Monday, January 28, 2013

EastEnders: Missing the Big One

Walford Web Kindergarten is where the action is. Some commentators have sussed one of the basic problems the show is experiencing now.

Jay Lee starts the ball rolling:-

I can't remember who said it - it was either John Yorke or Mal Young about a decade ago - but they once said EastEnders at its best was like "Play for Today". I wasn't around in the 1960s but this was an era when the BBC used to produce single gritty drama films - one of the most famous was "Cathy Come Home", which dealt with homelessness. I really miss the days when EastEnders wore its social conscience on its sleeve and had the courage to deal with relevant issues: ever since the baby swap furore, the storyliners and writers have lost their guts. Everything now is an affair or a romance or filler comedy that they know won't upset anyone. Anything that has the potential to be gritty and original is sidelined (see Ian's mental illness and Sharon's drug addiction which has been forgotten about once again) or dragged on for months and months until the audience get fed up (Lola and Lexi / Phil). EastEnders urgently needs to get away from the mediocre and get back to the social realism which made its name. I'm not saying replicate the storylines of the 1980s; I'm saying that there are so many things going on in society these days (immigration, unemployment, NEETS) that the EastEnders of old wouldn't have been afraid to tackle.
This is one of the reasons EastEnders is losing its brand identification. It's why so many of the long-term viewers are disgruntled to the point that many are turning off. EastEnders - really EastEnders Lite - at the moment is pandering to the easily-entertained-easily-bored demographic of adolescents - or people longing to be adolescents again. The shallow end of the gene pool, people who like looking at pretty people and fit people getting it on on the small screen.

Ian's breakdown had the potential of taking a long-term character in a different direction and offered a challenge to the actor playing him. Adam Woodyatt rose to the challenge, but ultimately, the writers failed him. We saw Ian's initial breakdown, then he disappeared for six weeks. We then found him, bearded, dirty and living rough, unable to utter a word. Someone clearly in need of psychiatric help. We were then treated to Ian struggling to come to terms with being in Walford again - this week bearded and scruffy, next week minus a beard, then a fresh haircut; then we saw a brief, attempted and incomplete storyline which hinted that Lucy and Joey, then living with her for who knows what reason pre-Lauren, might be on the verge of bullying or mistreating Ian in his current state.

The next thing we saw was Zainab Masood - Zainab Masood, not Sharon! - physically escorting Ian to the doctor's surgery in order to enquire about counselling.

And that was that! Problem solved. 

Sharon's much-heralded drug addiction got less than three episodes.

Well, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, because long-term Walford Webber Shockenders remarks:-

 So I didn't realise this earlier but the abuse storyline on Corrie deals with a man being abused by a woman. That's exactly the kind of thing Eastenders should be doing. Have we landed in a mirror universe where Eastenders and Corrie have suddenly swapped places?

No shit, Sherlock. It's precisely the thing the show should be doing, and it had a perfect opportunity to do so.

The Kirsty-Tyrone thing has been simmering along like a pot waiting to boil over, but during the time it's done so, it's established a few well-researched facts as part of its storyline:-

  • That people who were often abused as children grow up to be abusers.
  • That in the instance of female-on-male abuse, this often goes unreported, for obvious reasons.
Corrie is presenting a big lunky, but gentle guy, being beaten black-and-blue by his slightly-built girlfriend as she projects the demons of her past onto him. 

EastEnders had the perfect opportunity to tackle this issue with the return of Alfie and Kat, especially with her smacking her way around the Square, physically assaulting him in the middle of the street, publically humiliating him by questioning his manhood, insulting him in front of others, and virtually shutting him out of the grieving process when she thought their baby had died.

When Kat knocked Alfie to the ground outside the Vic, this was supposed to be comedy. Had he done that to her, there would have been an outcry. The rest of their fractured dynamic was, according to Bryan Kirkwood, the way "the public wanted" Alfie and Kat to be, always at odds with each other, quarrelling.

Kat was an abused child - and she still uses this as an excuse to abscond responsibility for her inappropriate and hurtful behaviour. But abused children grow up to be abusers, themselves; EastEnders knows this. They've established this beautifully in the Mitchell family history:- with Grandad Mitchell beating the living shit out of Eric and Archie (who can forget Archie's tale of the snowy paperweight, how his dad would shake it, telling the boys they had until the last snowflake fell before he'd start beating him with his belt?); with Eric and his regular beatings of Peggy, Phil and Grant, resulting in Phil's recurrent physical abuse of his son, his various wives and even his mother on occasion; and Billy, who was abused in care and grew up to abuse Jamie, his nephew.

This time, we were presented with a woman as the abuser, and these things happen, and this sort of controversy was something which, time was, EastEnders would approach responsibly - controversially, but responsibly.

They totally ignored this issue storyline, staring them in the face. I don't know why, unless they were scared off the prospect of doing so by the failure of a previous attempt to cover this - when they attempted to do a female-on-male abuse storyline in the late 90s concerning Jackie Owen and Gianni di Marco. Owen was a relatively new character about whom we knew nothing and cared less, and di Marco wasn't sufficiently popular enough with the viewers for them to invest time and emotion in such a tale.

Maybe this scared TPTB off such a storyline, or maybe they thought it would be a laugh to present Alfie Moon as just another gormless, feckless husband whose antics deserved to be punished by a wallop from his wife.

Or maybe in this present climate and under the last two regimes, we've seen most male characters depicted in the pejorative sense, whilst most women seem to be eternal victims, with no responsibility at all for their actions.

1 comment:

  1. Please don't perpetuate the myth that the abused more often than not grow up to be abusers. I thought that myself until two good friends (male) who endured the more horrific abuse another person can inflict on another in the name of 'love', went (independetly - they don't know each other) into therapy and the statistics became known to me: that abused to abuser only happens in about 20-25% of cases. That's 1 in 4. It's not 'most' as all, or even 'half'. It's a myth which is unfortunatley used (as I suspect EE are doing) to justify anything else in the future.

    For the record, neither of my friends would EVER use their history as an excuse for bad behaviour now, a la Kat. It doesn't matter that they are men, an abused person is an abused person. One of my two friends gave me a great deal of reading material (because I wanted to support him) which explains it better than I can - stuff I NEVER want to read again, especially as Mum myself whose children are the same age as my friends were when the abuse happened, but I made a commitment to support, so that is what I did.

    I hate the Kat 'abuse excuses all' story line on EE. It's wrong and misleading, just as 'most/many/all abused become abusers to come degree in their own right'. It's not true at all. No wonder people are so scared to admit they've been abused when it immediately makes people suspicious of their motives! As if they don't have enough to deal with the memories, they then have to deal with the assumptions.

    EE could do a much better job of Kat if only they put some effort into it - challenge the perceptions, put the reality across, instead of perpetuating the myth. But they either won't or can't because it's not worth it or not 'dramatic enough'.

    I don't watch Corrie, but the story line is representative of the 20-25%, made all the more shocking because it challenges the expectation of who is abusing whom, but it's still on representative of a minority of those who've been abused. Yes, it's based on reality, but it's not a 'common' reality. That has to matter.