Yesterday I filled in a survey as a favour for someone whose daughter is doing a PhD in psychology. The survey is one that is apparently given to members of the prison population and, as part of the PhD project, the researcher is administering the survey to the general population. I didn’t ask too many questions about the project since it was an anonymous survey, but of course I was curious. I wondered if it was a project that sought to trace similarities or differences between the two populations. My curiosity was further piqued when I read the first part of the survey. Aside from demographic information, the survey asked about the extent to which the participants watched television, with a particular emphasis on crime genres. It asked the respondent to indicate whether they had watched any of the listed programs. They were all forensic-based programs, whether drama or non-fiction, and I refrained from writing ‘not if you threatened to remove my toenails!’ next to CSI and its franchises. The survey offered space for the respondent to write down any other ‘crime’ programs s/he had watched. I debated whether Oz was a crime show, since it didn’t focus on criminal investigation. In the same vein, I had an internal debate about whether to write down The Sopranos. This is what happens when you think about television and genre on a regular basis, you start to complain that the creators of psychological surveys haven’t addressed genre hybridity in their attempt to assess the criminal propensities of the general population from their television viewing habits.
Then I began to be suspicious that I was taking part in a dubious Effects/Cultivation Theory study because the next few questions asked me to assess the extent to which I believed I knew about forensic science (nothing) and criminal investigation (next to nothing). It was only because I like the person who asked me to fill in the survey that I didn’t toss the whole thing in the bin then and there.
The second part of the survey asked a number of questions about the respondent’s perception of their illegal activities. For the purposes of the survey in its ‘general’ population incarnation, jaywalking or lying could be considered illegal. Luckily, I have stolen 1 ¼ dozen eggs in my life time, so I didn’t have to resort to such sophistry so the researcher might glean insight into the criminal mind. The survey asked whether the respondent blamed society for his or her resorting to illegal acts. Here I refrained from writing an essay on entrenched structural inequalities—but only just. One of the other questions I remember concerned the extent to which the respondent might rationalise his or her criminal activity as harmless by comparing it to the large scale corruption that occurs in state and corporate enterprises. For a brief moment I wondered if I should feel worse about my egg thievery, but then I realised I have already expressed more regret about that than the AWB and Federal Government ever have over their role in the distortion of the UN Oil for Food Program.
Before I put the survey in the envelope and handed it over, I began to go through my answers, trying to second guess how they might expose something psychologically untoward about me. I stopped when I realised I had probably already revealed an untreatable degree of perversity when I’d circled a grammatical error in one of the questions, and perhaps something else when I’d crossed out a row of unnecessary and confusing numbers.