“Just one more thing”: The psychology of ‘Columbo’
My favourite TV detective has always been Columbo (played by Peter Falk). I have watched every single one of the 69 episodes (as my family will attest) many times. While I am working, I will often have Columbo on in the background in the way that other people have music on in the background (although I do the latter as well). For those reading this that have not come across Columbo, here is a brief synopsis from Wikiquote:
“Columbo (1968, 1971-1978, 1989-2003) was an American crime fiction television show about Lieutenant Columbo, a homicide detective with the Los Angeles Police Department. He uses his deferential and absent-minded persona to lull criminal suspects into a false sense of security, by harassing and pestering suspects non-stop – without letting them know that they’re suspects – under the pretense that he’s simply being a pesky detective, in order to spy on them and agitate them into giving up clues”.
I have asked myself many times why I love the iconic show so much and it’s hard to put my finger on any single reason. One of the things I love about the show is that almost all the episodes are a ‘reverse whodunit’ (often referred to as an ‘open mystery’) in which the viewer knows the identity of the murderer(s) and we watch to see how Lt. Columbo uncovers who the killer or killers are. (I say “almost all” because there are actually a few episodes that are more typical ‘whodunits’ such as 1976’s ‘Last Salute To The Commodore’, 1992’s ‘No Time To Die’ [involving a kidnapping rather than a murder] and 1994’s ‘Undercover’). Another aspect I love is the inherent contradictions in Lt. Columbo’s day-to-day behaviour. His dishevelled clothing (the infamous beaten-up raincoat), his apparently bumbling absent-minded nature, and his habit of going off-topic in conversations, but knowing that he is actually one of the most astute and clever detectives that you are ever likely to meet (he would no-doubt fit the description of the stereotypical ‘absent-minded professor’). As a psychologist I find him fascinating. As an article about Columbo on the Cult TV Lounge rightly notes:
“The emphasis is on the psychological duel between detective and suspect, with (mercifully) no interest in social commentary and few concessions to the ‘realism’ that would become more and more of a fetish in TV cop shows during the course of the 70s. This is pure entertainment and it’s all the better for it”.
And finally, it is Lt. Columbo’s brilliant trademark ‘false exits’ that wrongfoot all the murderers. After most informal interrogations with the murderer, Columbo leaves the scene, only to return a few seconds later with the opening gambit of “there’s just one more thing” (or a variant of the phrase) only for it to be the most important question that he “forgot to ask”. As an obituary at the In The Dark website on Peter Falk noted:
“The more trivial the “thing” is, the more damning it proves. As an application of psychology, it’s a superb tactic and it slowly but surely grinds down the criminal’s resistance. Often the murderer’s exasperation at Columbo’s relentless badgering leads to rash actions and errors; the second murder, if there is one, is never as carefully planned as the first”.
As the selected (emboldened) quotes above show, psychology is an integral part of Columbo’s appeal. I was also surprised to find that clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists have used Lt. Columbo’s modus operandi in their day-to-day work. (In fact, even some writers claim that if you want to be a better writer you should watch Columbo according to an article by Shahan Mufti in the New York Times; also, a number of marketing gurus claim that Lt. Columbo can teach marketers a thing or two – check out ‘10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo’). For instance, in an article on motivational interviewing (MI) via the Australian Mental Health Academy describe the ‘Columbo approach’:
“Proponents of motivational interviewing owe a debt of gratitude to the 1970s television series Columbo…[Columbo] was a master of the skill of ‘deploying discrepancies’, and MI therapists/practitioners can use the same skill to get clients to help them make sense of their (the clients’) discrepancies. With the Columbo approach, an interviewer makes a curious enquiry about discrepant behaviours without being judgmental or blaming. In a non-confrontational manner, information that is contradictory is juxtaposed, allowing the therapist to address discrepancies between what clients say and their behaviour without evoking defensiveness or resistance. Wherever possible when deploying discrepancies, practitioners are encouraged to end the reflection on the side of change, as clients are more likely to elaborate on the last part of the statements”
The article then goes on to explicitly describe specific MI interventions using the ‘Columbo approach’. Another online article by Greg Lhamon (‘A simple trick to make a powerful last impression’) describes the ‘Columbo Technique’. Here is an abridged version:
“One way in which you can leave someone with a powerful last impression is to use…“the Columbo Technique”…named after the lovable yet shrewd TV detective from the 1970s…He was unassuming and appeared almost absent-minded as he questioned a murder suspect. Yet his seemingly random line of questioning was the process by which he built an airtight case against the suspect. At the conclusion of every interview, he did something unique: he’d thank the suspect profusely, step toward the door, stop, and then turn back, and say, “Oh, just one more thing.” Then he’d ask one last question, a particularly damning question that let the suspect know that Lieutenant Columbo was onto him. Like every form of good communication, sincerity is critical. It cannot be contrived. The goal is simply to make a strong, memorable point, not to manipulate someone. The process is simple: (1) hold back a critical piece of information and reserve it for the end of the meeting, (2) right before you part company, share the information or ask a question, and (3) enjoy the response you receive”.
