Thursday, 6 December 2012

Corruption, Conspiracy, Cover-Up... Really?

In any league table of institutional corruption you'll find the Scandinavian countries - and our own - languishing way down in the relegation zone. And yet, if you were to judge these nations by their TV dramas, you'd conclude that they are riddled with corruption from top to bottom. The Killing, Borgen and The Bridge all involve high-level cover-ups, conspiracies and dirty deeds, while every episode of Wallander exposes a seething nest of vipers at the heart of every apparently tranquil community (or indeed family). As for British TV, it seems to be impossible any longer to make a thriller that hasn't got an almighty conspiracy and/or cover-up at the centre of it. Secret State was the latest of many, with The Town now doing the same trick on a small-town scale, and The Hour applying it to period drama. All is conspiracy and cover-up, despite the evidence all around us that those in High Places can barely run a tap, let alone an all-embracing conspiracy.
Why do we entertain these fantasies? Is it precisely because we know they don't reflect reality, that we're secure enough to indulge thrilling projections of evil at the core of society? Or are we exercising our uncommonly well-developed ethical sensitivities, warning ourselves of what is possible when the worm of corruption does start boring away at a society? Is it just the strange fascination (to some) of conspiracy theories? Or, wait a minute, maybe all these conspiracy thrillers actually reflect reality - after all, if cover-ups are successful no one will know, will they? And who compiles these corruption league tables anyway? Whose pocket are they in? Think on...


  1. I couldn't bear to watch the latest Killing. As soon as I heard the dread words "States-minister" my heart sank.

  2. A fascinating point. Larsson's bad guys are not just greedy industrialists, which is suspicious enough, they have shadowy neo-Nazi connections as well. American airport thrillers are full of tales of secret cabals within Washington trying to undo Thomas Jefferson's work. Nobody seems to kill for love or to get a leg up on an inheritance anymore.

    Another common theme that reflects postmodern justice is that, while the valiant heros chasing down the evil ones may not earn much in the way of gold, glory or eternal life for their pains, they are treated to the most wonderfully fulfilling, guilt-free sex with no tiresome commitment hangovers. The baddies are either impotent, perverted or stuck with a wife who despises them.