In response to Ursula Le Guin’s Carrier Bag theory: a teabag theory of British fiction, where the mediocrity of e.g. detective shows* can be better exploited through exaggerated focus on the deep minutiae of daily life, the true (sometimes literal) ‘grit’ of Brexistence (sorry); a ground(s) up view of a mulchy society, every leaf brewed to stewing point for its hidden meanings/feelings, a ‘pata-kitchen-sink-reality found among the saturated biscuit crumbs.
*(which tend to look ridiculous next to the – also ridiculous – brashness of American ones; either too self-serious/Hollywood on a BBC budget or too false homey/Corrie-wood)
Trying to think of an example of this, I recalled the notes for a long-delayed ‘Epizoda ?’ sequel – featuring an older, shapeless, retired Detective Inspector Giffard shambling around his suburban semi in comfortable trousers and normcore Reeboks:
“Like the earlier show, the solitary episode we have appears to belong midway through a lengthy primetime television series. We’re under no illusions that this is anything other than a detective show: the wavelength, the frequency of the genre is inescapable. Neither is there any doubt that the situation is anything other than a marriage.
Giffard is retired now, his days spent around the house trying to piece together his wife’s life over the time they’ve been married. After all, they’ve spent the biggest part of their waking life together, apart.
We never really see ‘the wife’. In a perverse extension of the “’er indoors” tradition of off-screen police wives, Giffard refers to her in third-person through sideways glances, traced footsteps, and even on occasion commenting out loud as if to an invisible side-kick, e.g. “she’s gone for toast”. For although he is “indoors” with “’er” (or in the back garden, or briefly at the front gate), the camera remains fixed on him or the location or object he is examining in her wake.
A few times we catch the tail of her cardigan, although this appears to be an unintended result of some shoddy camerawork. And on one single occasion her bony hand alights on his without warning as he replaces a telephone handset in its cradle (she has just finished a call on the same telephone and he has picked it up afterwards and put it to his ear, as though there might be a witness or accomplice at the other end still chatting away). Although the couple touch out of shot elsewhere in the episode (i.e. the love scene in which we see him in person but her only in shadow), this one instance in which we see their skin touch creates an uncanny sense of revulsion in the viewer. Giffard seems to betray our hitherto unconscious identification with him, leaves our world (briefly) for hers, himself becomes part of the object while we are still bound up in his subjectivity
When we hear her talk, we are so caught up in his world that we don’t hear her as a TV character but as a recording, a record, a scrap of evidence or a tape with no label rediscovered and played back in the hope of upturning a secret or reliving a forgotten emotion.
What, if anything, does he suspect her of? An affair, a free will, an inner life, a change of heart, or a life lived parallel to his own – tracing the same route, the tracks never meeting? Or does he investigate her not out of suspicion but genuine fascination, or love, or boredom, or admiration, or for what it will reveal about himself? Only the most generic sense of ‘importance’ is placed on the idea of getting answers. We don’t discover what the detective finds out (about his wife); but we get the impression that we are no worse off, as he’s no better off, from this peculiar flow of information. The process is the same for he and us; wondering, looking, wondering some more.”
It’s one very specific example, and like Le Guin’s idea, the strength of teabag theory is in broader, deeper representations than that of fat old white blokes - including the complexity of histories that brought that teabag figuratively and literally to our chippéd mugs in the first place.