A 2009 article in the American Bar Association Journal reported that the best way to interrogate a suspect is to ‘Think Columbo’. The advice given was that police should focus on what suspects say rather than their behaviour (such as fidgeting, sweating, and averting eyes during an interview). After reviewing interrogation tapes, Professor Ray Bull, a British forensic psychologist told the Times newspaper that British police use an investigative interviewing technique:
“These interviews sound much more like a chat in a bar. It’s a lot like the old Columbo show, you know, where he pretends to be an idiot but he’s gathered a lot of evidence.”
The ABA article also included comments from American psychologist Kevin Colwell, who said that suspects that lie in police interviews “often prepare a script that doesn’t have much detail”. Colwell recommended using interview techniques where the individual undergoing questioning should talk about the event in question more than once “adding details in retelling the event about things such as sounds and smells” and asking the person “to recall the event in reverse” and that:
“Those who tell the truth tend to add 20% to 30% more external detail than do those who are lying. Those who are adept at lying may start to feel more strain if the interviewer introduces evidence throughout the questioning that has been previously uncovered. Detective Columbo, it turns out, was not just made for TV”.
Another reason I love Columbo because a number of episodes featured psychologists and/or psychiatrists as the killer, most of who used their psychological expertise to carry out an ingenious murder. This included the episodes ‘Prescription Murder’ (1968 – the first ever episode; Dr. Ray Flemming who uses his high intelligence rather than his psychiatric expertise to murder his wife), ‘Double Exposure’ (1973; Dr. Bart Kepple, a consumer psychologist who uses subliminal advertising to lure his victim to be killed), ‘A Deadly State Of Mind’ (1975; Dr. Marcus Collier, a psychiatrist who uses hypnosis to make his victim jump from a high rise apartment), ‘How To Dial A Murder’ (1978; Dr. Eric Mason, a behavioural psychologist who uses classical conditioning to train his dogs to kill his victim), and ‘Sex And The Married Detective’ (1998; Dr. Joan Allenby, a sex therapist who uses her knowledge of psychosexual roleplay to ensnare and kill her lover). In one episode (‘How To Dial A Murder’), Columbo and the psychologist Dr. Eric Mason have an interesting exchange:
Dr. Eric Mason: You’re a fascinating man, Lieutenant. Columbo: To a psychologist, sir? Dr. Eric Mason: You pass yourself off as a puppy in a raincoat happily running around the yard digging holes all up in the garden, only you’re laying a mine field and wagging your tail.
