and the occasional gang rape.

Otherwise we're an extremely normal, quite English village.

For your description of the goings on in your village it all seems rather over dramatic. Is it by any chance near a film studio: I just wondered if most of the residents were out of work actors. They do seem slightly "kooky".

Ah, well must dash. We're burning the local policeman this evening. That nice reporter Alan Wicker's here to cover it.

PS. I dictated this message and a very nice young man said he'd e-mail it to you.

Yours

Susan George

Steve said...

Dear Susan, when you say "burning the policeman" and Alan Wicker covering do you mean that the poor plod will be installed inside a giant Wicker man loaded with faggots and kindling? If so, I'd like to come along and roast some marshmallows on the resultant blaze if I may... it's been a long while since I attended a pig roast.

Sarah said...

Seeing as the show has been running for 14 years, it seems a bit late to be getting up in arms.

I think it's great. I watch it when I get home from work, the first 20 minutes from the trampoline, the last 40 with a cup of tea. It's perfect relaxing watching.

I think Brian True-May has been shamefully treated and I hope he is reinstated with an apology (and a G&T).

Dan said...

I disagree.

The fuss wasn't about there being no black or asian characters in the show (although for the length of time it's been going, with a new set of characters every single episode, the omission is very glaring)

The fuss is about the producer saying that to include a character from an ethnic minority would make the show less English. And he didn't say this in private - he said it to a national magazine.

He's an arse, and deserves his suspension.

Steve said...

Sarah: it does seem a bit late to complain now - and certainly given the show's obvious global popularity! It's not just middle England that likes it!

Dan: it depends what is meant by "English". As I've said the show has never meant to be representational - not of demographic breakdowns of population and certainly not of reality. The show has always struck me as being a bit of an in-joke - it has it's tongue firmly in its cheek. Seems to me the "English" Mr True-May was speaking of was a fake, stereotypical Englishness. The show has never set out to be a gritty mirror of reality. Lord knows there are plenty of other cop shows that do that. The Englishness that the show pitches for is that rosy cheeked, green gardened Englishness that you see on biscuit tins and decorated plates. It's never pretended to be anything else other than that. It is fake. To make it "real" would depart from the show's shtick. However, as I've already said, I don't really like the show. It's fakeness and contrivance annoys me. I don't think it's racist just a bit flat and 1 dimensional.

Steve said...

Sarah: it does seem a bit late to complain now - and certainly given the show's obvious global popularity! It's not just middle England that likes it!

Dan: it depends what is meant by "English". As I've said the show has never meant to be representational - not of demographic breakdowns of population and certainly not of reality. The show has always struck me as being a bit of an in-joke - it has it's tongue firmly in its cheek. Seems to me the "English" Mr True-May was speaking of was a fake, stereotypical Englishness. The show has never set out to be a gritty mirror of reality. Lord knows there are plenty of other cop shows that do that. The Englishness that the show pitches for is that rosy cheeked, green gardened Englishness that you see on biscuit tins and decorated plates. It's never pretended to be anything else other than that. It is fake. To make it "real" would depart from the show's shtick. However, as I've already said, I don't really like the show. It's fakeness and contrivance annoys me. I don't think it's racist just a bit flat and 1 dimensional.

Mark said...

I tend to agree with your distinction between the show non-representational as opposed to overtly racist.

But I also agree with Dan that he's a prat to say that including ethnic minorities would make it less English. But then we get into the minefield of what we mean by 'English". I suspect what he meant was 'stereotypically middle class, country village, tea and scones, English' - which is what the show is about - but he's still daft to say it.

And on a different note. How come the Boycott American Women idiot has turned up on my blog too! Can't you send him to Midsummer Whotsit instead.

libby said...

Have to be honest, I've never seen it, although I suspect Mr True-May is right...but in a sort of 'if it aint broke why fix it' kind of way..and as you say Steve it isn't real.

libby said...

oops forgot! Happy 700th post!

Steve said...

Mark: I could certainly try and send Mr Boycott to Midsomer but I dare say his acceptance there will depend on his ethnicity...

Libby: it ain't real at all and I don't think anyone can watch the show and imagine for a minute that it is real. It's like a pantomime. Thank you for congratulations!

joebloggs said...

