Television Review

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The Independent Culture
"If you measure enough brains there is almost no difference in size between blacks and whites," said Professor Jones, at the beginning of In the Blood (BBC2). He was surveying a glass cabinet of brain-casts as he spoke, evidence of the 19th-century scientific obsession with finding illustrative racial specimens, types which would confirm an essentially racist taxonomy. This was, then, an example of good science coming forth to do battle with bad science. That "almost" was a touch niggling though - quite enough for bigotry to perch upon, given that bigotry needs no purchase at all. There was another a little later: "Everybody in the world is almost identical," said Jones, as a rebuke to the virulent fantasies of distinctiveness which animate most racial hatred.

But "almost" isn't enough for some people, and besides, as yesterday's news from Northern Ireland reminded you, hatred doesn't actually require a blood test before it goes to work - culture will do just as well in places where the colour chart fails. So both protestations seemed a little helpless in the face of irrationality, very far from any kind of conclusive rout by the light of science. Professor Jones, of course, is far too sensible to undertake any such utopian project - indeed, his humane and fascinating series has been distinguished by the modesty of its ambitions - simply to leave viewers a little better informed about genetics, a little less complacently trusting of their received opinions. Introducing this programme, Jones had offered a very mild battle-cry for continued investigation: "If you think knowledge is dangerous," he said, "try ignorance."

As a result, the programme that followed wasn't bent on correcting the errors of the past, but on pointing out how malleable and corruptible a substance science is when exposed to the volatile gas of human prejudice. Professor Jones cunningly followed up his general assertion of human identity with a rather specific demonstration. He highlighted the similarities between such apparent opposites as Charles Murray, who provides intellectual comfort to the far-right in America with his claims that blacks are genetically predisposed to be of lower intelligence, and Leonard Jeffries, a dashiki- clad professor of African Studies, who argues that white races are a mutant offspring of an ancient black civilisation, embittered by generations spent in a cold climate. For Jeffries, blacks are genetically predisposed to be the superior race, because they possess more melanin, a complex molecule, the properties of which aren't yet fully understood. The elevation of melanin to the status of a cultural secret ingredient, a molecular coding for warm-heartedness, spirituality and a sense of rhythm, so obviously smacks of political opportunism that you confidently dismissed it as nonsense. At which point Jones introduced Rick Kittles, a black scientist who seems to have established that black children develop slightly earlier than white children. Melanin also allows black people to cope with loud noises better, but may make them more susceptible to the effects of cocaine. This sounded like a bad joke, but was given a cautious imprimatur by Professor Jones, a reminder that these matters are hardly simple. Jeffries' fiction has factual foundations, however obscured they are by the elaborate folly that he has constructed upon them.

An Independent Man (ITV), the first episode of a new vehicle for the clubbable charms of George Cole, concluded with a shock Conservative victory in a solid Labour seat. Everything else in the drama was less plausible. Cole's character, Freddie Patterson, is Arthur Daley without the angles - he's upstanding, honest and his eyes fill with tears when a local businessman unveils a plan to make millions out of his beloved local football ground. He is also, though he stands as a Conservative councillor, so scrupulously disinfected of political conviction that he will venture no opinion that might alienate him from the affections of the viewers. He is incredible and, as a result, rather dull.