Books, news, & views from Karen Traviss

What gets rewarded gets done.

Sometimes I think we could really use a Supernanny for the entertainment industry. With maybe a naughty step, too.


Something has finally dawned on me: Scandiwegian TV drama isn't inherently better than anyone else's. I was bamboozled by Wallender and the brilliant Forbrydelsen into thinking the northerly latitudes endowed TV execs with rare genius, but then I started to notice tiny cracks with Borgen, and now I've finally seen the feet of clay with Den Som Draeber.

But that's okay. Cop dramas are my fave form of entertainment, and in the couple of hours I have spare a week I try to catch up on the best ones, but I can live with the fact that not everything in life is the way I'd like it to be, because I'm old enough to vote. Several times. Note this fact, because I'll be coming back to it later in this post in another context.

Anyway, Den Som Draeber (Those Who Kill, abbreviated henceforth as DSD) is a Danish cop show that a lot of people like, but that that I've finally decided sucks. For me, anyway. I don't buy a lot of its premise, although - with my professional storyteller's hat on -- I think I can see what they're going for. I could be wrong, of course. Reading intent into anything a writer does when you're not the writer is stupid and best left to English lit teachers. What sank DSD for me is the fact that the central character, a female cop, is almost always personally caught up in the crime. She's kidnapped by a serial killer, nearly raped by prison inmates in a siege, and in the latest ep, she picks up yet another serial killer in a bar and... well, you can guess the rest. For me, cop shows that personally involve the cop in the crime have to make a thematic point of it (vice squad cop gets involved with tart, undercover cop gets in too deep etc) or else they've jumped the proverbial shark. It jars too much with reality for me. Frost didn't need to do it: the show ran for years on the simple basis that Insp. Frost had been a cop for a long, long time, and knew just about every scally, blagger, and nonce in the Denton area. Okay, the point of DSD may well be that having a troubled sexual past, the heroine indulges in risky behaviour that results in getting too close to perves, but as a viewer all I see is a silly, unprofessional cow who just isn't credible and makes me want to change channels. When you're rooting for the serial killer to win, you know the show hasn't engaged you.

But, as I said, that's okay. I'm a consumer, and so all I have to do is not consume the product again. I won't watch the show next time. I'll wait for Forbrydelsen 3. Years before, I was disappointed by the endings of Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica: but you don't always get what you want, which is something I learned to cope with at about the age of three or four. I felt B5 and BSG failed to live up to the expectation they'd created, although both shows had suffered from external buggeration factors that played some part in derailing them. But that was as far as it went. I chalked it up to experience, and didn't bother to watch Rangers because I'd gone off the boil with B5. I made a consumer choice. What I didn't do was have a massive online nerd tanty and demand that the producers remade the shows to my personal specifications, because, y'know, that's the kind of thing that makes you look like an utter tit.

Which brings me on to Mass Effect 3, and all I might have had to say has already been explored more eloquently by the stellar Bryan Lambert, and by eminently sensible Mike Krahulik, both nice, sane guys:

Ass Effect (Bryan Lambert)

PA (scroll down a bit.)


To be honest, I'm not sure that I would have explored the case -- I don't know if ME3 has a good ending (endings) or not and I don't have the time to find out for myself. I don't actually care if nerds are behaving badly, either, because that's what a lot of nerds do, and the internet contains the distillation of much that's best avoided in life.

I do care about the statistics, though, and I would still like to know how many protesters there are in comparison with the numbers of actual paying customers. There's a world of difference between a lot of internet noise generated by a few people with an empty diary and a genuinely widespread consumer backlash. Analysis needs to be done. Generally, lobbyists are a poor basis for political policy and a worse one for steering a business. You need to find out if you have a broader problem with your product (or policy) rather than just a vocal handful who aren't getting what they want, and that means doing proper research. No market research pro or political analyst treats internet storms as a reliable statistical sample.

But as any mother will tell you, when little Johnnie has an embarrassing tantrum in the supermarket and lies screaming in the middle of the breakfast cereal aisle hammering his heels and soiling his pants, the last thing you do is buy him the pile of sugar-coated artificial colourings that he's demanding. You walk away and leave him to scream himself out*. Because once you give in, you'll never be able to shop in peace again. Really. You won't. You've created an expectation that'll take a lot of hard work to undo. Ask Supernanny. Or even The Dog Whisperer.

What gets rewarded gets done, you see.

Sometimes entertainment stuff isn't very good, although there's no reliable definition of good and your mileage will always vary. It has a right to be not-very-good in the same way consumers have a right not to buy it. If enough people don't like it and don't buy it, then the market decides and the company makes a loss, and changes its behaviour or product as a result. I don't like DSD, but that's my personal opinion, and I've exercised my right to that by deciding to give the show a miss rather than subjecting the producers to a hate campaign. If other people love it, that's great, because other people enjoying stuff that does me no harm is a pretty healthy state of affairs. It's just a TV show. I'm an adult. Actual stuff is happening in the real world that's so much more deserving of my concern and anger that it's not even funny.

But here's the important bit. I don't want the producers to change DSD into a glittering rival to Forbrydelsen just because I've whined about it. It would worry me if they did. Giving in to lobbyists has a long history of variable results in the political world. (Yes, I know that stuff.) I hope that we won't evolve an entertainment industry that's so scared of noisy lobbies that we end up with tails wagging dogs. Creators should create, consumers should choose whether to consume or not, and time spent studying the reality of canine anatomy is never wasted.


(*Actually, there are other options. But I come from a different generation.)