I dont think its trying to be anything other than what it is, a fctional story set in a fictional village.
If it was to be "inclusive" then as the story is so hackneyed and predictable then any black actor would either have to be the murderous drug dealing crim from the "smoke" or the victim, dead in the first 30 seconds. I for one would prefer being left out of it all together.
As for True-mays comments, he's entitled to his opinion.
I am not sure if it is still the case but up until last year the National Farmers Union only had one black member. He was on Country file once and dressed in his bottle green cords, check flannel shirt and wax coat was the epitome of English farmer, even his dog was called blacky...(probably?)
No Midsummer would not be the same with Normski or Dizzy Rascal as the new landed gentry, even they would draw the line at such fantasy!

joebloggs said...

Just remembered, was in a little "English" village in Suffolk last summer for a weeks hols and in all the time I was there I only saw one other black person. We had a little game of acknowlaging each other with a nod each time we saw each other.....(at least I think it was the same guy, they all look the same to me)

Steve said...

Joe: the unpalatable truth (unpalatable to the right-on press and ITV execs) is that there are actual real-life villages in the UK who do not have a single "ethnic" member. I'm not saying they are to be recommended (or even denegrated) but they do exist - they don't, however, to my knowledge harbour over 200 criminals and murderous crimes. Back in the days when it was difficult for a black actor to find work, shows that only employed white actors could be accused quite reasonably of racism. These days it is not the case - thank God. Not only do we have some wonderful black and Asian actors in this country but - even better - they win parts simply by the quality of their acting and not because the part "happens to be black". This is true progress. So to have an all white cast in the current, more liberated climate... is that still racist? I don't think it is. What's the difference between an all white cast for a production and all black cast? Both should be allowed if the script demands it without petty charges of racism being bandied about. To demand that a show has to have a black character or has to have an Asian character... well, to me, that is racist.

Nana Go-Go said...

Congratulations on your milestone.
I`ve never watched `Midsomer Murders` - it`s too akin to the kind of tv I may have to watch in my nursing home, once I get there. Bad enough that they`ll make me eat the rice pudding.

ps not all middle-aged `spinsters` have big arses!just sayin`

Steve said...

Nana Go-Go: should we end up in the same nursing home I'll be the one singing "I like big butts and I cannot lie..."

;-)

vegemitevix said...

I confess I was mightily disappointed in our English town, because the Midsomer Murders' village is exactly what I expected. I've been grumpy with the Englishman ever since he bought me across the globe to reside in a town lying in the shadow of an atomic bomb factory where the locals glow in the dark! I've lived in some of the most multicultural societies in the world and I know I'm not racist when I say that a writer should be free to write what he wants to write. I think putting the token Asian family into the mix would be bias, albeit positive bias, but bias that's a self-effacing apology and not at all genuine.

Steve said...

Vix: elegantly put. I bow to your superior lyricism.

Wylye Girl said...

Steve, The Husband worked with B T-M a few years ago. It's not an experience that he remembers fondly if you get my meaning. However, I live in what would probably be described as a quintessential English village with a village green, cricket club, pub and church. It also has no 'people of colour', or for that matter anyone who wouldn't tick the white/Christian box. The next village is the same and the one after that. My children's school of 1500 children has only a small handful of Asian/Africa heritage pupils, mainly associated with the army or local restaurants. It's not because we run them out of town, it's just because it is a very rural area and that's just how it is in many areas of rural England, whatever ITV may think. Unfortunately in the London-centric world of TV production, they think Hampstead or Wimbledon is 'the country' and don't seem to understand that there really are parts of the country where they inhabitants are all white.

Midsomer Murders has made B T-M a very wealthy man so I doubt that he would particularly care if he does get sacked as the exec producer and, with an average of 15 murders a year, you could forgive anyone for not wanting to live there ;) It's fiction, not fact and is sold in countries as diverse as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Malaysia. No-one has complained in 14 years so why not just leave it at that

Vicky said...

The amount of murders that occur is this village means that there would be a high population turnover and you would think that eventually an ethic family would move in. The high crime rate would mean real estate prices are low LOL

Congrats on the 700th post, look forward to the next 700!

Steve said...

Wylye Girl: "It's fiction, not fact and is sold in countries as diverse as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Malaysia..." that just says it for me. It's the idea of quaint Englishness that sells it - abroad as well as at home. If people want the reality of England they can tune into "Police, Cameras, Action"!

Vicky: Midsomer is not exactly somewhere that would be recommended on "Location, Location, Location" is it? ;-)

Steve said...

For those of you that are interested here is the opinion of a Midsomer Murders viewer from India: Ramana's Musings...

Rol said...

