Watching the Transnational Detectives: Exploring British Audience Responses to Themes of Identity, Internationalism and Language Learning in International Crime Television

‘Watching the Transnational Detectives’ explores how British audiences have reacted to the recent boom in foreign language television programmes that are available in the UK across a variety of platforms and services. Six popular international crime dramas have been the central focus: Spiral; Inspector Montalbano; Falke; Mafiosa; Maltese The Mafia Detective; and Dark. The project asks: whilst we are viewing these favourite crime shows, what else are we discovering about the country we are seeing and the people we are hearing on screen? Does our viewing influence our attitudes about languages and encourage us to embark on learning a new language? The research thus reveals how these series impact audience’s perceptions of nationhood, foreign languages and cultures, and language learning, and the extent to which such programmes in fact promote multilingualism and multiculturalism in contemporary Britain.

It is against the recent political back-drop of the UK, with increasingly common calls for isolationism and cultural protectionism and the recent vote to leave the European Union, that this project examines the case for multiculturalism as it is portrayed on television through international crime dramas, and the extent to which audiences are receptive to such discussions and open to viewing more such programmes. The case study audience for this project is from Yorkshire and Humberside, an area of the UK that voted largely in favour of Brexit in 2016. The research findings will be presented to national broadcasters as a way of informing future programming and scheduling choices.

Six screenings were held between September and November 2018 with approximately 50 members of the public in attendance. After each screening, the researchers led a discussion with participants, asking them to comment on: what the programmes revealed about the host culture, what was culturally specific to what they had seen, how important the language was to the show, and whether watching the programme made them want to visit the country they had seen and/or learn the language they had heard. What emerged was that whilst cultural specificity for these programmes varies from show to show, language is of fundamental importance to the viewing experience and the pleasure of watching. For nearly all members of the audience interviewed, it would have been impossible to watch any of these shows with the sound off. The sound of the language itself is crucial to understanding some of the cultural specificity of these programmes and grasping the elements that are specific to locations and nations.



Walter Iuzzolino on stage with Dr Helena Chadderton at the Walter Presents event.

Dr Rachel Haworth, University of Hull (MEITS Flexible Funding Awardee)

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