As an ex-Professor of Gambling Studies, another aspect that I have noticed is how many episodes of Columbo feature gamblers and gambling that are often integral to the storyline. Gambling is a key feature in the episodes ‘Double Shock’ (1973; the murderer Norman Paris, a banker, is featured at a Las Vegas casino running up gambling debts), ‘A Friend in Deed’ (1974; the murderer Mark Halperin, a deputy police commissioner, is shown in his opening scene to be a regular casino gambler), ‘Uneasy Lies The Crown’ (1990; the murderer, Dr. Wesley Corman is a dentist and a compulsive gambler), ‘Death Hits The Jackpot’ (1991; photographer and murder victim Freddy Brower wins a $30 million on the lottery and is killed by his uncle Leon Lamarr), ‘A Bird In The Hand’ (1992; would-be murderer Harold McCain, a compulsive gambler tries to murder his millionaire uncle, owner of a US football team), ‘All in The Game’ (1993; murder victim Nick Franco is a playboy and high stakes poker player killed by his lover Laura Staton), and ‘Strange Bedfellows’ (1995; Randy McVeigh the murder victim owes money for gambling debts to the Mafia and is killed by his brother Graham who has ‘inherited’ his brother’s debt).
In another episode (‘Troubled Waters’, 1975), it turns out that the killer (Hayden Danzinger, an autocar executive) is also a regular casino gambler but this only comes to light late in the episode when Lt. Columbo talks to his wife (Sylvia Danzinger). Here we learn that Lt. Columbo thinks about slot machines:
Columbo: You see that fellow over there playing the slot machines? Waste of money. I’ve played it 44 times. I won once right at the beginning and I never won again. Sylvia Danzinger: You can’t beat ‘em. I don’t even try. Columbo: You’re not a gambler? Sylvia Danzinger: No, I prefer more quiet activities. Columbo: That’s funny. I was under the impression you and your husband went to Las Vegas quite a few times. Sylvia Danzinger: Oh, no. Hayden goes often but without me. I wouldn’t be caught dead there.
I’ve often wondered if gambling was an important issue (positive or negative) for Peter Falk in his private life, because when he wasn’t playing Lt. Columbo, it wasn’t unusual for him to be in gambling-related acting roles. Most notably, he played an ageing bookmaker Vinnie in the 1988 film Money Kings (also known under the title Vig, a film about the illegal world of gambling), and the 1988 film Pronto he played Harry Arno, a sports bookmaker who stole money from the local mafia boss Jimmy Capatorto. He also played the poker player Waller in a 1960 episode of Have Gun – Will Travel (‘Poker Fiend‘), and in the 1970 film Husbands he played Archie Black, one of three men undergoing mid-life crises following the death of their friend who then who all go to Europe to gamble, drink, and womanise.
If you’ve got this far, I’ll just leave you with the answers to a couple of my favourite Columbo trivia questions. The most asked question concerning Lt. Columbo (like Inspector Morse) is what was his first name. (When asked the same question in the series itself, Columbo would answer ‘Lieutenant’!). Lt. Columbo never once revealed his first name verbally in the series but did once flash his police badge in an early episode (‘Dead Weight’; Episode 3, Series 1) and accidentally revealed his name was Frank. The second most asked question is how Peter Falk lost his eye. Falk had his eye removed at the age of three years (due to cancer) and had a glass eye for the rest of his life. Although Falk had a glass eye, fans debated for years whether Lt. Columbo had only one eye. The answer was revealed in the 25th anniversary episode (‘A Trace of Murder’) when Lt. Columbo asked the murderer (Patrick Kinsley, a forensic expert) to look at something with him because “three eyes are better than one”!
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Burns, S. (2016). The Columbo Episode Guide. Located at: http://www.columbo-site.freeuk.com/episode.htm
Changing Minds (2013). The Columbo Technique. Located at: http://changingminds.org/techniques/questioning/columbo_technique.htm
Dawidziak, M. (1989). The Columbo Phile. Mysterious Press.
