Last Night's TV: IDentity Fraud: Outnumbered ,BBC1
The Human Spider: cutting edge, Channel 4
Friday 04 April 2008
The problem with identity fraud, well, the big problem, obviously, is other people using your name to spend vast amounts of money, leaving you to explain to your nearest and dearest that you have never subscribed to any of those internet porn sites, and, no, that doesn't imply that there are other internet porn sites you have subscribed to. But the other problem, speaking now from a televisual standpoint, is that there isn't a lot to see. People rifling through dustbins, or licking illegally obtained stamps to send out letters informing unsuspecting punters that they've won the Nigerian state lottery: this is not the stuff of Baftas, or even decent ratings.
So you can't blame the makers of Identity Fraud: Outnumbered, a sequel to 2006's ID Fraud: They Stole My Life, for trying to spice things up, with dramatic music ticking away underneath, and lots of rapid cutting in an attempt to add some pace to what was, essentially, footage of middle-aged policemen driving at very moderate speeds along quiet suburban roads. And to do them credit, they put up a pretty convincing case for keeping your mother's maiden name off Facebook and shredding pretty much any paper that passes through your house, up to and including missives from local restaurants offering you authentic Indian cuisine and free delivery on orders over £15. But one of the main lessons of this programme was that, in the end, you can't protect yourself completely. One woman here was stung for £8,000 when the people who had moved into her old house filched personal details from a letter that should have been forwarded to her new address; and a man whose passport had been stolen several years earlier suddenly found himself slung into a Slovenian jail, because crimes had been committed in his name in Germany.
What made this gripping, though, was the hint of family drama underlying several of the cases, sadly unexcavated. There was Simon Bunce, whose credit-card details were used to download child pornography from a site in the US. When Simon mentioned to his father that he was under suspicion, his father cut him off and told the rest of his family, who also cut him off. Fortunately, Mr Bunce was able to prove that the details were being used from an address in Jakarta, on a day when he was in south-west London. The voice-over announced that he is now reunited with his family, as though that solved everything. I wondered what was going on in that family that they were so ready to assume Simon was guilty. Then there was the case of Linda Cowan, whose sister Elaine used her name to buy a new house, even showing off photos to Linda, and landed her with £250,000 of debt. Linda was filmed prowling outside the house – "She doesn't deserve a house like this. She's not worked hard enough to achieve something like this. She doesn't fit in here... She wears leggings" – and then grinning broadly outside the court as she learnt that Elaine had been sent down for 15 months. Hard to know where one's sympathies lie on this one. Are leggings really such a crime?
There was a family drama going on in The Human Spider, too, which Mark Soldinger gamely tried to dissect, without much success. Every time he asked Alain Robert's wife or children if they were scared of him falling, they acted as if this was a supremely stupid and insensitive question. Possibly they had a point. Alain's life is devoted to "urban free- solo"' climbing, which is to say scaling tall buildings without any kind of rope, harness or other safety device. Among the buildings he has climbed are the Taipei 101 tower in Taiwan, the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur, and the Sears Tower in Chicago, three of the tallest buildings in the world. Most of his climbs are unauthorised and illegal, and law-enforcement agencies have been particularly unsympathetic to anybody carrying out stunts on high buildings since 9/11.
Soldinger's cameras followed him on several climbing expeditions, the most perilous being to Shanghai, dangerous partly because the Chinese authorities aren't known for their sense of humour, and partly because Alain had run out of the drug that controls his epilepsy, from which he has suffered ever since a particularly nasty fall in 1982. In his hotel room before the climb, he met up with a contact, Mr Lu, who it was hoped had been able to obtain the drug. "Do you have the prescription?" Alain asked. Mr Lu looked puzzled. Alain repeated the question. "I'm Mr Lu?" Mr Lu hazarded.
Unfortunately, what Alain does is both breathtaking and extremely dull to watch, and so the filming was oddly similar to ID Fraud: too much music, lots of editing to give an impression of rapid movements. Soldinger did try to delve into the roots of Alain's obsession, but he didn't get much further than the information that he had been scared of heights as a child, which didn't explain a lot. More salient is the fact that Alain is French, like all those parkour people, who leap about from building to building, and like Philippe Petit, the man who tightrope-walked between the World Trade Center towers. I'm not saying it's an explanation, but it's certainly food for thought.
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