There may be thousands of us who have been watching the series prepared as Canadian-British co-production, the Murdoch Mysteries. Honestly, I like the series, I do. But there are a few glitches I noticed in the episodes and I thought to share them, maybe I am not alone with my observations.
During the more than 12 series and over 200 episodes I kept wondering to myself how many people may actually believe the “reconstructed” past reality of the series: I mean how many people believe that the series depict the true image of 19th-20th century Canada and Toronto. My feeling is that too many. Although this is clearly a fiction story.
The first thing I noticed as I was watching Murdoch episodes was the amount of make-up on the actors and the actresses. This just doesn’t match the era. Detective Murdoch actually has eye-liners on, it’s pretty visible. I don’t understand why, he would look quite good without it.
Similarly, a large amount of make-up is applied to the whole portray of the era, too: the unrealistic neatness of streets, clothes and hairdos, and the unrealistic political correctness when it comes to behavior or communication.
It gave me always the lurking feeling that the image the film shows about the super intelligent, educated, modern and tolerant characters rings false. For example I can hardly imagine that a black woman could become a pathologist without facing discern from the workplace colleagues. Women’s carrier was quite challenging and their success was rare, sadly.
I found this in Wikipedia on History of Canadian women:
“In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, women made inroads into various professions, including teaching, journalism, social work, and public health. Nursing was well-established. These advances included the establishment of a Women’s Medical College in Toronto (and in Kingston, Ontario) in 1883, attributed in part to the persistence of Emily Stowe, the first female doctor to practise in Canada. Stowe’s daughter, Augusta Stowe-Gullen, became the first woman to graduate from a Canadian medical school. Graduating from medical school did not ensure that women were allowed to attain licensing. Elizabeth Scott Matheson graduated in 1898, but she was refused her licence to practise by the Northwest Territories College of Physicians and Surgeons. The government contracted with her as the district physician for $300 annually in 1901, though she was unable to secure her licence until 1904.
Apart from a token few, women were outsiders to the male-dominated medical profession. As physicians became better organized, they successfully had laws passed to control the practice of medicine and pharmacy and banning marginal and traditional practitioners. Midwifery—practised along traditional lines by women—was restricted and practically died out by 1900. Even so, the great majority of childbirths took place at home until the 1920s, when hospitals became preferred, especially by women who were better educated, more modern, and more trusting in modern medicine.“
Another strange part is when a dead is body found. I mean the abnormal reaction of the officers, Dr. Ogden or Emily Grace. They often examine the body and the gruesome wounds by hand (no gloves or face mask), and without a flinch like it was a titbit thing. Sometimes they happily note what they see. For me this is absulutely unnatural. The sight of a corpse normally revolts or shocks those who see it, especially if the poor person died in a violent way. Not to mention, often it has a smell.
Check the contrast, Columbo reacts with great seriousness when they find a body:
Check this video: Forensics Detective Reviews Crime Scene Investigations, from ‘Dexter’ to ‘CSI: Miami’
The same is true when many of the romantic scenes take place in the autopsy room, like it would be a lovely café terrace to feel relaxed. Here is some of the music dr. Ogden listens to while dissecting and analysing tissue samples:
I could never understand why the director made it this way, it is just bizarre.
In the series one cannot ignore the surprising amount of technical nonsense. I mean when Detective Murdoch invents the microwave oven, he creates a drone, travels with a vacuum train, or visits a mock Hagia Sophia. The bunch of ‘novel ideas’ might have even been funnily presented only if they weren’t tinted with the image of exclusive Anglo-Saxon brilliance.
Most of the time I took them with a small sigh. But I listened with widened eyes when one time, sipping tea and chit-chatting with Mark Twain dr. Ogden remarked that if William Murdoch cared he could create better inventions than Nikola Tesla. This is when, if this was brought up in an online chat I would react with :facepalm. Why, I ask, are Canadian, British and Americans so sure that they are the sole intelligent humans in the whole universe?? I miss humbleness very much.
I could catch a few prejudices too which were certainly imported from the present to the depicted past. For example in the season 8 / 2 episode when a murdered woman’s body is dissected and dr. Ogden reckons that the bad quality tooth implant indicates that the victim was from Eastern Europe. I am very sensitive to this type of derogative remarks and I went to look after.
Here is what I found:
Modern dentist science is dated to Pierre Fauchard’s famous work which was published in 1728 with the title ‘Le chirurgien dentiste ou traité des dents’. His work influenced the rest of European practitioners and those who wished to study this subject. For a good time Paris remained the centre of the highest quaity dentist care. In the Hungarian Kingdom dentist profession started its recognition by following France in the middle of the 18th century. Prospective dentists learned surgery, and dentistry belonged to the study. When the study was completed certificates could be obtained.