D For Doom (2015). Columbo, Season 1 (1971). Cult TV Lounge, July 3. Located at: http://cult-tv-lounge.blogspot.co.uk/2015/07/columbo-season-one-1971.html
Haynes, N. (2012). Guide to TV detectives: No.1. The Guardian, January 23. Located at: https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/tvandradioblog/2012/jan/23/natalie-haynes-detectives-columbo
Henley, J. (2013). 10 things marketeers can learn from Columbo – yes, Columbo. Rock The Deadline, November 24. Located at: http://rockthedeadline.com/blog/content-marketing/10-things-marketers-can-learn-from-columbo-yes-columbo/
Mental Health Academy (2015). Principles and techniques of motivational interviewing. January 12. Located at: http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/principles-and-techniques-of-motivational-interviewing/
Mufti, S. (2013). Want to write better? Watch Columbo. New York Times (The 6th Floor), September 25. Located at: http://6thfloor.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/25/want-to-write-better-watch-columbo/?_r=2
Telescoper (2011). In memorium: Peter Falk (1927-2011). In The Dark, https://telescoper.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/in-memoriam-peter-falk-1927-2011/
Weiss, D.C. (2009). The best way to interrogate: Think Columbo. American Bar Association, May 12. Located at: http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/the_best_way_to_interrogate_think_columbo/
Wikipedia (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbo
Wikipedia (2016). List of Columbo episodes. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Columbo_episodes
Wikipedia (2016). Peter Falk. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Falk
Wikiquote (2016). Columbo. Located at: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Columbo
Getting to the point: A brief look at injection fetishes
In a previous blog I examined ‘medical fetishism’. One of the sub-types of medical fetishism comprises individuals who derive sexual pleasure and arousal from being the recipients of a medical or clinical procedure (typically some kind of bodily examination). This includes genital and urological examinations (e.g., a gynaecological examination), genital procedures (e.g., fitting a catheter or menstrual cup), rectal procedures (e.g., inserting suppositories, taking a rectal temperature, prostate massage), the application of medical dressings and accessories (e.g., putting on a bandage or nappy, fitting a dental retainer, putting someone’s arm in plaster), and the application and fitting of medical devices (e.g., fitting a splint, orthopaedic cast or brace).
One type of medical fetish that I did not mention was that involving individuals that have ‘injection fetishes’. Obviously this fetish appears to be a very niche sexual behaviour within medical fetishism but there are various online forums and websites that cater for individuals who derive sexual pleasure from the giving or receiving of injections (or watching such acts). For instance, there is a dedicated forum within the Voy.com website where individuals share their injection stories, the Real Injection website (which features stories and clips from films and news stories where injections are administered), the Needing Needles page on Tumblr (which mainly consists of photographic pictures featuring hypodermic needles), The Injection Girls website (which doesn’t appear to be overtly sexual but would be highly arousing for those with an injection fetish), the Fetish Clinic website (featuring lots of medical fetish videos including injections), and even a dedicated Facebook page on the topic.
In researching this article I came across many online accounts (of various degrees of detail) of people claiming to have an injection fetish. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the statements but they appeared genuine to me:
- Extract 1: “I am an injection fetish person. [I] Iike to watch injection pictures [and] videos particularly a female being the administrator”.
- Extract 2: “At [the] age of 18 [years] I was hospitalized for a week. I had to [have an] injection every day [from a] nurse…On [the] first two days she told me to lower my pants [to give the] injection. [She] slowly injected the needle in my fatty butt. On [the] third day I told her to [take] down my jeans by herself. First she hesitated, but [did] it. [The] next day she came and [did it without me asking]. She lowered my jeans…[and] gave [me the] injection on [my] butt…She gave me injections and then made me horny by keeping her hand & finger on [where she had injected me. It felt] uncomfortable. but she still smiled. She obviously teased me and on the same day I [returned] home with an injection fetish”.
- Extract 3: “I ejaculate [and am] more happy if a nice woman dressed in nurse [gives] me an injection…I like very much the preparation protocol before injection…I have [had] this fetish since I received [my] first injection made by a nurse when I was 10 years old…This is a nice fetish. I know that is not very common but I know some people [who] like it, so we are not alone [in having] curious pleasures”.
