Bill and I have been watching “Midsomer Murders” for over 22 seasons. It is a British show based on the nine books of Caroline Graham and has been on PBS, which now runs it on Thursday nights, plus sometimes on Masterpiece. My brother, Arch, and I got such a kick over this picturesque, pastoral setting in rural England that we bought the entire CD set. The show revolves around head police officer, Detective Chief Inspector John Barnaby and a sidekick, younger muscle man… muscle men really, Troy, Nelson, Jamie, Casey, Scott and Ben. The Detective Sergeants in England don’t last long. The series started in 1997 and John Nettles, who played John Barnaby, retired for real in 2011. He passed the lead to actor Neil Dudgeon, who plays his cousin, Tom Barnaby. Both men had wives, Joyce and Sarah, and girl children, Cully and Betty. New Barnaby also has a dog, Sikes, who sadly passed and was replaced by Paddy, currently trying to negotiate a new contract with more lines. Woof.
I have had the joyous opportunity to visit the British Empire twice. We took a bus tour the first time. Good thing. They drive on the wrong side of the streets and the roundabouts can make you dizzy. Peter was the name of our driver, and it was an adventure to see him put a huge bus down single road lanes that Shakespeare once walked. They had signs for pedestrians that said in large letters, “LOOK RIGHT SILLY Americans!” I almost got hit in spite of that. Thank God, only once.
All this opening is a pitch for an interesting question that I was having with several friends of mine on how television has shaped our view of the world.
With computers, phones and free television, we get a rough and tumble view of the entire world. We see it streaming live and in living, or killing, color. So, does fiction impact or taint your feelings about a particular country? British traditions, culture and folklore are not hidden away; the festivals and fetes of each village are now known to all. The lovely rose-covered cottages on cobblestone streets hide the weird games of murder on Midsomer. They show the English people—for all their primness and propriety—as just as evil as a Disney villain. Most of the show’s writers focus on the idea that the common person in England hates anyone with a title, money or a large house. I did not find that to be true in my visits. Jealously is a universal theme of the show, and so is adultery, stealing funds to gamble and a lot of drunkenness.
I seem to recall we have all that in American form on “Law and Order.” The writers there want us to believe that all Lords and Ladies are broke and use all those around them to keep their small kingdoms open. The upper class does play cricket. I have tried to learn cricket, where everyone wears white and the bats are flat. The cricket thing is just confusing. While entertaining, the Midsomer mysteries do not flatter the British. But the paradigm works; we watch. If you thirst for “real” England, you might be better off reading “People” magazine to see what Meghan and Harry are doing, and then decide.
I went to Arch’s house yesterday to see what he thought about my idea, “Does television shape our view of different countries?” How about us? What would highlight being an American with a fair balance? After considerable consideration he said, “Gilligan’s Island.”
“WHAT?” was my reply.
Yes, Thurston Howell the III and his wife, Lovey were the capitalists. The Skipper and Gilligan were the workers. The Professor was the intellectual representing our educational efforts. Ginger was all Hollywood, glamor without a clue. And that leaves the regular people—and everyone loves Mary Ann, the girl next door. In tough times they pulled together and in a crisis like a tornado or storm, they worked as one. I sat there and tried to come up with a better example. The Brady Bunch maybe?
OK, I was a teacher, so here is your homework assignment to be done by the holiday dinner. Give ways television shows shape your opinions. Fiction only and you must give five examples. I will do it also. Prepare to defend your choices. “I hated that show” is not a defense. Incompetent, irrelevant, and Immaterial only works on “Perry Mason” and I have “dibs” on his stuff. I will know if you do the work. I am Santa’s second cousin whose mother-in-law was my grandmother’s aunt through marriage. I will know!
After watching “Midsomer Murders” I would never walk through a cemetery at night in Scotland or England. Maybe I would in Sherwood Forest. They had a tiki god display at a Conoco station and a sign, “Robin Hood stole from this 7-11.” Did I make that up? Wouldn’t you like to know. Roaring Mouse, out.