In 1763 Mihaly Zurbrucken wrote his doctoral dissertation augural in Latin with the title Odontalgia. After leaving the university in Vienna he started his practice at Chemnitz. The dissertation has three parts: autopsy of teeth and gums, causes of toothache and treatment of toothache.
The bases of institutional dentistry studies were laid down in 1778 by Plenck (Plenk) Jozsef Jakab’s book: Doctrina de morbis dentium ac gingivarum – published in Vienna. In his book he describes the growing of teeth, neural network in tooth, the milk teeth anatomy, the importance of dentures, the dental filling techniques. For dentures he used teeth carved from ivory or hippopotamus fangs and the teeth were fastened to the neighbouring teeth with yarns and sealing wax. Teeth of dead humans were also used, or the teeth of poor young people. The material for dental filling (dentis plumbatio) was lead or golden plate. He described tooth extraction and the toolset needed for such work.
Plenck also considered that educating barbers on teeth’s nature would be imperative. His other book was written for them in 1782 (De Dentibus, Hungarian translation prepared by Samuel Ratz). Ratz also wrote his own work on dentistry in 1778.
Academic education of dentistry and odontology in the country started from 1844. Dental filling materials in the end of the 19th century: gold, lead, amalgam (an alloy of mercury and other components). These were used in almost every European country.
Seeing these it is far fetched and reveals a preconceptious mind to assume that Eastern European countries were always behind Western Europeans – in every field of life. It is diminishing and discriminating.
Sources: Fogtudomany (dentist science) http://fogtudomany.hu/fogtudomany-toertenete.html
The development of European dentistry, from wanderer barbers to the dentist profession, specially in the 18th century; Dr. Forrai Judit: http://real-d.mtak.hu/841/2/Doktori%20mű.pdf
The beginning of Hungarian Odontology; Dr. Forrai Judit: https://mek.oszk.hu/05200/05209/05209.pdf
The good example on what Canada might be like in that period is Anne of Green Garbles and the Road to Avonlea. There we find a lot less idealized mindset, a more realistic (and more likeable) one I think.
I collected randomly a couple of articles on the bias present in Canadian society. I think assuming that the bias situation was better in the turn of 19th-20th century than today is rather foolish and painfully naive.
Joyce Echaquan: Outcry in Canada over treatment of dying indigenous woman
Another article about her:
She Was Racially Abused by Hospital Staff as She Lay Dying. Now a Canadian Indigenous Woman’s Death Is Forcing a Reckoning on Racism: https://time.com/5898422/joyce-echaquan-indigenous-protests-canada/ (less polite)
“Our health system was built on racial segregation,” McCallum says. “White supremacy and colonialism is in the fabric of our being—it is the air we breathe and the water we drink in Canada.”
2018 Canada denied visas to dozens of Africans for a big artificial intelligence conference
“Yoshua Bengio, a NeurIPS organizer and professor at the University of Montreal invited more than 200 scientists from Africa to participate. But about half of the visa applications led to denials or acceptances so delayed that the researchers were unable to attend”
“Bengio calls fears that foreign researchers would stay in Canada absurd. “Why would a Ph.D. student in Africa doing research in AI become an illegal immigrant in Canada and end up washing dishes and living undercover?” he says. “We all know that their skills are in high demand and that they’ll be able to get very good jobs almost anywhere.”
Some NeurIPS invitees from Asia and Eastern Europe were also denied visas, Bengio says. But the high rejection and no-response rate for Africans—nearly 50%—“raise the possibility that bias, discrimination, and racism are part of the explanation.””
2019 Canada refuses visas to over a dozen African AI researchers
For the second year in a row, Canada has refused visas to dozens of researchers – most of them from Africa – who were hoping to attend an artificial intelligence (AI) conference in Vancouver. The hassles have caused at least one other AI conference to choose a different country for their next event: Ethiopia. It became an online event because of Covid 19.
The harrassed Roma professor
In April 8. 2015 a Roma researcher with Roma roots, Eva, a professor at a university from Hungary tried to travel and make a survey on how the large number of migrated gypsies live in Canada. Although she owned all the necessary documents and visa for the journey she was harrassed in Vienna for more than a day in the airport. Her luggage was confiscated, and she was taken to inspection that took hours.
