TV UK, 31 January

TV goes nuts for CCTV.

Dolan Cummings

Topics Politics

I caught the feature-length pilot for CSI: Crime Scene Investigation on Channel 5 last year. I had managed to ignore the series when it was on, despite snowballing acclaim, but it’s now back with a new series (Channel 5, Saturdays at 9pm).

CSI, as the title suggests, focuses on forensic science, and the pilot laid down the philosophical credo of the profession. People lie; the evidence doesn’t.

This is an interesting departure from the conventional detective drama, in which ‘forensics’ is a time-consuming and hope-sapping diversion from the meat and potatoes of interrogation. In NYPD Blue, and especially in Homicide: Life on the Street, the drill is to get your perp in the box and ‘go at him’ until you have not only a confession, but self-incrimination beyond reasonable doubt.

The well-turned-out detectives of CSI disdain this messy psychological approach, but the result is compelling nonetheless. The idea that we leave a trail of evidence of our every move is unnerving to say the least. The resulting standoff between the suspect protesting his innocence and the cop plugging away in the lab is wonderfully dramatic.

Speaking of irrefutable evidence, TV is going nuts for closed circuit television (CCTV) at the moment. And who could resist a programme called Real Bad Girls (ITV1, last Tuesday)? The title was a reality TV spin on the better-than-average ITV drama Bad Girls, about the inmates of a women’s prison. It could just as easily have been called When Teenage Girls Attack, an even more appealing title reminiscent of Buffy and Dark Angel. It probably won’t surprise anybody, though, that the programme itself was not up to much. It comprised CCTV footage of girls attacking men, some anecdotes about teenage girls’ involvement in murder, and a lot of fifth-rate sociology.

The really terrifying Michelle Eliott from the charity Kidscape was on hand to warn that girls are becoming increasingly violent, apparently because they think that’s what it means to be assertive. Why they should want to be ‘assertive’ without knowing what the word means was not made clear. Anyway, something has to be done!

One woman who had been attacked by Girls Gone Wrong on the London Underground complained that there is no CCTV on Tube trains, though there is on buses. Quite right: how are the TV chaps supposed to out together a damning indictment of a dangerous new social trend without original footage? Next week, the CCTV Jeremiahs turn their attention to attacks on public transport staff, making full use of those super bus cameras.

There is more fifth-rate sociology, and even more Mickey Mouse psychology in Have A Go Heroes (BBC1, Wednesdays at 9pm). The CCTV footage here is supplemented by staged incidents in which actors attack one another or roll around in the street until somebody intervenes. A charming lady psychiatrist provides an astonishingly banal commentary about how we all run cost-benefit analyses before deciding whether to have a go.

On the other hand, the programme’s basic premise is that you never know how you will react until something happens. There is memorable footage of a little old lady foiling an armed robber in the post office, and rescuing a rather feckless young man in the process. But the celebration of heroism is tempered by the usual warnings about the dangers of getting involved, and the opening episode ended with an unbelievably tasteless tribute to a man who was kicked to death by thugs after coming to the aid of somebody else.

Despite its sermonising undertones, Have A Go Heroes supplies little evidence that we are living in a ‘walk on by’ society. If anything, people are inclined to have a go in defiance of the conventional wisdom. And if their efforts happen to be captured for posterity, so much the better.

Dolan Cummings is publications editor at the Institute of Ideas, and editor of Culture Wars. He is also the editor of Reality TV: How Real Is Real?, Hodder Murray, 2002 (buy this book from Amazon (UK) or Amazon (USA)).

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Topics Politics


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