I'm all for positive discrimination on TV, but I do get tired of the formulaic shows that strive to achieve a perfect balance of male / female, white / black, straight / gay, able-bodied / disabled characters just to fill some pc quota rather than letting the story and characters dictate. I don't see anything wrong with having a show that has an all white cast, just as I never had a problem with the Cosby Show's all black cast. It's not necessary for every show on TV to tackle themes of race and equality - particularly quaint and harmless murder mystery shlock like this.

lunarossa said...

My Italian flag is out of my window to celebrate Italiy's 150th birthday today. My neighbours are not that keen. It's not racism but the narrowmindedness of a small village ...Ciao. A.

lunarossa said...

PS. Congratulations on your 700th post! And thanks for keeping on reading my blog. It looks like I'm blogging only for you! Ciao. A.

Steve said...

Rol: my point exactly. Midsomer Murders at the end of the day is just a piece of lightweight tosh. It has no higher agenda than to entertain the chattering classes for an hour or two. It is not meant to be thought provoking or culturally conscious. It's a bit of fluff.

Lunarossa: I wouldn't have a problem with an Italian flag being put out next door to me at all. And as for your blog... you mean you're not writing it just for me?

Janete Cabral said...

Congratulations on your 700th post Steve! Wow...

You speak of the truth only , it is the reality.

Steve said...

Janete: thank you - 700 posts... I feel like the old man of blogging...!

French Fancy... said...

I had to return for your 700th post. I've never seen this programme but I guess I've not missed anything from the sound of it. As for an ethnic mix - when I was in Brittany I saw mainly white people and now I am in mid-Kent I see mainly white people. It's quite strange not to see a mix of people round here - they are noticeable by their absence

Steve said...

FF: welcome back - you've been missed. It sounds like Midsomer Murders may not be as nonrepresentational as I first thought... though I hope the murder rate is a lot lower where you are.

Phil said...

Bluddy Norah Steve! It’s a bit busy in here tonight bloke. I’ve been so long in the queue outside your busy blog here, I’ve clean gone an missed most of the party. Well congrats then on becoming a DCC Blogga at last. What took you so long!

Excellent post though my friend. Totally agree with your sentiments and observations here, on top of which I really think you should forward this to Brian True-May and the head muppet at ITV, along with a copy of the following link:

http://www.bbcshop.com/comedy/fresh-prince-of-bel-air-the-season-1-dvd/invt/d068382/

If the BBC is still inherently regarded as the ethics and etiquette television media compass to pay regard and respect to on all things concerning ‘race and representational balance’ within the UK today – then why are they happy to promote and profit out of the sales of DVD’s for the all black cast franchise series ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ ?

The appearances of a ‘non black’ actor in the series were rare and very brief – and none of them bore character names. You’ll probably find that ITV has shown this series too, or may well be still doing so. Time you gave them a bit of slap. You might even end up getting yourself “On the Telly!”, dressed as a black jester.

No such thing as ‘bad publicity’ either. Jordan will end up a Baroness one day soon. You see. And she started off life as a black girl from Ethiopia by the way.

Steve said...

Phil: Jordan: As in Katie Price? Agree with you about the Fresh Prince - a good example of the other side of the coin and proves the point that if an all black cast is acceptable then the same should be said of an all white cast. Depends on the show and the context however. Thank God we've moved forwards from the days of the Blak & White Minstrel Show... but it seems we have still a way to go.

London City Mum said...

Gotta love a storm in a teacup.

Oops. Is that a racist comment? Will the mugs be offended?

LCM x

Steve said...

LCM: I think the mugs already are...

The Sagittarian said...

Sorry I'm late, feel like ym brain is operating on a different timetable to the rest of me these days.
Wow, 700 posts and worht every word and every visit! Well done.
I lost interest in Midsummer Murders once I realised that I was confusing it with Bergerac...and I didn't like that either. Ho hum.

Steve said...

Amanda: yes, Midsomer Murders is kind of like Bergerac only without the sea, the French and middle to lower class criminals. Other than that they are identical. Personally I blame John Nettles. They should have cast Lenny Henry instead.

Löst Jimmy said...

It the body count in the village I'm worried about.

Congratulations on the 700 posts - here's to the next 700!

Have a good weekend Steve

Sorry I've not been on here much rather under the cosh at work and home at present - normal service will resume soonest

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: totally understand - hope the cosh eases off soon, mate. In the meantime, hope you find some nuggets of R&R time to keep you going.

Being Me said...

Happy 700th! You don't look a day over 697, though, you old charmer.

Steve said...

Being Me: flattery will get you everywhere - at the very least an invite to my 800th blog post birthday party...!

Livi said...

Hear Hear! Nail on the head as usual, Sir!

Steve said...

Livi: pity I can't hang a straight picture!