Monday, 9 November 2009

The Execution of Samir Shah

I'm no lawyer. But come on.

Last night's Channel 4 feature-length drama, 'The Execution of Gary Glitter', was a top flight piece of television. It blurred fact with fiction pretty seamlessly by taking the arrest and conviction of Paul Francis Gadd (aka the performer Gary Glitter) to a whole new level. The entire premise is this: the death penalty has been restored to the UK for child rapists and murderers and Gadd is sentenced to swing. With incredible realism, the fallen star is reduced from an arrogant and cocksure defendant to a sobbing wreck on the gallows.

As a catalyst for debate, there is no doubt this was a success. Seconds after transmission (before the end, in fact) Channel 4's website was already filling up with heated comments from both sides of the table. The 'hanging's too good for 'im!' brigade were out in force as, of course, were the 'execution is state murder!' lot. I'm sure the debate will roll on and on.

I enjoyed the programme and found it chilling, voyeuristic and very well executed (if you'll pardon the pun). Gadd's final moments on earth made for compulsive, brutal, voyeuristic entertainment thanks to an incredible performance by Hilton McRae. It was horrible. And all the while I was watching, I couldn't help but wonder: why on EARTH would Paul Gadd agree to have his name, stage identity, image and voice duplicated in this way and to this end?

Then I came across this message, on the C4 discussion board, from the programme's executive director Samir Shah: "Some have asked whether Paul Gadd knew about the film. We let Paul Gadd know of the film but we did not ask for his permission."

I beg your pardon? As Dennis 'Machinegun' Thompson said so eloquently in MC5 - A True Testimonial, "Oops. Looks like we slipped our dick into the wringer..."

I don't know anybody who wasn't appalled by Paul Gadd's crimes. It was correct that he should be tried, convicted and punished for them. But let's be fair: he has served his time. And while some might say he deserves all the derision, disgust and post-Soham kneejerkery that society can throw his way, I do not.

Gadd has been passed a golden opportunity here. We live in a nation where people actually believe in the X Factor and Jade Goody. My friends, some of us are stupid. Some of us will believe this play, which was rolled out as a faux documentary, to be based entirely on fact. Many mentalists will use this to call for the death penalty to be returned.

So how will Gadd react? He has a great claim for damages ahead of him, doesn't he? I was shocked into wide-mouthed grimace by the portrayal of his death - so how must the man himself feel about it? It's an act of torture and cruelty. Isn't it like the scene in Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence where Jack Celliers is chained up in front of a firing squad ready to be executed? The Japanese soldiers fire blanks and Celliers, fully expecting to die, gasps "that... was a good one..." in a heroic fashion.

But Paul Gadd is no hero. I doubt he will take this graphic depiction of a death which many thousands of viewers will now wish on his neck with the same gusto. He may see it as a threat to his safety. And what if his children (oh yes, they are mentioned in the drama too) decide they have been mentally damaged by this dramatic realisation of the capital murder of their dad?

Rather than a provocative debate on celebrity culture and society's reaction to same, this dramatised corruption of a celebrity's story will surely have major legal ramifications. Because, whatever you might think of Paul Gadd, in the eyes of the law he has paid for his crime. And under the same legal system, he has a right to protection.

The coming months could prove interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment