Thursday, 9 May 2013

In the comfort of your home

Unwholesome things lurking in the living room redux. These didn't go away when they stopped colouring wallpaper green with arsenic-based compounds, or beaming Savile and Hall into our homes. There may now be even more creepy things invading our personal space than ever before (or there might be more fear of such things than ever before, which isn't necessarily same thing, except in the heads of Daily Mail readers).

There's a Dr Who episode from 2006 that captures the sense of the banal and domestic turning nasty. David Tennant's Doctor pops up in a 1950's Britain which has been infiltrated by a malignant entity called The Wire, that broadcasts itself into people's homes via the nine-inch screens of their shiny new black and white TVs. The best thing about this episode is the way The Wire manifests itself on screen as a sinister version of the frightfully well-spoken lady from Listen With Mother (Maureen Lipman as The Wire is a superb piece of casting):
Although it's got a period look and feel, this episode taps into a specifically modern sort of paranoia. There wasn't much to fear from a real 1950's telly (except, perhaps, as a vector for paternalistic propaganda), but the fear of an insidious presence in our domestic space is more real for 21st Century people, ever more intimately dependent on connected devices that could potentially be used to spy, steal, or mess with them in any number of disturbing ways.

I guess that, in the real 1950's Britain, a lot of the things that people most feared were "out there" - The Bomb, the Reds, war. Maybe the idea of an enemy within was an anomaly. As The Doctor says, 'Men in Black? Vanishing police cars? This is Churchill's England, not Stalin's Russia!'

Maybe that was how it was. Bad things did happen, but far away and out of sight, on the crumbling fringes of Empire - servicemen, half way around the planet, being irradiated in nuclear weapons tests, disappearances and atrocities in Britain's unreported Kenyan Gulag, but with the kiddies safe at home in the cosy company of Listen With Mother and Muffin The Mule.

Perhaps the outside world is no more hostile than it used to be, but the barrier between it and us has become unsettlingly permeable.