Proper Gander: Do Have Nightmares

Crimewatch has been a depressingly regular fixture on BBC1 for over 30 years. Its format has hardly changed over the decades: reconstructions of violent offences, ‘most wanted’ mugshots, and grainy CCTV recordings of robberies and assaults, shown in the hope that viewers who know about them will phone in. Watching this can leave us with the uneasy feeling that masked attackers are stalking every street. Research in 2003 found that the programme increased the fear of crime in over half of its viewers, while a third said it left them feeling afraid. Even if it doesn’t turn us paranoid, Crimewatch reminds us that society can make people alienated and desperate enough to commit the most brutal acts.

The reconstructions are shot with tense music, moody lighting and blurry scenes in slow-motion. These directorial gimmicks are familiar from every single crime drama littering our screens, but feel tasteless when they’re used to depict real, horrific situations. Presumably, the producers of Crimewatch think that this approach is most likely to encourage people to call in. Conversely, the way the programme presents CCTV footage looks more like You’ve Been Framed. There is cheesy music and cheesier wordplay, such as the ‘hamburglars’ stealing from a fast food joint getting ‘£15,000 to go’.

The show also features old investigations reopened because of ‘failings’ or ‘significant mistakes in the police response’ at the time. Today’s police force is presented as much more efficient and precise, especially thanks to advances in DNA identification. The showis an advertisement for the police’s strength as much as it is an appeal for information. Crimewatch, like the police, only focuses on catching criminals. The state can do little else, as it can’t remove the causes of violence built in to the society it defends.

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