The Fall: The glamour of sexual violence, as only seen on TV

If only writers would think twice about sexually motivated murder

Share

It might have been an unfortunate coincidence that several high-profile cases of abduction and murder of women were in the news at the same time as a peak-hour BBC series glamorising the same things.

On the other hand, maybe not. At any one time, there is bound to be a grim story of abuse in the headlines, and it is equally certain that somewhere on television or cinema screens across the country, a glossy, mainstream sado-drama will be exciting its viewers.

Rarely, though, has the disconnect between reality and fantasy been more evident than in recent weeks. The discovery in America of three women who had been held captive, chained in a basement, and two murder trials in the UK where the victims have been young girls have been reminders, if any were needed, of the squalor and misery of sexual crime. Invariably, the guilty man emerges as a pathetic, unpleasant misfit, a small-timer, often with a background of addiction and casual violence. The fantasy, currently being supplied by the BBC’s slick drama series The Fall, could not be more different. Here the murder of women is a stylish business, as lovingly choreographed and as tastefully lit as any love scene. Abuse is presented, without any crudely explicit detail, as an intense sexual experience, at the excitingly taboo end of things.

The killer himself may be a misfit but, conforming to a cliché handed down from one generation of thriller-writers to the next, he is also sexy, and troubled in the interesting, charismatic way which has been obligatory since the success of the psycho-daddy of them all, Hannibal Lecter.

One episode of The Fall opened with a long, lingering sequence in which the killer’s games with a dead, semi-naked female body are intercut with a scene of the glamorous police detective having hot, one-night-stand sex. No one could accuse the programme-makers of subtlety.

It has become embarrassing,  the thriller genre’s dependence on plotlines built around the pursuit and murder of women. The fact that its writers and directors seem not to hesitate for a moment as they work on yet another remake of the old story has begun to seem odd.

In the 1970s, there was a publishing genre known in the trade as “women-in-jeopardy novels”. Over subsequent  decades, something really rather extraordinary has happened; those stories have become more respectable, not less.

There may now and then be a spasm of concern about the effects of pornography on easily warped minds, but the truth is that the influence of sleazy websites is as nothing beside many of the exploitative stories about the sexual persecution of women created by writers and directors who win awards, Baftas and Oscars.

It is not simply that the countless films, TV series and books serve to present the various psychotic sadists at the centre of the stories as fascinating, complex anti-heroes. The images that accompany the story – death porn on paperback covers and film posters, the  almost obligatory appearance of a dead, naked, female body (or  part of a body) on screen – have seeped into the culture.

Thriller excitement and sexual excitement have been cleverly conflated. As we watch, we are spooked, scared, but also titillated.

There may be occasional protests about excessive on-screen violence – Ryan Gosling’s new film Only God Forgives was roundly booed at the Cannes film festival last week – but the less openly explicit films and series, which allow and encourage our imaginations to fill in the disgusting details, are more popular and widespread than ever.

Censorship, which adds the allure of the forbidden, is clearly not the answer. Perhaps it is time for embarrassment, so effective when it comes to racial or gender stereotyping, to do its work.

It would be good to think that male and female thriller writers of seriousness might think twice before using yet another sexually motivated murder to propel their plots. It would be a welcome development if commissioning editors in TV, film and publishing became aware that, if they use cruelty to sex up a film, they might lose more viewers and readers than they gain.

It is time for the old women-in-jeopardy trope to go out of fashion.

Now radio joins the rush toward bland uniformity

The most cunning trick of the internet is that, with the help of some clever algorhythm-tracking piece of technology, it follows  our online behaviour and reflects  it back to us in the browsing choices it offers.

Dismayingly, radio may soon be playing the same game. A new invention called the Perceptive Radio, unveiled at the recent Thinking Digital Conference, is said to be able to respond to the kind of device listeners are using and to where they live. It will then adapt its output to include, for example, mentions of their local town, or the weather outside.

The aim, according to the team behind Perceptive Radio, is to provide “a more immersive experience” and, it almost goes without saying, to encourage diversity.

It sounds creepy to me. The very last thing I want from my radio is that it is customised to me and reflects my own world. True diversity lies in difference, not similarity.

twitter.com/TerenceBlacker

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Forget charging by the page - with books, heart matters more than heft

Katy Guest
George Osborne likes to think of himself as the greatest political mind of his generation  

Budget 2015: It takes a lot of hard work to be as lucky as George Osborne

John Rentoul
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test