Midsomer Murders and ethnicity


As I have mentioned before, I am partial to watching British police procedural shows on TV. They tend to eschew graphic violence and chases in favor of more genteel story telling. One of the most venerable of these shows is the series Midsomer Murders that has just released its 21st season. Over time, the series has developed a slightly campy, tongue-in-cheek feel because of the sheer implausibility of so many murders taking place in quaint little villages and rustic settings in one small English county. With each season, the way that the murders occur have become steadily more outlandish so that I now often laugh out loud when people have been killed in bizarre ways and their bodies are found in the most incongruous places. (In one episode a few seasons ago, the victim was a cricketer killed by the mechanical bowling machine used for practice that had been adjusted by the killer to rapidly fire high speed balls at his head.)

But what I want to note is how the people in the series have changed since it began in 1998. It was observed in 2011 that there was almost a total absence of people of color in the shows. When the show’s producer Brian True-May was asked about it, he replied that he did it deliberately because he wanted to show the villages as the ‘bastion of Englishness’ and that that was a major part of the show’s appeal. When asked if he meant the show should exclude ethnic minorities, he replied, “Well, it should do, and maybe I’m not politically correct.” Needless to say, this did not go down well and he was suspended, then apologized, then re-instated, but later left the show for good.

Starting in 2012, actors of color started showing up on the show and as time went on the numbers increased markedly. In fact, I noticed that in the latest season just ended some shows had almost every couple be of mixed ethnicity. It does not seem to have affected the series’s popularity as far as I can tell.

I think that most people who watch TV shows and films (apart from the stone-cold bigots) do not really care if they are seeing mixed-ethnicity or same-sex couples or anything else outside the spectrum of what used to be shown a couple of decades or more ago. If you have good writing, good acting, and good production values, all these other things simply do not matter.

Comments

  1. sonofrojblake says

    Sure, why not? Let’s have some Native Americans on the parish council, and make the Rotary Club chairman an Australian Aborigine. Any connection the show has to reality is entirely pointless given the outlandish plots, after all, so as long as the writing is good, accurately reflecting the real, factually verifiable ethnic makeup of England outside towns and cities is just bigoted. Possibly.
    This kind of thing happens because the people making the shows exclusively live, work and socialise in ethnically diverse cities. They often seem to struggle with the concept that there are areas the size of whole counties in England where a lot of residents pretty much only see brown people on TV. I worry that the disconnect between the metropolitan “opinion makers” and the people with the opinions -- voters -- its hat has given us the disaster of brexit and five more years of Tory government.

  2. says

    sonofrojblake @#1

    This kind of thing happens because the people making the shows exclusively live, work and socialise in ethnically diverse cities. They often seem to struggle with the concept that there are areas the size of whole counties in England where a lot of residents pretty much only see brown people on TV.

    Assuming that there actually exist Britons who see people of color only in TV, it follows that there should be as many non-white, non-cis, and non-straight movie heroes as possible. This way bigoted assholes might for the first time in their lives get exposes to the idea that the overwhelming majority of humans on this planet are not white, straight, cis people. After realizing this fact and seeing non-white actors in positive roles on TV screens, they might finally figure out that segregating people according to their race is a stupid idea.

    And, yes, I am perfectly happy with Native American and Australian Aborigine actors in British movies. I have no doubt that it would be possible to invent some plausible excuse why one of them could be living in the UK. After all, humans can easily travel nowadays. Maybe some British person went to the Australia for university studies, married an Aborigine there, and now the couple lives in Britain? I can easily cook up some excuse, people who write scripts for movies could no doubt do it as well.

  3. Holms says

    Assuming that there actually exist Britons who see people of color only in TV, it follows that there should be as many non-white, non-cis, and non-straight movie heroes as possible. This way bigoted assholes might…

    In which white people in rural English villages are “bigoted assholes”. Precisely the sneering contempt sonof was talking about.

  4. says

    Maybe some British person went to the Australia for university studies, married an Aborigine there, and now the couple lives in Britain?

    Professors at British universities do field research all over the world. All you have to do is go to a local university and handle some of your professor’s communication with a fellow researcher somewhere else in the world. At the other end can be another student handling their professor’s communication. You get to know each other a bit, don’t even fall in love or anything, just get to know each other a bit and talk about each other’s universities. One finds out something about the other’s school’s programs that they wouldn’t otherwise and decide to do a year there. The host, whoever that is, naturally performs the part of a welcoming committee. The student gets a good impression of the other’s country and as a result of all this, the one not from the UK moves to the UK -- no fucking or marriage required. Just the kind of normal, international communication that happens all the time. Swap in bank for uni or whatever and you can get a similar connection in lots of different ways.

