I have been watching ‘This Morning’ on TV and they were doing a phone-in about a storyline that’s coming up on Corrie and it got me thinking. Given that many people could get help with their issues by seeing characters in their favourite soap operas going through the same thing, could this be exploited in some way? I know that, quite often, we get the helpful message at the end of a programme giving a phone number that people can ring if they have been affected by any of the issues they have just seem, but could more be done?
I think it could.
Soap operas are supposed to represent a dramatised view of everyday life, but do they? As far as I am concerned, we are supposed to relate to various characters because they are going through the same life challenges as us. Sure, most of the time the people on the Street, in Albert Square or up in the Dales seem to lurch from crisis to crisis but can any of these crises be used to help us?
I think they can.
Let’s look at Eastenders, my soap of choice, how come none of the characters appear to be unemployed? They seem to come out of school and waltz straight into a job on the market, in the cafe or convenience store or at the Vic. Is that realistic? No, it isn’t. Most young people move from school to Uni, College, an apprenticeship or, in many instances, down to the local Job Centre to sign on for JSA or ESA. Why does this never seem to happen in Eastenders? It also appears that every single character has a job on the Square. Not one of them, as far as I can see anyway, leaves their house in the morning to battle their way through London congestion to work in the city or somewhere else closer to home. No-one seems to return in the evening exhausted and stressed after another day in their boring office job, pen-pushing. That’s what the rest of us do, why not the Beales, the Mitchells or the Fowlers? Do they all work in the Square? What an amazing place Walford must be with full employment and apparent jobs available at the click of the fingers whenever they are needed. I almost want to move there myself.
Then there are the other opportunities there are to help viewers. What about the obviously disabled character, Donna, does she receive DLA and is she about to be transferred to PIP? In the real world, almost certainly, in the wonderful world of Walford, who knows. Disabled people nationwide are having to go through reassessments, invasive medicals and endless appeals, maybe Donna should have to go through this too. That way the viewing public could be guided towards all the wonderful, helpful organisations that are out there when it seems there is nowhere else to turn. When it comes to Welfare Benefits, a storyline that would resonate with so many people would be a character who is in receipt of JSA or ESA and who gets sanctioned for no real reason apart from a delayed bus making them late to sign on. Someone needing to use a Foodbank and dealing with the potential embarrassment and stigma this can cause. And what about that same character falling into debt and having to resort a payday loan company? Just seeing the problems that can cause and where people need to go to sort things out would be so helpful.
That, in my belief, is only the start of things. I would like to see stories that better reflect the problems of the wider community and potential solutions. I think that would be so helpful to so many. I know Soap Operas are not here to educate, they are here to entertain but surely education and entertainment can be combined. To all the writers and Directors and Producers out there, what about using your characters go through the same things that we do. We’ve had Hayley Cropper in Corrie and Dot Branning in Eastenders, give us more and reflect the lives we are all living every day. Have desperate people who are looking for help and support the same way we do. Show us some of the places we can go and some of the things we can do and you would be doing so much for your audience. Apparently the average Briton spends an entire year throughout their lifetime watching soaps. Help to make that a year well spent and not a wasted year. Help us to help ourselves and give us all some idea where we can go when it looks like there is nowhere. Do that and, I’m sure, we will all place greater value on our TV licences and resent the advertising revenue that is generated for big businesses on Commercial Channels less. Help us to help ourselves and, in exchange, we, your audience, will thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Education and entertainment intertwined.
Think about it.