Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Under the Watchful Eye

I’m having some unexpected difficulties plotting my current novel due to a peculiarly British phenomenon: the obsession with putting CCTV cameras on, well, everything. Now, other countries have CCTV, but none deploy them with the alacrity of the British.


“Big Brother is Watching You.” ― George Orwell, 1984
To be brief, the villain in my story needs to push a hapless victim onto the railroad tracks, and it needs to look like an accident, but with an estimated camera-to-civilian ratio of 1 to 32, it is patently impossible to pick your nose, scratch your arse or, more to the point, throw someone under a train, without it being captured on the current equivalent of video. Even the most remote, rural railway station I could find was bristling with CCTV cameras. It is truly disheartening.


"Every move you make, every step you take,
I'll be watching you," ― Sting




And the thing is, this only causes problems for people like me. If I go ahead and write that scene, people will read it and toss the book aside, thinking, “What rubbish! If anyone tried to do something like that they would be spotted on CCTV!” And because the public has this perception, my job is harder (are you feeling sorry for me yet?), but the sad truth is, my villain most likely could get away with it because, despite the proliferation of cameras, they never seem to capture any criminals.

We spend billions of pounds in this country monitoring every corner of every city, village and hamlet but all I have ever seen on the local news are grainy shots of grey blobs with hoods stretched over their heads walking away from whatever mayhem they have caused while the voice over pleads to the entire nation, “If you recognize these people, call 999-1984.”


C'mon, cut a guy a break!
Surely those billions of pounds could be better spent putting a few more bobbies on the beat to catch these miscreants red-handed. Though I fear that would do little good, either.

I can’t tell you how many times I have shouted at the telly (someone has to do it) while watching one of those “Cops With Cameras Instead of Guns” shows, where drunken reprobates careen in a stolen car through narrow village streets ejecting beer bottles and bags of dope while crashing into property, other vehicles and cops cars until, after crashing into the wall of a 14th century church and destroying the chapel, they jump out of the car the lead the police (and the helicopter) on a merry chase before finally being brought to heel by the K-9 Squad in someone’s back garden. All I can think is how much this all cost in terms of man-hours, equipment, damage, etc., but at the end of the segment, the announcer joyfully relates how the passenger in the vehicle was later released without charge and the driver was taken to the local police station where he was given a very stern warning.

That's when my wife usually changes the channel.



The fact is, all this CCTV data is good for is to provide footage for the above-mentioned shows.

And, of course, to keep my villain from throwing someone under a train.

15 comments:

  1. I've been warned about those ever-present cameras--not sure how I feel about them but Big Brother isn't bad enough to keep me out of Britain.

    Is there no way your villain could be hidden behind a barrier of some kind or jump behind a train at a pivotal moment? Maybe he/she tied the hapless victim's shoelaces together.

    Best of luck,
    Abigail
    www.PictureBritain.com

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    1. After a while, you just get used to being on TV 24/7. As mentioned in the post, the danger is not in getting arrested, it's more a case of having something stupid you do end up on You've Been Framed (a UK candid camera show--do they have YBF in the US?) or going viral on YouTube. But I just know you'll behave;)

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    2. Ooh, now that's a threat for sure! We used to have Candid Camera, but of course that was staged. The closest equivalent is probably America's Funniest Home Videos (basically a lot of people falling over--not my idea of entertainment).

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  2. Your villain needs to carry a coat, sneak up underneath the CCTV and throw said coat over the lens. Ta-da!

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    1. Check the picture above--that's a hell of a long way to throw a coat. Plus, the whole thing needs to look like an accident. I'm sure I'll think of something. Eventually.

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  3. It seems that the range of most cameras has blind spots. It would be tricky to figure out where they are, but it's worth a try. If you're writing about a fictional place that would work.

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    1. That's probably what I'll have to do. If I say there is a blind spot and the killer makes use of it, who is there to contradict me; it's my book, after all ;)

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    2. Maybe you could call someone who oversees these cameras and ask if there's a way this could feasibly happen. Of course, they might suspect that you are planning to do this stunt yourself--which could earn you a little extra surveillance....

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  4. Maybe it could be a foggy night?

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  5. Could the villain shoot the camera lens out with an airgun (more readily obtainable than a real gun, mind you, if they're a villain.....!)

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  6. Wow! Lot of ideas...now I have to sort through them all to see which one would work best... ;)

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  7. Oh Mike, Mike, you old funster: what are we to do with you?! You know perfectly well that three- and even four-ring binders are easily bought here!

    Also there's a small but significant error in the third line of your algebraic algorithm - - but doubtless you've noticed that yourself (!)

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    1. Why let facts get in the way of a good story ;)

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  8. Agree totally! Facts mess up a perfectly enjoyable world.

    Sorry to have put my comment in the wrong postcard - - I've just noticed. Should have gone in the one titled "When the Brits Get It. Wrong".

    (Time we had a sesh in the Dorset Arms again, Mike. Then we can get slightly over-refreshed and super philosophical!)

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