    And, heck, in a show like this that has gotten increasingly surreal, just have one local be secretly yet habitually using one of those programs where you can masturbate while video chatting with someone else also masturbating. Make them from different generations and terribly unlikely to have otherwise made a connection (no hobbies in common -- at least, other than the masturbation hobby that no one’s aware of). They don’t actually want to be lovers and/or married, but they do share this connection and the one from the small town didn’t want to leave, but the other decided to settle down near their masturbation friend.

    I’m not saying you have to use any of these, I’m just saying that in a world of such interconnectedness, the possible reasons for an outsider to show up in a fictional town are endless.

    ==============
    @sonofrojblake:

    what even draws you to a blog network like this? Do you have any values in common with the people who write or regularly comment here?

  5. lanir says

    How did we get into an argument where we’re comparing the degree of realism between the idea that bigots can be found in areas that are unlikely to challenge their bigotry and whether ethnic representation must be the one area where an otherwise absurdly unrealistic show must buckle down and hew closely to reality?

    Also having grown up in a small town in the US, I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that there are many places in Britain where there are literally no ethnic minorities.

    Not sure how the Brexit vote breakdown looked but over here the popular narrative on our 2016 election was that so-called flyover country was tired of being ignored and decided to tell the rest of the country to take them seriously. By electing Donald Trump.

    I do take them seriously now. I think they’re seriously disconnected from reality. You may feel I’m being dismissive but I’m not. When your neighbor is an extremist whackaloon (because he can be out in the middle of nowhere, fewer people to disagree especially if the object of his obsession is distant and doesn’t affect the neighbors). If your extremist neighbor talks to you fairly often and he’s just going on about some categories of people you barely interact with outside of buying something at a store, you don’t have much keeping you grounded on this topic. If on the other hand your favorite TV show has characters you like that would be part of this group, you aren’t so likely to fall for this trap.

    People in conservative pockets like the ones described are, in my experience, seem to consider themselves rather grounded and they place a high value on that. But it can make this harder for them to give up on old ideas. Disagreeing with them or even proving them wrong doesn’t necessarily do it. Slowly exposing them to information their environment doesn’t provide them with in a format they’ll enjoy (in this case “ethnic people are still people who love, hope, and fear just like everyone you know”) does work. It’s not exactly doing them a disfavor either.

    By contrast, it’s disingenuous to assume that “bigoted assholes” automatically refers to every person living out in the country. I don’t think we need to argue about whether they exist there because bigoted assholes can be found everywhere. But talking about bigots living in rural areas doesn’t automatically refer to everyone there. Making that leap is both dishonest and shows the same sort of dismissive attitude you’re accusing others of having.

  6. Roj Blake says

    A few of the comments above are exhibiting the same stupid lack of intellect that arose when a woman was cast as Dr Who, and at the merest suggestion that there may be a black James Bond. We are talking about fiction, so it can be anything required.

    But I see sonofrojblake’s viewpoint quite clearly. There is too much of a rush to be inclusive of everything that we sometimes lose sight of the goal, which is to entertain. I am perfectly happy with a gay actor playing a straight role, and a straight actor playing a trans role, but some people seem to think that only a trans person should be able to portray a fictional trans character. The whole art of an actor is to convince us that they are someone they are not.

    And, more specifically, when you are dealing with small, rural communities, then there can be a distinct lack of ethnic diversity. I once lived in a rural town, around 750 people in total. I was deeply involved in the community, helping create and run many events. On Christmas Eve we would get over 500 people to our Carols night. I know, because I cooked all the sausages they ate. 🙂 And, I can tell you that if a movie was made of the town that included any Indian, Pakistani, Iranian, or Sudanese people it would be inaccurate. We were almost 100% white, with a handful of Maori and one Asian family. How do I know? Because I asked Binh if there were other Asians in the village, and he said no, it was culturally isolated for him, but he felt welcomed and a part of our community.

    If the creators of Midsommer Murders want to increase the ethnic diversity in their casting, I see no problem with that. Likewise had it remained all white.

