Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do Better

By Jay Stringer

Today I mostly want to point you in the direction of a great post from Chuck Wendig, which in turn was a response to this thought provoking piece. I don't have much to add to the conversation today, and sometimes it's best not to; anything I add will be repeating what's been said.

A few weeks ago Weddle questioned whether we think about these issues enough in the crime fiction community. I followed it the next day with my own thoughts, which basically boiled down to what Chuck also says; We need to try harder.

So here we are. The conversation is still there to be had and expanded on. It still feels that other genres and communities have these conversations far more than we do in crime fiction. Please take a few moments to read Chuck and Kameron's posts. Agree, disagree, debate, keep the conversation going.


To continue to riff on one particular aspect of the theme, and to build on something I've been blogging about quite a lot lately, I wanted to take a moment to comment on the BBC drama THE FALL. In my post last week I said;

 "I hate serial killers in fiction. But in using that phrase we really tend to mean a specific thing; we mean those magical walking plot devices who do crazy things for the sake of moving a story forward. They kill people in ways and for reasons that people tend not to kill people. And they often kill attractive young women, or housewives, or schoolgirls, or other forms of victim that help sell books and films to men."

But clearly I don't pay attention to what I write, because I've made it two episodes into THE FALL. I should firstly admit that I am only two episodes in. There is the risk in criticising a show part-way through it's run that you are criticising a book halfway through. In doing so, you run the risk of leaping to conclusions. It could be that the second half of the story shows that they are really attacking the tropes they use in the first half. Hell, I try to do that myself in my fiction, So I'll keep my criticism brief and will come back and own up if later episodes show me up.

The show so far has featured a moody male serial killer and and the (female) detective who is working to track him down. At the end of the second episode we are left with the clear notion that he is about to kill another helpless women who is silenced of voice and wide of eye. The camera lingered just enough that we can see the pure fear in the victims eyes. The camera looks down on the victim, but up at the killer. We are clearly shown our place, and the place of the victim.

The second episode then starts by contrasting the female detectives cold and controlling sexual encounter against the killer's toying with the dead body. We see him manipulate, wash, pose and decorate the corpse of the woman in loving detail. The only contribution of that women to the story is to be the subject of a fetish. Later we get a brief scene of someone discovering the corpse, before we then get longer scenes of the forensic examiner looking at the body. We get a more researched and detailed look at the process of examining a dead body than we do of how it feels to find one, or how someone who has never encountered death before can tell if someone is dead simply by touching them. We certainly don't get any time examining the thoughts, feelings or emotions of the victim.

Later on the killer is alone in a room with a fifteen year old girl. The girl steals something from the killer before dancing for him, teasing him, leaning in for a kiss, and then being attacked because of what she had stolen. The meaning here is also clear. She is the seducer, she is the thief. The fact that she is a fifteen year old girl alone in a room with a killer? Doesn't seem important.

Look, maybe I'm judging it too early, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe the show will brilliantly spring a trap on us in the next episode and show that the whole point was to use such tropes in order to then expose and attack them. But if that doesn't happen....what's the point? To quote Chuck again, "Do better."

I'll leave you with a transcription of comments made by Alan Moore. If this interview was published online I would link to it. If the recording was commercially available I would point you towards it. It's from an interview he did on BBC radio with Stewart Lee, and I hope he'd forgive me quoting it. When he was asked about why he wanted to write FROM HELL, and how he was frustrated by the film version, he said this;

"There have been innumerable films about Jack the Ripper. And I got a bit sick of the way Jack the Ripper- it's a kind of pornography. And I don't mean that in a good way. It was a pornography of violence. It was the standard set up where you've got the unrealistically attractive Whitechapel prostitute who's obviously got a great wardrobe manager, great skin care specialist, and she's walking home, she's perhaps singing some sort of song, and then she'll turn down an alleyway and you'll see this shadow follow her, the shadow of the top hat, the Gladstone bag. Her footsteps start to get faster and you see the fear in her eyes, and then it's a dead end, she turns round, she starts to scream and you see the raised knife and then it cuts to a policeman saying "oh my gawd." And that's a pornography. That's not exciting. That's just horrible. And when the film came out, inevitably they make it a whodunit. Inevitably the prostitutes are all implausibly attractive again. To a large degree I think that murder, which is a horrible human event, has kind of been turned into a middle class parlour game."

1 comment:

John McFetridge said...

".... murder, which is a horrible human event, has kind of been turned into a middle class parlour game." Well, yeah. Wasn't it about a hundred years ago that Chandler said he wanted to take it back from the parlour?

As far as women having always fought, yes, of course. Some women (and some men) have also always been trying to bring less fighting and more peace to the world but that's a lot harder and gets even less press.

There's a good line in Laurent Binet's novel HHhH (good novel, by the way) when he says that he'd always been told in WWII that the Czechs resisted and the Slovaks collaborated that, "Obviously, this does not presuppose anything about any individual person's behaviour."

And as much as we know this we are always looking for ways to fit people into groups.