'The Bill': a complex study in moral duality

'If you want to understand human motivation, you're better off watching television'

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Abut a year ago I thought of the phrase "dumbing up", which I quickly jotted down in my notebook, thinking that it was a good line and one that I could use it in my column at some point in the future. Alas, I never got round to it, and I noticed on Saturday that there is now an album out by some band that is entitled
Dumbing Up. But it is such a good line, that at some point I still intend to use the phrase "dumbing up".

Abut a year ago I thought of the phrase "dumbing up", which I quickly jotted down in my notebook, thinking that it was a good line and one that I could use it in my column at some point in the future. Alas, I never got round to it, and I noticed on Saturday that there is now an album out by some band that is entitled Dumbing Up. But it is such a good line, that at some point I still intend to use the phrase "dumbing up".

Please try and forget that I have mentioned this. You see, I cannot afford to waste a good line - as it is, I worry constantly that the days I spend on the column should really be spent on stuff that will last, rather than this ephemeral wittering. I should be writing my short stories, my novel, maybe doing some acting and catching up on the course I am doing at night school to become a police dog handler.

While I'm going through the "missed opportunities" file, I have just realised that I've also got a good story about Radovan Karadzic that I have never got round to using. Oh well, I might as well stick that in the column too.

Do you remember Radovan Karadzic? He was back in the papers last week because the Americans seem to want to get their hands on him. The bouffant-haired monster was head of the Serbs in Bosnia while the terrible slaughter in that state was going on, although you don't hear much about him now. I think he's a war criminal and, if the prosecution of war criminals from the Second World War is anything to go by, they should get round to prosecuting him when he is 95.

The thing was, though, that this man, who has been responsible for barbarism on a truly breathtaking scale, was also a fully qualified psychiatrist! Now I have a friend who is also a psychiatrist, and she told me that she had attended a psychiatric association conference at which the sole topic discussed over the course of an entire weekend was whether or not they should expel this monster, this genocidal murderer, from their organisation, of which he was still a member in good standing. And what's more, in the end they decided not to! The argument that his private life should not be seen to reflect on his professional standing was the one that carried the day.

Think about that when you go for your next session with your therapist, why don't you.

If you want to understand human motivation, you are much better off watching television. I think critics complain too much about the supposed dumbing down of the media, and especially about the pernicious effect of having so many more channels. There is still good work around, and the pleasure can be enhanced by watching reruns.

For example, I am a big fan of the TV police series The Bill (as was the late Sir Kingsley Amis), though I have to say that it has gone through a bit of a strange phase recently, with the producers trying to give the series more oomph by having previously stolid (and therefore believable) coppers suddenly sprouting secret love children, falling in love with each other, having friends outside the police force, acquiring drink problems and so on.

If you have cable TV, as I do, it is usually possible to watch two hours of The Bill a day. In the morning there are two half-hour shows, made three or four years ago, shown back-to-back on UK Gold, and then, in the evening, there is often an hour of new output on ITV. (Oh how I wish I liked any of the Star Trek spins-offs, because they are literally always showing somewhere on TV.)

Here's a weird thing, though. When new characters join the regular cast of The Bill - such as Afro-haired DC Danny Glaze, or PC Del "Smiffy" Smith - and I then watch the old shows, I notice that these same actors have almost always appeared first, a few years before, playing the part of criminals. Now perhaps you might say that the casting people on The Bill are simply liable to recruit regular cast members from among those whom they have already worked with, but I am inclined to think that there is something more profound going on. I think that the makers of The Bill are saying that there is a moral duality at the heart of our police forces, that, in essence, the police are tainted by the criminality that they exist among, and are no different to those transgressors they supposedly fight against.

Seen on one level, the show is a simple cop show, but on another level, if you are prepared to put in the work, and if you have cable TV, there is a complex moral point being made that would be worthy of Jean-Paul Sartre. This is a process I call "Dumbing Up."

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