EastEnders to shorten cot death plot because 60 per cent of UK is either suffering from flu, depression, or both
Whenever complaints flood into Ofcom about a television show or advertisement I laugh at the ‘little Britain’ nature of the people who have nothing better to do than whine about something nobody is forcing them to watch. I would hate to be trapped in a confined space with Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand who have achieved success in spite, and not because of, the drivel that pours out of their mouths. Yet when the Daily Mail hyped up Sachs-gate complaints to the point of insanity, I felt sorry for them.
Now, I have an issue. Eastenders has gone too far. For those who haven’t heard, a character called Ronnie had a baby who died so she swapped it with someone else’s.
Let’s think for moment what this involved. Walking across the square with a dead baby, unlawful entry into someone’s property and exchanging the deceased with what she finds – clothes and everything.
“The show is absolutely not suggesting that this behaviour is typical of a mother who has suffered such a terrible and tragic loss,” Hana Bennett, the BBC executive responsible for all TV channels said. “Taking Kat’s baby is the action of a character in great distress due to a series of events that have befallen her in the last 18 months. It is the culmination of these that has driven her to this one moment of madness rather than as a direct result of the loss of her baby.”
It is not ‘one moment of madness’. The character is not continuing to lie about what she did, preventing neighbours and family from visiting the child in case they recognise that it is not her own. “Teenagers have germs” was a classic excuse to prevent one from going into the room that contained the stolen goods. A health visitor remarked how the baby weighed 20% less overnight and was miraculously cured of some health problem (something to do with club foot). She reacted cunningly by throwing convincing accusations of incompetence at the nurse. She is not being portrayed as mad, she is being portrayed as calculating.
Bennett argues, “EastEnders has a long history of tackling difficult issues in a way that allows viewers to learn and debate the topic at hand.”
This is not the case too. No one is debating Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). No one feels sorry for Ronnie’s loss. In fact, everyone has forgotten about her loss because they feel sorrier for Kat and Alfie.
I haven’t seen Eastenders since the aftermath because I genuinely find it distressing – and I don’t care if that makes me look like a sensitive idiot. If I want to depress myself I’ll wait for a repeat of a Jimmy McGovern drama on a nostalgia cable channel. This storyline is something out of a Roman Polanski film.
When I watch a soap, I want escapism from a life that is miserable enough as it is, not an insight into a scenario so unthinkable it makes me wish The One Show was still on.
“It’s not real life, it’s fiction!” I hear you cry. It’s time to bury that argument. It’s a story, and because it appears in a medium that has very little cultural capital doesn’t make it any less moving. It still has a duty to work within parameters of taste as an often screened family show. Is Heart of Darkness any less offensive to Zaire because it’s fiction? Is Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses trilogy any less relevant because it’s all made up?
“If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,” you may suggest. You’re right and it’s an argument just as applicable to Eastenders. But Eastenders is a serial, something I watch out of habit. I have a right to expect a level of decency from the show that I can reward with loyalty. Out of respect to my viewership, Eastenders should remember this expectation. It hasn’t, and the break of this ‘psychological contract’ is worthy of complaint.
I think this is a story that could be successfully explored in fiction – it throws up interesting debates about how a person rectifies a terrible wrong. It would make an excellent film. Eastenders is not a film, not even when it’s on for three hours on Sundays. It’s uncomfortable to watch and a good example of the fine line between innovative story telling and desperation.