Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rich, sexy, elderly, rural people don't murder, sadly

British TV detective series Midsomer Murders got into controversy earlier this year when its producer said that it 'wouldn't work' if they included non-white actors and that it was the 'last bastion of Englishness'. Of course there was some annoyance about this, and allegations of racism.

It occurred to me, though, that Midsomer Murders could be unintentionally biased in quite a different manner, all because the show is about crime.

In the upper-middle class county of Midsomer, murderers and victims can be male or female, young or old, respected citizens or troubling outsiders (just not black or Asian). The means of killing are as bizarre as possible, so that by 2009 the murders included people battered with:
...a cricket bat, bludgeoned by a fire iron, clubbed to death with a saucepan, electrocuted by a faulty microphone, strangled with cord of a camera light meter, a candlestick, a doped horse, a pitchfork, a Celtic spear, liquid nicotine, a syringe, a billhook used by woodcutters, toxic fungus, a necktie, a slide projector, a switchblade razor, a drinks cabinet, a plough, a hammer, hemlock, vintage claret, bottles of relish, death by poisonous frog, a longbow arrow through the heart, a French guillotine, a prop theatrical knife, pinned to the wall by a family dagger, King Neptune’s trident, a hatpin through the ear, an Iron Maiden … and alien abduction.
Actually Midsomer's killings involve such a democratic bunch that they little resemble reality. Midsomer Murders has a host of female killers, elderly killers, even on occasion child killers. Its victims are equally democratic with all kinds of people suffering gruesome death.

The reality of violent crime in Britain is much less exotic. In 2007/08 men were twice as likely to be victims of crime as women, with the risk highest for men aged 16-24, declining slowly with age.

Midsomer consists largely of respectable upperclass English people plotting horrible crimes on one another from their beautiful country homes. In reality unemployed people are about three times more likely to suffer violence than employed, and people living in detached houses are half as likely to be victimised than those in flats. Perpetrators of violent crime were suspected of being under the influence of alcohol in nearly half of all attacks.

A viewer obsessively watching Midsomer Murders would come away as terrified by rich, old, cold-hearted women as by poor, impulsive teenage boys. But by 2008/09 homicide suspects were overwhelmingly (93%) male and the most common circumstance of homicide was 'Quarrel, revenge or loss of temper', followed by 'In furtherance of theft or gain'.

Finally, from 2004-09 the two regions with the highest homicide rates in England and Wales were London City (20.6 per 1 million inhabitants) and the Welsh county of Gwent (23.1/million). Midsomer is a fictional county, but much filming is done around the police area of Thames Valley (5.9/million).

Of course Midsomer's emphasis on smouldering tensions among the rich - horny housewives with murderous agendas, repressed husbands with filthy hidden fetishes - is understandable. The reality of crime is grim and pathetic: miserable, poor, drunken young men battering each other to death outside decrepit flats.

So sadly real murderers aren't middle-aged, kinky and repressed rich folk living in massive country mansions or quaint cottages in Oxfordshire. Next time you see a posh-looking middle-aged blonde, don't flinch! The hoodied teenager with a Stanley knife behind her is the more likely killer. Which is... a whole lot less interesting I guess?


  1. Not to mention a whole lot more depressing. Plus, if your crime series involves a former Coal miner's children sucked into a life of crime and killing a random guy for drug money, you have to go completely PC and state why they are doing what they are doing whereas a posh Murderers can be easily portrayed as Evil/greedy/jealous etc. without any problems.

  2. Ah good thought! In Midsomer the killers are just evil, which can be pleasing.

    I read one of Ruth Rendell's books, which did look more at the social aspect of crime. It was pretty great, actually, but a quite different kind of crime fiction. Midsomer Murders is more escapist.


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