the baggy trousered misanthropist

missives issued from the lair

Sebastian Bergman and Torkel Hoglund approach a house, intent on the capture of a smug, subtitle-reading git. Image via moviemail-online.co.uk.

The sense of intellectual superiority available in subtitled entertainment is a wonderful thing. In fact, it’s so good that waiting to see whether a subtle yet contemptuous forehead crease or attack as a form of defence response follows the question “which version of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ have you seen?” could arguably be broadened into an entertainment format of it’s own.

Seeing both doesn’t count. In order to be a proper intellectual, one eschews the remake as a needless exercise in pandering to the lowest common denominator. But, being a clever sort, you knew that.

Image via onpopcornandmovies.co.uk.

Stieg Larsson passed away before he was able to reap the benefits of introducing entertainment multitasking to the masses, but his legacy lives on in the Scandinavian crime dramas currently bewitching us from that haven of the highbrow, BBC4.

The Guardian’s Charlie Brooker recently pointed this out in his piece on TV executives’ obsession with crime drama over the last twenty-odd years. He noted that as viewers, we are subject to endless explorations of “the banality of evil” on UK TV, and questioned why, under the circumstances, we have embraced chilled exports like The Killing, The Bridge and Sebastian Bergman so readily.

Surely we should be sick of them by now?

Arguably an icy Scandinavian atmosphere is a perfect setting for a police procedural. It’s easier to be dispassionate in the aftermath of insane violence from beneath a furry hat, and the personal foibles of the detective (necessary to formulate a convincingly flawed protagonist: Crime Drama 101) are more understandable when set against a backdrop of perpetual cold and misery.

But this isn’t why. Brooker touched on the “zany snowblown languages that make the speaker sound vaguely as if their vocal cords can only emit vowels in reverse“, but he didn’t pursue the line of enquiry; a flaw in his investigation that under other circumstances, may have led to the suspect escaping unpunished.

The lure of the Scandinavian crime drama lies not in superior plotting, better acting or more heinous atrocities, but the translation of the script that runs across the bottom of the screen. An ability to read and keep up with dialogue while simultaneously watching events unfold is a skill that must be honed, and a willingness to commit to that differentiates an individual from the pack.

It’s actually quite healthy. As aficionados of crime drama will testify, many criminals are asserting some kind of dominance or superiority over others through the removal and subsequent distribution of their internal organs. When placed next to this next to this method, acting like a bit of a smart arse because you can do two things at once doesn’t seem quite as bad, does it?

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