The Archers is “an everyday story of country folk” – according to the BBC. For those who don’t listen to Radio 4’s daily broadcast, there’s been a dark cloud over the fictional county of Borsetshire for some years in the shape of a misogynistic, narcissistic, psychopathic character – call him what you will – who at the time of writing is either dead or seriously injured after his abused wife stabbed him with a kitchen knife.
With the help of Twitter this storyline has certainly caught our attention and our imagination. Listeners are knowingly confusing fiction with real life, offering advice or support for the victim. For months now, people have vented their fears and opinions about this story of domestic abuse on social media – some saying that this story is more for Eastenders than Ambridge, others congratulating the Beeb for having the “courage” to bring domestic violence into the heart of Middle England.
An everyday story of country folk shouldn’t include these dark themes, say some. It’s not very realistic, say others.
Does it describe the reality of domestic and emotional abuse?
It’s silent. It’s manipulative – and not merely with regard to the main victim. It’s hidden. It’s subtle – and therefore very real. Because in real life emotional abuse doesn’t usually happen in front of an audience. It’s not a one-off bout of anger that’s done and dusted in an instinctive push or a shove. It seeps into people. It envelops. It hurts. It doesn’t go away.
To think that this only happens in urban situations is naive, and disregards the very real abuse that many women (and men) face in relationships.
This storyline has resonated with so many listeners – either through personal experience or by stimulating empathy. To the point where £90,000 has been raised for the DV charity “Refuge”.
Domestic violence is abhorrent. We’ve probably all seen examples of physical violence on television but rarely do we see (or rather hear) the persistent, ongoing manipulation of emotional abuse over a much lengthier period of time than a mini-series on television can provide. The medium of radio is far from dead and the fact that so much is left to the imagination of the listener exacerbates the feeling of dread. Almost irrespective of the outcome – which has been criticised by some – it’s been excruciatingly compelling to “witness” the breadth of abuse.
Apart from raising our understanding of emotional abuse “The Archers” storyline has also begun to address the notion of psychopathy and has dispelled the myth that all psychopaths are aggressive, extrovert, axe-wielding murderers with a clear plan of destruction. Yes, there’s a few of those around – as we’ve mentioned on this blog before (See Anders Breivik) but the reality is that sociopathic, controlling, manipulative and indeed psychopathic behaviour is badly misunderstood. We assume psychopaths are rare creatures – maybe one in a million – the Hitlers, Breiviks, Shipmans of this world.
The reality is that recent research suggests there are 1 in 100, not 1 in a million, who have psychopathic tendencies.
Rob Titchener (seen above) in The Archers is seemingly a generous, loving man. He’s an upstanding member of the community, running the local farm shop and playing for the local cricket team. In different settings, he may be the loner new to town, who appears quiet and diligent, enjoys evenings with friends, and a decent glass of wine. He might seem a pillar of society.
Underneath there may be something very sinister – check out this list of psychopathic characteristics. (For those who have been following the storyline, you’ll notice how many of these, if not all of them, relate to Rob Titchener.)
Glib and superficial charm
Lack of remorse or guilt
Lack of empathy
Promiscuous and short-term relationships
As for the notion that psychopaths have everything clearly mapped out – that isn’t necessarily the case. This “Rob” character may not even know that he’s manipulative. One of the serious issues for psychopaths is that they can’t recognise they are one, even with a list of traits such as the ones above in front of them.
They can’t see that they’re subjecting other people to pain because they are consumed with their own needs and desires. Even if they do recognise a hint of wrongdoing, they dismiss the implications and justify their actions according to their perceived needs. They are completely tunnel-visioned. No social intelligence.
They don’t accept responsibility for their actions because there’s always someone else to blame. They can’t see the flaws in their own make-up.
They don’t lie as such because their truth is the truth, as far as they are concerned.
They don’t necessarily plan a course of destructive or damaging behaviour.
In other words, they are devoid of social and spiritual intelligence. They often act on instinct rather than intellect in given situations. They are emotionally unintelligent. They are unable to feel true empathy.
“The Archers” has done a considerable amount to raise the profile of domestic violence and emotional abuse but simultaneously it has highlighted the traits of psychopathy through this characterisation, and has therefore given us an opportunity to consider what we can do to identify and even manage psychopathic traits in others.
Psychopathy can’t be cured, but we can prepare children, young people and indeed adults for how to be more resilient and proactive when dealing with those who lack certain intelligences.
We can nurture social intelligence and empathy with children and young people so that if they come across people with psychopathic tendencies, they can react and behave accordingly – to protect themselves, and also prevent others from inflicting their selfish, thoughtless and manipulative behaviour. We can help young people with psychopathic tendencies to manage their behaviour before they find themselves troubled with this for their entire lives (many criminal psychopaths have a history of juvenile delinquency).
We need to consider how to manage even if we can’t cure.
In relation to our particular focus on education, we hope teachers might consider using this character or others in fiction to help children and young people understand the traits of psychopathy, for with 1 in 100 being psychopathic, they’re likely to know or come across at least one psychopath in their lives – even if their lives are “ordinary”.
Abusive and manipulative behaviour needs to be understood, not excused. How will we ensure young people develop such an understanding? Compulsory PSHE? SRE? How do our children develop such crucial life skills and learn to stay safe?
Well done and thank you BBC for raising these issues, and we hope this is a starting point for further consideration and discussion.