- Extract 4: “I have an injection fetish…When I was younger I got a shot from a nurse and after injected she was getting very fresh and touchy with me. I could not turn her down when she said we must go somewhere and get it on…I have never felt so satisfied after she [injected] me. That’s where it started. She was forceful and demanding. The [injection] shot was large and scary. I wasn’t real thrilled about getting it but she said it [was in my] best interest. So I bent over. She swabbed me. I was a bit resistant. She was persuasive in her words…It was hurting. Then while she was injecting that was hurting too. I was squirming and moaning. But I would love for this to happen again someday”
- Extract 5: “I have an ‘injection fetish’. That means that I get only sexually attracted when thinking about women getting injections in their butt. I also like to have fantasies about myself getting injections in the butt by woman. This fetish is apparently rare, but also not that uncommon…As such, a fetish might not be something bad, but this one prevents me from having orgasm in normal sexual intercourse. The female vagina does not sexually really attract me…It basically destroys any relationship because I cannot have an orgasm or ejaculate during normal sexual intercourse…Has this specific type of medical fetish (or similar ones…suppositories, enemas, gyno) been researched in medical/psychological science? Once I know where this [fetish] is from, I can understand it and I can control it…To me, it appears I had this fetish from day one (of course, that was not the case, but [that is how] it feels)”.
Unlike the others quoted here, this last extract is from a person also provided further description about himself. He was 39 years of age when he posted his comments and claimed to have developed the fetish in childhood some time between the ages of six to eight years. He claims not to know where the fetish originated, and his only description of his childhood was that he had a father who used to beat him and who wouldn’t let him bring any friends to his house (including girlfriends). Although the accounts here are brief, all five are males, and three of the five extracts mention getting an injection from a nurse at some point on their lives had kick-started their injection fetish and would appear to suggest that associative pairing took place and that their sexual arousal from injections arises as a result of classical conditioning.
It’s also worth mentioning that there are also hard-core pornographic films where injections are central to the ‘plot’ – the 2011 film Lethal Injection being the most infamous example. (I say “infamous” because many newspapers – such as a piece in the Daily Mail – reported that China’s leading state-run news agency Xinhua posted the screen shots from the film on its website under the headline ‘Actual Record of Female Inmate’s Execution – Exposing the World’s Darkest Side’ and claimed it showed a real execution by lethal injection in the United States. In the film itself, a doctor has sex with a woman after she has been given a lethal injection and arguably is more about necrophilia and lust murders than it is about injection fetishes).
Academically, I’m not aware of any research specifically focusing on injection fetishes although a paper by Dr. Allen Bartholomew published back in 1973 in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry alluded to behaviours that have similarities to injection fetishes. Bartholomew was studying the characteristics of intravenous drug users and noted three cases of autohaemofetishism (i.e., deriving sexual pleasure from sight of blood drawn into a syringe during intravenous drug practice, something that I briefly mentioned in a previous blog on vampirism as a sexual paraphilia). He also noted three cases of ‘injection masochism’ in which users were sexually aroused from giving themselves injections. In both of these two features, it was argued by Bartholomew that both of the two features were considered to be brought about by classical conditioning.
More recently, in 2012 issue of the journal Rhizomes in Emerging Knowledge, Dr. Varpu Rantala examined the recurrence of drug injection scenes in contemporary mainstream cinema from a cultural studies perspective. She argued that in cinematic terms:
“Injection is a fetish – not only of drug users but a collective one. The injection shots momentarily fix the images of what is thinkable and sayable about intravenous drug use, centering it on an overindulgence in injection and reducing ‘addicted bodies”.