    I recently watched “Dora and the Lost City of Gold” and was surprised to see an Aboriginal in a major role, but ethnic diversity is what Dora stories are about. But there was a distinct lack of gay, trans, or Trumpholes in the movie.

  7. Holms says

    By contrast, it’s disingenuous to assume that “bigoted assholes” automatically refers to every person living out in the country.

    But that was not the basis of my criticism of that comment. Imagine that it was read by someone from one of the areas referenced by sonof -- a rural area where people “pretty much only see brown people on tv”. What takeaway is that person going to arrive at? Probably that rural dwellers are broadly bigoted arseholes.

    Sonof’s comment was about messaging, and I critiqued Andreas’ comment in that sense. Though I’ll grant that I gave no elaboration of my point, making it less than clear.

  8. Roj Blake says

    @sonofrojblake:

    what even draws you to a blog network like this? Do you have any values in common with the people who write or regularly comment here?

    Maybe because it’s a “blog network”, so we can avoid the trans echo chambers and just read the blogs that interest us, which for me is Mano and stderr. Other than those two, this place has turned in to “shithole” since Ed Brayton departed.

  9. sonofrojblake says

    there should be as many non-white, non-cis, and non-straight movie heroes as possible

    On that, we agree. I don’t agree that it follows from your premise (which tacitly assumes I’m lying about the publicly-available demographic facts of my home country), but it’s a sensible general principle in and of itself.

    I have no doubt that it would be possible to invent some plausible excuse why [a Native American] could be living in the UK

    For a given value of “plausible”. Example: the very excellent TV show “Spaced” had an episode in which part of the plot pastiched “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. They needed a Native American who was already living and working in the UK at the time to play the “Chief” Bromden part. So they hired him. By chance, he happened to be Will Sampson’s son, and literally the single one Native American actor in the entire UK. So, y’know -- “plausible”.

    humans can easily travel nowadays

    Indeed. And yet literally none of the many, many brown ones end up living in or even visiting somewhere like, say, Easington County Durham, where the movie “Billy Elliot” was set. I don’t speculate why, but I don’t deny it either.

    ——-

    what even draws you to a blog network like this? Do you have any values in common with the people who write or regularly comment here?

    Any” values? I have most of my values in common with most of the people who regularly write and comment here. I voted Labour in the most recent election, I voted Remain in the EU referendum. I’d describe myself as a feminist. I abhor TERFs.

    That said: I have little patience for some of the left, particularly Jeremy Corbyn and his ilk. I commonly paraphrase Flavia Dzodan thus: my progressive politics will be in power, or it will be bullshit. I have no time for leftists -- like the “leadership” of the current Labour party -- who would rather be “correct” than win an election, and who abhor Tony Blair, winner of three consecutive elections and, architect of the minimum wage, the Good Friday agreement, Bank of England independence, devolved government in Wales, NI and Scotland and civil partnerships for same-sex couples (and the UK involvement in Bush’s Iraq war, unfortunately). They dismiss rural England as dull-witted bigots (sound familiar?), and until recently I hated them for it.

    THAT said: rural England voted Tory in droves. My attitude now is: fuck em. I’m on the point of entirely giving up on politics if the working class are prepared to complain about the effects of austerity and then vote for the people who imposed it. I don’t know if they’re bigots, but “dull witted” certainly fits. I’m going to stop ranting about that now.

    having grown up in a small town in the US, I’m a bit skeptical of the idea that there are many places in Britain where there are literally no ethnic minorities

    If only you were sitting in front of a machine that would allow you, in your foreign ignorance, to look up the stats that would back up my literal lived experience.

    @Roj Blake (to whom, to be clear, I have no personal connection): you mention Doctor Who. I was one of those who actively wanted and was actively looking forward to a female Who. There was so much potential for that show with the cast they picked. It was such a shame the way it turned out. I got the strong impression the producers were trolling fans on the left AND the right -- the ones on the right with the “politically correct” casting (which was actually perfectly accurate and sensible for the Sheffield setting) and the ones on the left with characters like the Trump-a-like and storylines like the Doctor encountering an uprising of exploited workers at space-Amazon and taking Amazon’s side.

    That’s where my progressive politics diverges from some of those here.

