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The UK's premier new media criminologist - on Twitter @criminology4u, facebook and blogging on Criminology in Public and Sports Criminology.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

No Philomena Cunk

In a previous post I mentioned that I had nearly been the ‘expert’ questioned by Philomela Cunk for Charlie Brooker’s Screen Wipe. I was doing so to contrast her character with the character I was confronted with recently. This is not to say I thought her performance was ideal. There is, however, plenty to get to grips with in her short piece and I might use it in my teaching.

So here I’m going to engage with Cunk’s arguments and those of her expert, Chris Williams of the OU. I note his profile does not include his appearance with Cunk. Watch her video here.

These are propositions/questions Cunk puts out:

One in 20 of us are victims therefore 19 out of twenty are criminals

The logic is entertainingly poor but illustrates the binary, Manichean presumption that one is either a good or bad person. Indeed it raises the question where do the police fit into such a taxonomy and she later mentions the possibility of police malfeasance. The official figures for victimisation talk of offences rather than numbers of victims. Research on offenders suggests, ’33 per cent of males born in 1953 had been convicted of at least one standard list offence before the age of 53. Just over half of these had been convicted on only one occasion and 18 per cent had been convicted more than 5 times’. Gender is an issue too with young men most likely to be victims and offenders.

No wonder we need police

An anarchist might disagree but neo-liberal policies are bringing new pressures to bear. Thus recent moves against illegal immigrants expects landlords to do policing or be criminalised themselves. And conservative commentator, Peter Hitchens, asks, ‘How long before the police stop investigating murder?’. He was thinking about reports that burglary victims cannot expect police to attend but I’ve long wondered about what proportion to time and money should be given to investigate murder over other crimes.

In olden days we could hunt down and kill someone who did ‘something wrong’

Some people still operate vendettas and attacks on minorities and amongst communities or even against ‘paedos’ show the resilience of this bloody pre-police attitude. And many criminologists are now interested in broader harms than the purely ‘criminal’ from pollution to homophobia.

but in 1829 Robert Peel ‘discovered’ the police

The ‘discovered’ is part of Cunk’s faux ignorance and forgotten moments later when talking of their invention. But the whole history of the police might be spun around how it came into being. How recent an invention ‘the police’ are when ‘policing’ is so old. Her expert might have been asked about that given his speicalism.

we could go to them as they identifiable by their special hats by those being murdered in London fog

This section is illustrated by an image of one of the Whitechapel murder victims from the Illustrated Police News, or the like. An irony is that we know more about Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes and Mary Jane Kelly than other working class women of the time. Little of that learning seems likely to trouble the proprietors and potential visitors to a new ‘attraction’ or to the many tours.

if there was no crime what would police do?

Karl Marx said, ‘the criminal produces not only crimes but also criminal law, and with this also the professor who gives lectures on criminal law and in addition to this the inevitable compendium in which this same professor throws his lectures onto the general market’. I’ve always presumed Marx to be ironically guying the functionalists but there is some truth in it and I’m now throwing this blog onto the market too.

stamp post codes on bikes to decorate them

She jokes about the crime prevention function of the police. The real joke is not that they decorate bikes but that ‘bobbies on the beat’ are largely decorative/symbolic.

no point fighting crime if you don’t know what a crime is?

She mentions the ten commandments and gives 3 - killing people, gravity, interfering with oxen. Gravity is an interesting joke as it varies on this planet and more so around the Universe so is less fixed than condemnations of murder.

She also asks who decides what right and wrong, works out what punishment and writes it down?Yet she asks Chris, ‘If a policeman broke the law would he be able to arrest himself’. He struggles to succinctly put her straight. I’d have been tempted to agree that it might be difficult for a police officer to uphold the law when other officers broke it and they might have to arrest each other - Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

and she posits that ‘Reconstructions’ might go real before trailing off. I jokingly tell my students that Crimewatch and Harry Potter single-handedly keeping actors in work. Others joke about the gullibility of the public naming the actors to police.
without police we could do what we like

Back to anarchism but also forgetting we mostly police ourselves anyway and the growing army of security guards and surveillance systems.

but they’d not be able to be police which would be against there human rights


In a neat inversion she points out that the one thing the police would (logically) not be able to do would be to be police. Much of the work of police scholars examines the nature of police culture to which her ontological observations might now be added.

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