Accepted Paper:

"No children please!": the boundaries of "crime as usual" among German "Tatort" viewers  


Regina F. Bendix (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)

Paper short abstract:

Since 1971, the crime serial "Tatort" airs on German tv on Sunday evening. Drawing from participant observation at public viewings, interviews and weekly online viewer comments, the paper argues that responses to Tatort reveal the boundaries of what kinds of crime may be tolerably fictionalized.

Paper long abstract:

The German crime serial "Tatort" has aired since 1971 on German tv. It features an ever growing number of inspector-teams from different German states (as well as on occasion Austria and Switzerland), and is produced in federal style by different public tv stations. The popularity of the show is so solid that in addition to new episodes on Sunday evenings, Tatort repeats can be seen on 2 to 4 other weeknights on various channels, there are DVDs available of select investigative teams, an aficionado website caters to ardent fans and the Facebook site receives considerable traffic and commentary on new show days.

For a year and a half we have accompanied and interviewed Tatort viewers in their homes, at public viewing sites and on the internet. Often quite close to actual crimes or issues burning at or near the surface of public discourse, Tatort "Krimis" occupy a peculiar mixture of roles for viewers. Most prominent among them is not the genre crime fiction but rather the position within the weekly calendar; Tatort marks the end of the weekend, looked forward to and simultaneously laden with that impending sense of a looming work week. Drawing esp. from weekly online comments viewers exchange, we will argue that responses to Tatort reveal the boundaries of what kinds of crime may be tolerably fictionalized. Tatort (and perhaps a great deal of crime fiction) extrapolates from the myriad of potential uncertainties and threats in everyday life foci - such as speedy detecting, banter with pathologists, or character flaws of the detectives - that render the complexity of crime into a manageable relief. Viewer displeasure with certain types of crime reveal, in turn, where the pleasure in fiction is jeopardized and inches too close to real or imagined criminal, social situations that are intolerable.

Panel W037
Serial disquiet: criminal entertainment in times of global and private uncertainties