However, the word ‘fetish’ in this context is not being used in any sexual sense. She also makes reference to the portrayal of drug addicts in the work of US writer William Burroughs. Again, this is not used in a sexual sense but she does make some interesting observations about obsession and addiction:
“The coolness in Burroughs’s description of a junkie is paradoxically both ice-cold and mobilizing, or attractive, as understood in relation to the attraction image. These images may also be fetishized. Intravenous drug users may develop a fetish for injection, the ‘needle fixation’, an addiction to the injection itself that is often experienced as both repulsive and seductive (Pates et al 2001). But, it seems that “needle fixation” is not only about intravenous drug users: this kind of ambiguous fascination with the injection image as part of late modern mainstream everyday audiovisual culture may even be described a ‘cinematic obsession’: as the ‘hold [of drugs] on the modern imagination [is] seemingly as strong as the hold it has over those addicted to it’ (Boothroyd 2007, 9), ‘it is the ambiguity and duality of the symbolism [of the syringe] that is the source for conflict, and intense pleasurable obsession’ (Fitzgerald 2010, 205). The recurrence of these images in their over-indulgence of sensuous material of extreme explicitness reminds one of the processes of addiction as unwilled repetition of excessive sensual experience: a cinematic addiction…Repetitive, fixed and fetishized, late modern drug injection images are clichés that may ‘penetrate each one of us’ (Deleuze 2005, 212). This may also be about an intense encounter that moves us. In case of the injection shot, they form a place of intensity in a film; an attraction image (Gunning 1990) that reaches towards the viewer and that Williams (1991) has further discussed with respect to porn, horror and melodrama”
Finally, (and staying with films), a few years ago there was an interesting article on the Hannibal Studio Lo website (a site dedicated to critical analysis of all things Hannibal Lecter). Unfortunately, the website is no longer on the internet but one of the contributors to the site made the observation that the author of all the ‘Hannibal Lecter’ books (Thomas Harris) has (in his writing) a “fetish for injections, a love-hate relationship for the meaning of getting an injection and its purpose”. The article made references to the many passages in Harris’ books that concern injections but asserts that:
“The most impressive descriptions of injections in the [novel] of ‘Hannibal’ are those given by Dr. Lecter to Clarice Starling. Appearing in Chapter 94 there is a ‘Tiny sting of the finest needle – Starling did not even look down’ and in Chapter 91 there is ‘Day and evening again, the smell of fresh flowers in the house, and once the faint sting of a needle’. The essence of those injections, which would lead her from one life to another and help her cross the final threshold to her transformation. So what do you think is the significance of injections according to the Harris realm? Could it be that one of the ingredients of a dark and profound romance is the intimate enigmatic comfort of Hannibal’s injections? I think it is very interesting to note how Harris’s equation promises that from an ambiguous act that could be considered controlling, true freedom and tranquility are born”.
Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
(Note: the original weblink for the article concerning Thomas Harris’ “fetish for injections” was at: http://www.hannibalstudiolo.com/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?t=1095&start=-1&sid=0f25ca4b4c2dca0bd9f85038ae600a03)
Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.
Bartholomew, A. A. (1973). Two features occasionally associated with intravenous drug users: A note. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 7(3), 206-207.
Bizarre Magazine (2010). Medical fetishism. December 1. Located at: http://www.bizarremag.com/fetish/fetish/10393/medical_fetish.html?xc=1
Boothroyd, D. (2007). Cinematic heroin and narcotic modernity. In Ahrens, R. and Stierstorfer, K. (eds.), Symbolism: An International Annual of Critical Aesthetics (pp. 7-28). New York: AMS Press.
Deleuze, G. (2005a) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. London: Continuum.
Fitzgerald, J. (2010). Images of the desire for drugs. Health Sociology Review, 12(2), 205-217.
Pates, R.M., McBride, A.J., Ball, N. & Arnold, K (2001). Towards an holistic understanding of injecting drug use: An overview of needle fixation. Addiction Research and Theory, 9, 3-17.
Rantala, V. (2012). Hardcore: Schizoanalysis as audiovisual thinking of cinematic drug injection images. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge, 24, 1-12
Wikipedia (2012). Medical fetishism. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medical_fetishism
Williams, L. (1991). Film bodies: Gender, genre and excess. Film Quarterly, 44(4), 2-13.