  10. deepak shetty says

    @sonofrojblake

    Any connection the show has to reality is entirely pointless given the outlandish plots,

    I dont get what you are trying to say. On one hand you seem to be arguing that the show should reflect the demographic reality of a small English village while on the other hand you seem to agree that the plot is outlandish and has no bearing on reality so Im not sure why demographic reality matters.
    You also seem to think that the people of an almost white English rural community have no idea of the composition of their country , their athletic teams or their premier league stars and would, I dont know drop their monocles and loosen their upper lip, when faced with a show that has people of color or something ?
    Easington County Durham has 3-4% non English people :).

    Separately I see you glibly dismiss the core problem of pragmatism vs Idealism in your parenthetical

    (and the UK involvement in Bush’s Iraq war, unfortunately)

    At some point the people you pragmatically vote for become the same things that you are fighting against -- atleast on some critical issue .
    Lets say Tony Blair is back -- how many Tory policies would he have to adopt before you say enough? Surely even you have a line that can the crossed. if not then what are you really fighting for ?

  11. sonofrojblake says

    you seem to agree that the plot is outlandish and has no bearing on reality so Im not sure why demographic reality matters

    I do. What I’m getting at is that if the plots are going to be that outlandish, and you’re going to stretch credibility in casting too, why not just go the whole hog and make the villain an actual vampire? Or an orc? Or a sentient gas cloud, an entity composed entirely of dark matter, the anthropomorphic personification of a philosophical concept, or a Leave voter with a sensible argument? If you’re going to go off-piste, why not completely? Where does it end?

    Which neatly leads into:

    Lets say Tony Blair is back — how many Tory policies would he have to adopt before you say enough?

    That really is an excellent question. I opposed the UK involvement in Iraq, but held my nose and voted Labour again because of all the aforementioned other stuff -- that and the recognition that we really were placed in an impossible position by the imperialist aggression of the USA and our so-called (very one-sided) “special relationship”. And the fact that really, there aren’t any realistic alternatives -- see previous point re: in power vs. bullshit. No point voting Green, not where I live (I’d vote Green if I lived in Brighton).

    And there’s the rub -- Blair or some putative Blairite successor would, for me, only have to be better than the Tories to get my vote. And that, right now, is a really, REALLY low bar. Unfortunately, I one of a dwindling number of people prepared to vote Labour at all. Corbyn and his north-London Marxist friends have done what might be irreparable damage to the Labour movement in this country. Mining towns went Tory in 2019. I never thought I’d live to see that. People whose entire communities were hollowed out and destroyed by successive Tory governments in the 80s, 90s and 2010s looked at Corbyn’s Labour and said “more Tories please”. I’m incoherent with rage at this turn of events (see above “fuck em” sentiments -- that’s not coming from a place of reasoned thought, the open wound of the election result is too fresh). Technology and globalisation have all but eliminated organised labour in this country, and the Labour party needs to take a long hot bath with itself to try and find out what exactly it’s trying to represent going forward, because it has failed, failed, failed in opposition to literally the worst government since the thirties. How you could lose to that boggles my mind. It’s like they’re trying to lose (much like Clinton seemed to be doing in 2016).

    But you asked for a line -- I’d have to say the NHS. The creeping privatisation is killing it slowly and quietly. My wife works for the NHS, and could tell you stories that don’t make the papers. A Blairite Labour PM could, as far as I’m concerned, go to war in Syria, have a sideline as a merchant banker, bang the Home Secretary on Westminster Bridge, and I’d still vote for them if they raised the minimum wage, compensated women stiffed by the pension changes and eliminated university tuition fees and cancelled student debt. But if they didn’t reverse the damage done to the NHS, I’d vote Green, wherever I lived. That’s my line.

  12. deepak shetty says

    @sonofrojblake

    why not completely? Where does it end?

    Doesn’t matter to me. I can watch anything (years of Bollywood does that to one). Its people like the director and you that seem to draw lines on whats allowed to be changed and whats not. Usually the whats not allowed to be changed that draws the most heat is skin color and gender . Its amusing to me that you think a diverse character in a quintessential British village is closer in probability to a vampire than a mysterious murder.

    I’d have to say the NHS.

    So you’d rather vote for someone who’d lose and keep the NHS as it is over someone who might share some progressive values but who might destroy the NHS ? if so how are you different than anyone else you are complaining about?

  13. sonofrojblake says

    So you’d rather vote for someone who’d lose and keep the NHS…

    See, it’s exactly that kind of bullshit disingenuousness that I’ve come to expect from commenters on FtB. Given multiple possible interpretations of a statement, invent the absolute worst, most stupid one, and attack that.

