Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Something rotten in the state of Denmark?

Afternoon everybody! I haven't just got up, I've been marking essays all day, having sent off my Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (otherwise known as a journal article comparing George Borrow's Wild Wales and O. M. Edwards's Cartrefi Cymru).

This particular pile of essays is on a range of concepts presented to first-year Media and Culture students. They're asked to define one concept and apply it. The quality has been… mixed. Some have looked the term up in a couple of first-year textbooks, quoted them, applied them to an example and done a decent job. Some have done the same thing, then thought about the problems related to the concept, and done and excellent job. A few have cut-and-pasted essays from the internet or Wikipedia entries and failed. And one has submitted 2000 words on how John Terry is a nice bloke and the newspapers should stop being so nasty about him. In short, a pretty normal range of submissions.

This is pretty much the extent of my cultural horizon at the moment. The high point of the week so far has been watching Borgen, the Danish drama (if that's not pushing it a little) set in the Prime Minister's office. Think The Thick of It without any jokes at all, or The Killing without any vulgar killing (or knitwear). But with subtitles. As you might imagine, I am utterly enthralled, although I may be the only person on the entire planet who watched this season's episodes so far and thought 'Hmmm… it's getting a bit too exciting'. It's true, too.

The point of Season 1 is that however high the stakes (and we can all agree that they're pretty high: this is the Danish Government we're talking about), the day to day grind of office relationships and work rivalries drives events. The photography is calm, the lighting low, the dialogue often Pinteresque. It's a show which makes a virtue of slowness. Interesting, the first episode of the show implies that Danish politics has been poisoned by British practices: Hesselboe has to go to London to find a spin doctor, but it's not long before even the 'good' guys (Brigitte's 'Moderate Party') has an amoral spin doctor of its own. In other ways, Danish politics as it's represented here is rather delightful: even the PM lives in a normal house and there's a calmness about public affairs that's certainly absent here.

The other notable aspect of the show is it's twin presentation of politics and the political media: it's often hard to tell who (if anyone) is in charge. The credits (around six minutes in) make the mediatisation of public affairs even more explicit, framing the major players on TV monitors in an editing suite as if to emphasise the dominance of representation over principle.

And yet Season 2 betrays signs that the makers are a little too aware of their cultural cachet. Suddenly characters are behaving oddly. There's too much excitement. A suicide here, a coup there, a drunken prime ministerial shag, a tabloid rent-boy honey-trap - it's getting a little soapy for my taste: as though they've been reading too many British political columnists. That said, there's still an awful lot to savour. My favourite moment was the deposed Labour leader's mournful, hangdog final words 'I'm the last worker in the Labour Party'. That line was crossed here years ago…

So come on: let's put the Bore back into Borgen! It's still the best thing on global TV since The Wire.

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