Wednesday, 26 January 2011


A little while ago, I suggested that the Strictly Come Dancing format could be translated into soaps and we could phone in each week and vote off anyone we don’t like in the soap or vote to change storylines we don’t like.  This seemed like the perfect example of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ – we the people taking control of our entertainment.
One of you took this further and suggested that we might also phone in while watching Match of the Day and change the team (or the result).  That would be good too!  Then on the radio the other morning, one of the commentators, who clearly reads my blogs, proposed that the audience ought to be able to telephone in and choose what news they wanted to hear on the news round-up.  That sounded like a good idea as well!
The problem though of course with this sort of Big Society application is that powerful groups will win over wider society.  This is the anti-terrorist argument – should we let a small group of ignorant agitators dictate our viewing for the night (or anything else for that matter)?
Well, now it has actually happened.  Eastenders has introduced a storyline into its new year series in which a new-born succumbs to cot death and the traumatised mother exchanges it for another baby.
Now this is absolutely tragic stuff and I thought the actress playing the mother (and the mother of the other baby for that matter) played the part very well.  I actually said, well done BBC for continuing to find controversial topics to pursue in these otherwise mundane dramas.  It was moving, realistic and totally believable, particularly as we've already sat through 9 months of drama with both of the mums concerned.
But was it believable?  There have now been almost 10,000 complaints from viewers about this storyline.  Extraordinary!  I saw some of the interviews with complainants – ‘this should never have been put on TV’, ‘I lost my child this way.  This belittles it.’, ‘BBC have missed an opportunity’, etc.  Of course we all feel for anyone who has had to suffer this terrible tragedy, but surely that alone isn’t a reason not to air the issue on a soap.  I am always impressed at how these programmes incorporate issues of the times and handle them through drama.  I’ve no idea whether such a process can help anyone, but the process is certainly thought-provoking and often helps highlight the various sides to an argument, if not only the problems themselves, and indeed how others cope or not as the case may be.  There is moreover a helpline for anyone disturbed by the action.  In this case though the problem seems to have been simply that viewers didn’t want to watch.  I’ve no idea whether anyone rang the helpline, but writing to the media or ringing BBC to complain?!  For goodness sake, it’s a drama!  And you can switch over and watch Hugh Fearnley-Thingummy cooking potatoes.
And there is, curiously, a side issue; the actress playing the part of the traumatised mother has apparently been subjected to abuse in the street (the real street that is) for stealing someone else’s baby.  Unbelievable!  Some people actually do think it’s real.  In fact one of the other actors said in an interview that, when the star ‘became pregnant’, she was sent piles of baby clothes by viewers.  Oh dear!  The actress has now decided to leave the series because of the abuse she has received, despite being one of its stars.  And on top on all this madness, BBC has now decided to cut the storyline short.  It had been planned to run for 6 months, when presumably the baby would go to its rightful mother, everything would be back to normal, and the character would not have to be written out but could go to rehab and probably also prison.  Wouldn’t this be a good message for viewers?  How have BBC missed an opportunity yet?
Anyway, there it is; viewers have voted, a character has left the series (in fact 2 characters – they didn’t expect that!  That’ll teach them!) and the scriptwriters have cut the storyline short from 6 months to 3.  Big Society in action!!  But what is it the viewers wanted to watch?  Are we any the wiser?
Do they just want a boring, cosy daily life?  It can’t be that; there have been deaths, murders, attempted murders, bodies buried here, there and everywhere, descents into crack addiction, all sorts of naughty goings-on in the bedroom that would have certainly shocked Queen Vic, and even someone overcharging in the market (shock, horror!).  But no one seems to mind those story lines.  No one objected, as far as I know, when Archie was murdered on screen, or even when Bradley fell off the roof and died.  At one time I might have assumed that viewers wanted a more homely storyline like the Archers, until Nigel fell off the roof and died there too last week.  (What is it with soap actors and roofs?).
So who is it that complains?  Murder’s OK, sudden death from illness or accident is OK, alcoholism and drug abuse is OK, but a baby-related storyline is bad.  Am I the only one who thinks this sounds like another Mumsnet campaign?  What will they make of the 16 year old Whitney turning to prostitution next month? 

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