During my Honours year, I got kind of addicted to crime procedurals and ‘murder mysteries’ like Midsomer Murders. The ‘Cotswold Mysteries’ series by Rebecca Tope only fuelled my fire for the entertaining and convoluted ways that people could die in an idyllic setting. From ‘murder by shovel’ and ‘death by banana python’, all the weird and wonderful ways people came to a violent end filled me with fascination.
Now, before you write me off as a creep, hear me out.
English people – for the most part, and certainly as they are portrayed in TV shows, are incessantly polite. I won’t generalise here – I’ve been treated very rudely, and very kindly, by English people, so I know that this politeness portrayed on TV isn’t representative – but the English ‘ideal’ of polite country living is fascinating.
Now, pair that politeness with murder. It’s almost a total contrast of belief, to consider that someone could be dismembered in a community where everyone knows everyone, and the bartender remembers your weekly order.
Yet, the contrast is so, so popular. Let’s put these kind, gentle creatures into a situation where emotions are high and the consequences are heavy. Who killed the sweet old granny? Why? What had the sweet granny done to provoke such an attack?
The answers to those questions are sometimes a revelation. “What!?” I yelled at the TV, “The Mayor killed sweet granny because granny was buying up all the property in town and squeezing the mayor out of his capacity to make decisions!?”
No spoilers here – this is a plot I’ve yet to see.
Ok, ok… I’ll get to my point.
Thanks to the success of Midsomer Murders, and the creativity of the show writers, it’s currently only second* to the famous ‘Murder, She Wrote‘, which surpasses the world’s real-life ‘murder capital’ by a large margin.
* Opinion based on limited research. Open to correction.
Yet, most of these episodes follow the same format. Idyllic village setting, village in crisis, murder, investigation, satisfying resolution. The Investigation has a different story every time, either exposing ancient ties or uncovering a dastardly corporate plot, but the result is the same. So why is it still so popular, after over 15 seasons?
Keep your eyes out for that bouncy castle. Could be dangerous.
I guess it’s easy to watch. This creative simplicity is what has inspired my writing, my work, and my enthusiasm to undertake seemingly impossible tasks. Because, when you really get down to it, writing a PhD Thesis is like a crime procedural.
Sure, it has twists and turns along the way, but in essence it’s the same plot every time. Start idea, work on idea, and then (hopefully) you get a satisfying ending…or you end up with a Nietzschean twist of fate where all your hopes and dreams die in spectacular fashion. It’s an adventure, and a learning curve, no matter how you look at it. Sure, the people who die in these crime procedurals aren’t having any fun at all, but that’s not YOU. You’re not the victim – you’re the Chief Inspector of your own tale. It’s your task to find out Whodunnit, and how. Every setback is an opportunity to cross off a variable that doesn’t work, which eventually brings you closer to one that does. Some plots will drive you to the bar, or towards a screaming match with your coworker. It’s never meant to be easy, but it’s an adventure nonetheless.
And for those who read this, thinking ‘but a PhD never did – and never will – work out for me. How am I meant to learn success for myself using your Midsomer Murder formula?‘
Hello, you. This idea still applies, because like I said – sometimes life deals you a Nietzschean twist of fate.
For those who aren’t familiar with this hard-to-pronounce philosopher (Knee-cheh), he basically had all his hopes and dreams crushed, and had to test his own philosophical theory that the purpose of human experience was to endure pain for the sake of learning and personal betterment. If not for the string of awful events that occurred to this famous Philosopher, he might never have become famous nor been able to test his own theory. His suffering gave his thoughts validity, and thus they were adapted time and again throughout modern history.
I’m certain that by the time you’re old and decidedly wrinkly, you will have experienced life events that rattle you to your core. Instances that make you question your identity and your moral fortitude. Feedback that sends you to a corner of the room to think ‘Do I really want to keep doing this?‘
The purpose of these dramatic events is to test you. To put you in a crisis situation to see how you’ll react. If you’re mentally well, and have enough support, you’ll come out of the experience better than before. Having learned a valuable lesson, you’ll take the memory of that day with you into the rest of your life, now knowing how to avoid and/or handle that event yourself should it ever occur again. Believe me – I never wanted to learn how I’d adapt to having all my clothes stolen on a work trip, nor how to problem-solve a flight delayed for 12 hours, but I did it. And now I’m all the wiser for it. These things can’t be foreseen or prepared for, but you can choose how you respond to it…and that, dear readers, is perhaps one of the most important lessons that postgraduate studies will teach you. Not the theory, or the research, or the presentation skills…but how to handle unexpected crises without losing a beat. How do you recover from an embarrassing social blunder, or de-escalate a tense situation? How do you criticise someone, or communicate that a person has totally lost your respect?
Or, more importantly, when do you draw the line between ‘I need to have a petit tantrum‘ and ‘I need to keep it together or I’ll be bawling into my coffee‘? How do you know when it’s appropriate to unleash hell on a total stranger, or to ‘let it go’ because the issue isn’t worth your time? And how do you know when to keep enduring despite obfuscating locals, tight-lipped teens and wibbly witnesses, and when to throw in the towel?
Experience, dear readers, and a few episodes of Midsomer Murders*.
*Opinion. Midsomer Murders may or may not help you successfully identify pathways to success. Please consult your local success professional for more advice.