Friday 23 February 2007

Sensing Murder

I wrote this a while ago, during the last season of Sensing Murder. I don't know when or if this ghastly show will be revieved, but I hope not.

I haven't gone into the moral turpitude of the program - the use of brutal real life slayings, the exploitation of pain and misery, the graphic reconstructions, done in the style of CSI. Most people with a brain can see that this type of TV is sick and disgusting. I've tried instead to reveal some of the deceptions used by the so-called psychics and (more worryingly) the producers of the program.

‘Sensing Murder – The Murder of Olive Senior’

Even in the age of C.S.I., Quentin Tarantino and news reports which gloatingly warn “Images may disturb some viewers,” Sensing Murder seems particularly repulsive.

In each episode of the series, we are told about an unsolved crime. Two alleged psychics use their powers to attempt to solve it. Finally, their work is analyzed to see what light, if any, they have shed.

This week, they investigated the murder of Olive Senior, a Rotorua teenager brutally beaten to death in a highway rest area in 1970.

The program starts with a reconstruction of known events. Olive was a shy, backward girl with a good heart. We are told about how she disappeared one night walking through town. Her body was found the next day, her head beaten in by a hammer or heavy spanner.

Not only do they tell us all this, the program makers show us as well, with heavy handed mood music, screams and jerky, Blair Witch style camera work. The horror of Olive Senior’s death becomes an opportunity for the program makers and audience to connive in a lurid little horror film.

After the voyeuristic reconstruction, the psychics get to work. We are told that they were not given any clues about the murder they were investigating. We are also told that the program makers “Only confirmed positive statements.” Why would a psychic require confirmation, when they are in communion with the spirit of the murdered girl?

The answer is that they were not, of course, and the whole program is an elaborate, tasteless fraud.

Let’s take a break. You can tell a lot about a program by the adverts screened during the commercial breaks. During the breaks for Sensing Murder, Channel Two played a trailer for an up coming program called Criminal Minds which boasts the tag line “Feel like a killer.” Criminal Minds, like C.S.I., Cold Case and S.V.U. uses murder as entertainment.

I don’t have a problem with that. But to run the trailer for a fictional show based upon murder, during another show dealing with a real murder, seems to be a colossal lapse of taste on the part of Channel Two.

A trend was apparent: other programs promoted during breaks included the ghoulish Forensic Investigators and the loopy Ghost Hunt.

Back to Sensing Murder. Our alleged pshychics are on the scene. They are an Australian named Deb, and a New Zealander, Adele.

First, they are given a photograph of the murdered girl to help them make a connection. Deb shows off by refusing to look at it, divining information simply by touching the back of the upside down photograph.

But why bother? If the program makers were serious about solving the murder, why bother with this interlude? Why waste precious time in a parlour trick when they could be catching the killer?

The answer is because it allows Deb and Adele to give performances that might convince the naive or unwary that they really are in touch with the ghost of Olive Senior. Both, in a few minutes of screen time, are able to describe Olive fairly accurately.

In fact the program makers have edited out an unknown amount of footage, leaving in the instances when Deb and Adele hit the mark. Put simply, the so-called psychics play Twenty Questions with the murder of Olive Senior.

Another ploy used by the program makers becomes soon apparent. Random, unclear comments are picked up and moulded to make them seem significant. Deb declares the subject of the photograph has an “Olive complexion.” The program makers pounce, declaring Deb has sensed the name of the victim.

Another example: one of the psychics declares Olive was murdered “On a hill.” A voiceover informs us that the rest area where she was found was raised above the road. It would have been more accurate to say the psychic was wrong, but they prefer to snatch at whatever straws they can.

Along the way, the psychics trot out homilies and waffle. “She’s got a pleading for this to be solved,” one of then declares. You don’t say. Though one wonders why the shade of Olive Senior waited until now to come forward, if she is so keen. Surely, she would have tapped someone on the shoulder, psychically, before now?

After this, our girls hit the road to visit the actual murder scene. They aren’t told where it is, but both home in on it quickly. Again, this looks impressive, but is easily explained. Here’s how it works:

They drive down the road a bit. The psychic says “We’ve passed it.” The program makers, who will respond to positive statements, confirm this. So they double back. Just outside town, the psychic again declares that they have passed the murder site. Another turn around, though this time the psychic knows not to go so far down the road …

At the murder scene, Deb and Adele make scared faces and mumble about things being “Not nice.” Again, they wander all over the place, saying it was “Here,” until they hit the right spot. They throw out a lot of information, most of which can not be proven: they suggest the killer might have worked at a local saw mill. They suggest he was Asian or Irish. One says she was killed with a hammer. Another opts for a spanner. No-one thinks this discrepancy odd.

In the final part of the program, an analyst attempts to pull together the ‘information’ the psychics have provided. Here the manipulation is at its most obvious. On the one hand, they ignore information that is not accurate or that can not be manipulated, such as the different murder weapons. One psychic claimed the killer was 5’10” – from his foot prints, the police calculated he was shorter than that. Again, this error is ignored.

On the other hand, the analyst jumped trough hoops to try to assign significance to the waffle. The most blatant example is when Adele, at the murder scene, turns to the camera and asks, querulously, “WW? What’s that about?” To which the obvious response is “You’re the psychic, you tell us.”

‘WW’ the analyst informs us, might be ‘MW,’ the logo of the Ministry of Works. We are assured that psychic information is often garbled in this way. It might refer to a logging truck parked in the rest area. Or we might be watching offensive, dishonest junk T.V.

At the end of the day, Sensing Murder is its own worst enemy. In spite of the efforts of Deb and Adele, the killer of Olive Senior has not been apprehended. Thatin itself proves the program is phony.

Olive Senior’s family was involved in the making of this. Presumably, they had given credence to the idea that the psychics might uncover something. The makers of this program are guilty of exploiting the naivety and desperation of people who have lost a loved one.

From the bogus claims of authenticity made at the beginning, through the offensive reconstructions and cut-price slasher movie techniques, and the phony display by the psychics, the program is an insult to the memory of Olive Senior.


Anonymous said...

Only problem with your comments is none of them hold any weight. Mostly, the person's name is completely wrong! So the rest of it goes down the toilet with it!

Anonymous said...

Who are we talking about here? I thought the person murdered was named Olive Walker.
The identikit picture that was shown on the Sensing murder show blew my mind when I saw it. I instantly recognised the person whom I knew in Rotorua at the time. He was a nasty piece of work who was a loner and bully,always out to cause any trouble he could. I am a sceptic and normally don't take too much notice of the above sort of program but in this case I have given the name of the person (I believe to be involved in the above case) to the police. I would hope that they find the resources to bring some closure to this case.

lurgee said...

"I instantly recognised the person whom I knew in Rotorua at the time. He was a nasty piece of work who was a loner and bully"

So you've identified him to the police?


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