What I seek… when I want a busman’s holiday

New Associate Editor for 'Culture' Dr Sally Marlow with the first in an occasional series.

I love television. It allows me to suspend what I think is my real self for a while, and explore thoughts and feelings that Freud might have argued are repressed. I want to see new ways of looking at the pain and misery I come across in my work in addictions, and to understand more about being pushed to extremes and losing control.

There’s not much that fits the bill on mainstream TV at the moment however: Shameless completed 10 glorious years in 2013, and Irvine Welsh is not yet writing for Hollyoaks. Fortunately there’s Netflix and box sets, and here addictions lead the way. The seminal series on drugs in modern-day America, The Wire, showed the failings of the ‘War on Drugs’. As I watched four, five, six episodes in a row late into the night in a farmhouse in France, I realised I was hooked. Then along came Breaking Bad: 62 episodes of breathtaking moral ambivalence capturing the highs and lows of drug taking, drug dealing, crime and desperation. And indecently funny. Now Narcos opens up the world of Pablo Escobar, the ultimate big man of drugs, with fabulous seventies clothes and facial hair.

These, then, are my Grimms’ fairytales, where violence and gore are commonplace; and good and evil aren’t always the right way round. Do they make me see my work differently? Perhaps. But perhaps more importantly they reinforce the human need for stories and humour, however disturbing the topic.

When I do manage to drag myself away from the sofa and the small screen, I look for insight and escape in the music of Massive Attack. More drugs.

- By Dr Sally Marlow, National Addiction Centre, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, and Associate Editor for Culture

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