    For starters, it is obvious even the most dull-witted (although possibly not Americans) that no party comes to power in the UK promising/threatening to destroy the NHS. It has come to symbolise what it is to be British (see the Olympic opening ceremony in 2012 for evidence). That it depends for its continued operation on a steady supply of immigrants to staff it is an irony I appreciate given the xenophobia apparent in my countrymen at the moment.

    How about this as a possibility of what I meant? I’d vote Labour, and vote Labour, and vote Labour, BUT, if after voting for them they for some reason didn’t reverse the damage the previous Tories have done to the NHS (as the Labour government did between ’97 and ’10), then my next vote would go to some other progressive party. I feel comfortable doing that because I know that in most of the places I’ve ever lived, given our electoral system, my individual vote makes not practical difference in any case. I’d probably revise my policy if I lived in a marginal seat (as I did for six years in the early 00s, and was therefore happily partly responsible for the Labour victory around that time).

  14. deepak shetty says

    @sonofrojblake
    maybe I wasnt clear. You said

    my progressive politics will be in power, or it will be bullshit. I have no time for leftists — like the “leadership” of the current Labour party — who would rather be “correct” than win an election

    In the US equivalent , you’d be the one asking people to vote Biden instead of Sanders (assuming that lets say polls show Biden doing better than Sanders in a matchup against Trump) -- not because you disagree with Sanders but because Biden is more “electable”. If Sanders was the nominee you’d want to him to tone down his positions to win. Correct ?(I cant give a British example because I havent followed their politics for awhile now)
    Why win if all you want to do is maintain close to the status quo with some minor improvements ? besides almost all of us are willing to compromise upto a point -- That point may be different for you(NHS) but it doesnt make you much different from everyone else.

    Given multiple possible interpretations of a statement, invent the absolute worst, most stupid one, and attack that.

    I wasnt aware that this was the worst possible interpretation , it was a simplified hypothetical in a blog comment.

    that I’ve come to expect from commenters on FtB

    I’d bet that you a more frequent commenter on FTB than I am.

  15. sonofrojblake says

    “you’d be the one asking people to vote Biden instead of Sanders (assuming that lets say polls show Biden doing better than Sanders in a matchup against Trump)”

    Show me that poll, or come up with a better example. I’d vote Sanders.

    “Why win if all you want to do is maintain close to the status quo with some minor improvements ?”

    Because making things better is better than making them worse? Is that concept really so far out there that you can’t get there without a hint?

  16. Hans Tholstrup says

    I recall the fuss about True-May’s comment at the time. I also enjoy Midsomer Murders. Athough I do from time to time think that a particular character seems to be the episode’s ‘token person of color’, in geographies where there are in fact very few p..oc, I believe the producers have actually done a good job of moving with the times.
    The secret of their success? They always focus on the STORY, making it engaging and entertaining well, for those of us who enjoy village murder mysteries!). You don’t usually feel they have only put in an actor to meet some diversity quota, or to score some political point. When movies attempt that, they only manage to spoil the movie -- the last three Star War movies, from Rey on, being a major example.

  17. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    Son asks when we should stop.

    The answer: Making an orc the villain makes it no longer a police procedural. Making your officer black does not do this. Orcs don’t exist. Black people in rural areas in the UK and US do.

    Any more bad faith slippery slope arguments?

    There’s also the reality that there no Orcish-Britons fighting against Tolkien slandering their species but real actors need more visibility and real people need more visibility, and the reality that the alternative is that we stop telling stories about rural areas entirely, but one step at a time.

  18. sonofrojblake says

    “Making an orc the villain makes it no longer a police procedural”

    Oh dear, you’re really not very good at this, are you?
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bright_(film)

    “Black people in rural areas in the UK […] do [exist]”

    Stamping your tiny foot and saying “it’s twue” doesn’t make it true .
    The town where I grew up has, power the 2011 census, a population well over 80,000. Fewer than 100 are black. And that’s a TOWN, not a sleepy rural village. They *exist *, yes, in the same way Jews exist -- as a minority so vanishingly small (outside a certain few parts of a few of the biggest cities) that they’re comfortably outnumbered by Jedi. Denying this verifiable fact (and, as I say, the lived experience of millions of Brits) just comes across as arrogantly, wilfully ignorant.

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