After the slapdash control procedure a most interesting information came: the airline stated that the Immigration Service of Canada forbade them to send Eva to Toronto while the Immigration Service – when asked – replied that they leave the decision with the airline.
She was questioned in an intimidating and abusive fashion and was interrogated why she plans to travel to Canada, why she wants to settle there. She desperately tried to defend herself and stated that her travel was only for research reasons, she does not want to live there. The officers did not believe her and finally she was blocked from travel. She was shocked and deeply humiliated. All the assets she paid for previously were lost.
Austrians – just like Canadians or other folks who like to position themselves as ‘enlightened, modern, open, etc.’ are apparently unable to tell one Roma from the other and they don’t suppose anyone with a different skin colour might have respectable knowledge of anything.
Of course, the rules of crossing the border are an internal matter of a given country, but based on Eva’s history, Canada filters Hungarian immigrants primarily on the basis of skin colour, and the examination of immigrants is superficial and prejudiced.
Source: A gepre sem engedtek fel Becsben a magyar cigany kutatot (in Hungarian):
In Hungary we know that not all gypsies are the same and although some prejudices prevail, this incident would never happen here. We, the majority, know very well that there are a lot of people among the Roma who shun work and bank on state aid, sadly this is too striking. But there are numerous others who want to learn and do work hard. They face a lot hardships and still do their best. From my part I have great respect for these people (and for all people who do their best).
I found a few successful Romas who deserve recognition:
Jozsef says we can reach anything we want, it is only question of our will power. The young man grew up in a gipsy settlement in Karcag and dreamed about becoming a jurist one day. But in highschool he just discovered how amazing the biology is.
Source: „Ha peldakepkent tekintenek rad” – Horvath Jozsef rakkutató (If you are looked at as an example – Horvath Jozsef cancer researcher): https://magyarnarancs.hu/lelek/ha-peldakepkent-tekintenek-rad-98871
And he is only one of the excellent people we have over here with Roma background. There are a number of successful singers, musicians like Roby Lakatos, Gusztav Nagy, Gyorgy Cziffra, and famous people like Laszlo Bogdan who was a mayor and made miracles in his village (of course, the Guardian certainly never mentioned him).
How nice are Canadians, really? Reckoning with racism, police use of force tests long-standing myths
The article explains: “Canadians tell two stories about the birth of this nation: One is about Europeans who bravely travel to North America, where they find vast, empty lands on which to build their ideal democratic states that reflect western ideals, Walcott says. – The other is “the more terrible story of colonization, which we know involves the taking of Indigenous land, the near genocide of Indigenous people and the bringing of Africans into the Americas as slave labour and commodities.” The latter is the truth.”
Canadians and Americans: Who Is More Racist?
The article notes: “Canadians have a tendency not to be less racist than Americans, but less loud about it. As Charmaine Nelson, a professor of art history at McGill University, wrote recently in the Walrus, Canadians are “more insidious and covert” in their racism. This is where the notion of exceptionalism fails.”
The Skin We’re In: DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE: CANADA IS NOT A NATION OF CULTURAL TOLERANCE
This is the personal story of Charles Officer, the director of ‘The skin we’re in’. A quote from the text: „Canada has often been seen as a safe haven for immigrants. I am an example of the opportunity that exists here. But we cannot deny that racism exists here, too.”
These are sharp signs of segregation, racism and discrimination toward anybody the Canadian authorities consider is less “civilized”: people of colour, Eastern Europeans, Asians, Africans, the riff-raff as the British would put it. These real stories give a striking contrast to the modern, open-minded image we see in the Murdoch series. I feel the film-makers present an idealized past they wish to have, an idealized self-image – which is very flattering but altogether anachronistic and false.
Other examples for this “rewriting history” tendency:
What the makers thought, would it be too upsetting for the viewers to see the less complementary past Toronto? Or do they delude themselves so much that they belive what they show? I am sure that people would accept the real and imperfect past Toronto, no problem.
Take a look at one of the Sherlock Holmes series, there we see a realistic image of how England might have looked like. The characters are fictional but there is no rosy make-up on the setup, and the era and the environment is pretty credible.
In IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086661/
I can’t help it, I appreciate realism. This »beautification« of the past can be observed in other recently made British (and some American or Canadian) films as well, it seems to be a phenomena. I think that instead of hypocritical denial, the past should be acknowledged as it was. Even if it is not so pleasant to face it. Otherwise there is no hope we learn from it! No hope for a fairer future… Just think about this a bit.
Pictures of series: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, Frankie Drake, Manhattan,