One of the few drama series worth watching over at the BBC (sharp intake of breath!) is the programme Spooks, which purports to show how M15, Britain’s secret service, operates. A short while ago, an episode featured how the various operatives dealt with radical Islamic terrorism.
What interested me was the very fact that such a controversial topic would be aired by the BBC at all. The series tended to start off with a decidedly politically-correct slant, so broaching the topic of Islamo-fascist terror was quite brave. Makes me wonder how the script-writers were able to get this episode on screen.
Well, as this story shows, the episide triggered a number of complaints, claiming the programme was racially stereotyped. But then it is a bit difficult to do a programme about spies taking on the likes of al-Quaeda and it not to encounter such an issue, I would have thought.
More broadly, though, this got me thinking about how television and movie dramas have handled issues like this over the years. In the early James Bond movies, for example, the bad guys were either Russians or former Smersh agents, but as the series progressed and got ever more silly during the Roger Moore era, the villains became less ‘political’, no doubt to avoid the kind of complaints that Spooks has encountered.
There have always been a few interesting exceptions, though. Some of the Tom Clancy books adapted for film touched on issues like Northern Ireland, although often not very convincingly.
Do I detect a change in trend? The American series “24”, for example, makes no bones about enormously contentious issues. I think people want a bit more hard-edged realism in their dramas, and if that means upsetting some people, so be it.
However, I am not sure whether 007 will be staging his next adventure in Bagdhad any time soon.