Going Mental

The first episode of the number one show in America. I said I'd review it, so how was it?

The villain was obvious, the characterisation stereotypical, the love interest that's to come in later episodes was telegraphed, the conflict between characters predictable, the hero smarmy, the settings unbelievable and the resolution hackneyed.

So it was pretty much as expected.

In the opening scenes, a married couple were grieving at the murder of their daughter, but the wife refused to hold the husband's hand. From this our hero deduced (a) that the wife suspected the husband of being the murderer and (b) that she was right because "a wife always knows when her husband's lying to her".

This is bollocks. Husbands successfully lie to their wives all the time, and you might not want to hold your partner's hand at a staged press conference because you're angry and distraught because, oh I don't know, maybe your child's just been murdered.

Bullshit cod psychology, dressed up as almost superhuman perceptiveness. Later our hero deduced that a man had been gay from a brief look at his corpse, and knew his soon-to-be romantic interest's father was a football coach because...everything in her demeanour made it obvious, apparently.

There is however one interesting thing about the show as a cultural barometer. I said earlier that the days of unthinking acceptance of Sylvia Browne and Uri Geller were over - but I think it's more complex than that.

Here in the UK we have a mentalist magician called Derren Brown. He's actually a damn good mentalist, but there's a problem. He could have a good career using just his own skills, but instead he uses stooges and camera tricks to mimic having skills that aren't just the product of astonishingly good training - they're actually impossible.

Things like memorising the positions of thousands of tiny identical objects with a single glance, or making strangers hand over their wallet and keys. He claims never to use stooges, but has been caught several times doing so.

I'm less familiar with the work of David Blaine, but he seems to be similar, though much more theatrical. A similar remark for Chris Angel.

This is a little paradoxical. On the one hand, the existence of anything supernatural is explicitly disavowed, but on the other, the magician's skill is fraudulently portrayed to be of such a high level as to be...virtually supernatural.

It's like saying "There's no such thing as magic, but human potential just as great."

The character of Patrick Jane, the hero of The Mentalist, taps into this zeitgeist of "mundane magic" or "supernatural by proxy". An older example might be Frank Black of the series Millennium.

I don't really mind that shows like CSI and The Mentalist are silly and unoriginal. I watched the various versions CSI quite happily as disposable television, and will probably tune in to The Mentalist next week.

No, the thing which annoys me is the way the fantasy science of CSI, and the fantasy skills of The Mentalist, are implicitly portrayed as real.


  1. He could tell someone was gay just by glancing at the corpse? How is the possible? Unless the guy died in the act and his partner obligingly remained in position until the mental case, er mentalist, showed up to have a peek.

  2. He could tell someone was gay just by glancing at the corpse? How is the possible?

    It's not possible.

    An autopsy might show a stressed rectal passage, indicating that he'd been the passive partner in anal sex. Or that he was a straight guy who'd used dildos. Or that he'd been constipated. Or any number of other things.

    There was a daft idea going round a few years ago, that women tend to have longer ring fingers than their index fingers, while men tend to have shorter ring fingers. Except when they don't. And therefore "feminine" men have longer ring fingers.

    There's just the small detail that gay men aren't any more "feminine" than straight ones. Whatever that word means anyway.

    There was another study just last week, claiming to show that gay men and straight men have different shaped faces, and that everyone subconsiously knows this already, which is why everyone has gaydar. Not that they do.

    I haven't seen the figures yet, but I'm expecting them either (a) to show nothing like what the headlines suggest or (b) to have been neatened up statistically by the researchers who had an axe to grind.

  3. I don't understand this complusion to try and prove that there is some physical or genetic difference between a gay man and a straight one.

    I don't understand why so many straight people are so worried about someone else's sex life.

    I don't understand how a man who loves watching two women have sex can be so horrified if another man accidentally brushes against him.

    And finally, I don't understand why my ex burst out laughing when I told him there was a gay man living inside me.

  4. So I take it there were no great racks to be seen?

    David Blaine and all those magicians are douche bags--I'm not really impressed with their tricks. So he stayed in a glass box; who cares?

    I think there are still a few good shows who push the envelope and do some really original things, or at least outrageous enough that it hasn't been shown before--like Nip/Tuck. I also enjoyed the remake of Battlestar Galactica--such a dark, intense drama!

  5. If there is a gay man living inside of me, I would like him to get out of there this instant and fix my hair!

  6. @Tardisgirl:
    I think most people who want to "prove" homosexuality is "caused" by this or that want to prove it's a mistake or disorder. Just a matter of justifying prejudices.

    Dirk Benedict - Starbuck from the original series - turns out to be a nutty right wing blogger. Just one without much to blog about. You can read his column at Big Hollywood, to see just how deranged and self-important he is.

    Odd how he doesn't mention his co-star getting a role in the new Galactica :-).

    Careful. It could be the kind of gay man who shaves every inch!

  7. I don't understand this complusion to try and prove that there is some physical or genetic difference between a gay man and a straight one.

    Well, if there is one, I'd be interested because I keep on running into and falling for the straight ones. It's very aggravating that I can't sort one from the other.