Saturday, 15 January 2011

Nothing to see in Albert Square...move along now...

...or at least switch channels!!

The recent furore over the EastEnders baby-swap plot is perplexing. Not because the subject matter shouldn't be expected to cause offence - that's surely a given, rightly or wrongly, with many soap opera storylines - but because of the magnitude of the reaction and the consequent extent of the media coverage.

The point, surely, is not the context of the plot per se, but the context of soap opera-land generally, and Albert Square in particular. Thus from a philistine who watches the programme to those of a more persuasion who look down their noses at the Mitchells, Slaters et al, a brief overview of some of the goings on.

For a start, what have Ronnie (Veronica) Branning (the baby swapper) and Kat (Kathleen) Slater (the swapped baby's mother) got in common? Well they've both worked behind the bar of the Queen Vic for a start.

Of course, half the residents of Albert Square have done likewise, but when you think about it - and off the top of my head - the whole thing is characterised by dynastical dysfunction and interconnectedness, sort of thing.

Thus both Ronnie and Kat gave birth at a very young age. Ronnie's baby was taken from her by her nasty father, who was consequently permanently estranged from her. Not to worry, though, because her daughter was reunited with her when a teenager, but unfortunately was run over and killed by a car soon after, with Ronnie witnessing it all. Oops. Kat's daughter, meanwhile, was brought up as her sister, and only realised this when asking the following supposedly rhetorical question during a spat with her ostensible sibling Kat: "Who do you think you are, me muvver?" An emotional Kat answered in the affirmative. What a tearjerker!

Anyway, Kat's cousin(?) Stacey was raped by Ronnie's horrible father, and later murdered him in the Queen Vic, leaving her husband Bradley Branning to take the blame after he had died following a fall from the roof of the pub. And Stacey left the Square recently after the facts of the matter became know, much to the disappointment of Bradley's father Max - whose brother Jack recently married Ronnie, after bizarrely making a full recovery from being paraplegic after being shot - who was having an affair with his daughter-in-law for a considerable period, which is probably why his barely teenage daughter tried to kill him. I think.

But although Stacey initially claimed to be carrying Ronnie's father's child, she later said it was Ryan's, who started an affair with Stacey as a consequence, culminating in Ryan's wife Janine drugging him and trying to kill him, but because of this Janine stabbed herself and tried to claim it was Stacey who did it, not only because of the affair with Ryan, but also because she was married to Ronnie's nasty father (remember him?), who was about 40 years her senior, and found out that it was Stacey wot done for him, because Max's daughter (who tried to kill him, remember? Keep up!) managed to record her confessing to it and wanted revenge on Stacey because of her affair with her father and because she left her half-brother(?) Bradley to take the rap for the murder, but fortunately he was dead anyway.

Of course, Stacey's bipolar disorder provided some credence to Janine's murder accusation, but she was found out anyway, and Ryan tried to kill her by pulling out a tube from her life support machine, although disaster was averted, but Janine's a nasty piece of work who had already killed at least one husband and has perpetrated all kinds of dastardly deeds. Anyway, Stacey's departure led her bipolar mother to attempt to drown herself in the bath, but once again death was narrowly averted.

Oh, aye, the link between Kat and Ronnie - apart from both working at the Queen Vic, remember? - is that the former's de facto sister Stacey was raped by Ronnie's estranged father, which has absolutely nothing to do with the baby swap line that I can readily think of, so I can't really remember why I thought it might be relevant in the first place. In fact I've said that already, cos it's all very confusing, and anyway I can't even remember who the father of Ronnie's now deceased child was, but I doubt if it was her husband Jack's, and I'm quite sure Kat's baby wasn't fathered by her husband Alfie, and may well be his brother's - oh dear, another plot twist for the future: perhaps Alfie will one day wish that Ronnie had kept the snatched baby!

But the above happened mainly in the last few weeks and covers only a section of the cast, and with several episodes per week stretching over 25 years it's inevitable that the plots become contrived and sensationalised, particularly in view of the ratings war with the other soaps, with this shock value often characterised by such euphemisms as "pushing the boundaries", which, for example, in the TV context almost seems to be Channel 4's raison d'ĂȘtre.

However, the point is that in this kind of soap opera milieu a basic cot death plot would have barely raised an eyebrow, particularly in the context of the even fiercer than usual festive ratings war, thus the need for something a bit edgier. Of course, and to reiterate, it's entirely understandable that some people might take offence at the whole thing, but perhaps the reason it all took off in the way it did is because it amounted to a classic internet viral campaign? Well I don't really know for sure, particularly since that part of the internet isn't really my domain, but when I saw the Mumsnet website mentioned in some of the news reporting this perhaps helped rationalise the strength and breadth of the reaction.

Likewise, the contemporary 'gritty' (another euphemism often justifying sensationalism) realism of soap operas - at least to the extent that they're not over-contrived - helps explain the response to the baby swapping plot: would the more cultured/highbrow (aka intellectual snobs?) who have criticised the BBC have reacted similarly to an identical plot in the Bible, Shakespeare or opera? I doubt it.

On the other hand, of course, no doubt the BBC and EastEnders consider all publicity to be good publicity, but it should be borne in mind that when the programme's creator Julia Smith claimed that, "We don't make life, we reflect it", she was well and truly talking out of her bahookey, or at least her own social background must be very bizarre indeed.

(I normally watch the EastEnders omnibus edition, and that's usually at least a week in arrears, hence the delay with this post. Indeed I haven't actually got to the baby swap bit yet, which might explain any lacunae in my knowledge, but I think I've got the gist by now. Oh, and no doubt EastEnders aficionados could pick holes in my plot summaries above, but the aim is merely to provide the gist for non-viewers.)


Indy said...

It's really not perplexing. It would be one thing for them to run a storyline about a cot death but for them to run a storyline about a cot death combined with a kidnapping is just stepping over the line.

What I think makes people angry - apart from the inherent stupidity and insensitivity of the storyline and the way they present madness and hysteria as the inevitable fate of bereaved mothers - is the way the BBC is trying to present it as a responsible portrayal of a social issue.

It is anything but. They have just gone too far in the pursuit of headlines and I think they'll pay a price for it.

Stuart Winton said...

Fair points, Indy, but what's new about it?

That's why I can't understand the current fuss.

There's always an element of such controversy about big soap story lines, but for whatever reasons this one seems to have appeared in different radar screens than is the norm for such controversies.

Indy said...

Because it's a baby. Everyone accepts that Eastenderss plotlines are far fetched and over the top. But cot death doesn't really fit into that so easily. And there's also the hypocrisy involved - the BBC trying to portray it as a responsible piece of drama when it's not, it's just about getting headlines. They have also been misrepresenting the involvement of the FSID:

"Despite the continuing statement, in some media, by the BBC that "FSID were consulted on the storyline...", FSID had no involvement in the planning or adoption of the specific 'baby-swap' plotline.The behaviour and actions of Ronnie Mitchell are in no way 'endorsed' by FSID as a typical, or even likely, reaction of a bereaved parent."

Stuart Winton said...

Indy, you almost make it sound like they bumped off a baby to make the episode. Perhaps they should have added the rider: "No children were harmed in the making of this programme" ;O)

And I hope you're not a Christian - you must have a terrible job reading about the slaughter of the innocents and all that ;0)

As for any misrepresentation and irresponsibility, as a hardenend politico you'll know all about that ;0)

And you were the last person I was expecting to commment in this thread, but then it dawned: the British Broadcasting Corporation ;0)