Saturday, 8 January 2011

Losing the plot

The 9000 people who've complained about the cot death story in Eastenders* just don't seem to understand what fiction means.

The furious complainers, led by the parents' website Mumsnet, have accused the BBC of portraying bereaved mothers as "deranged and unhinged" and showing "a lack of understanding."

The plotline involves Ronnie Branning, who lost her baby in a cot-death, swapping him for another couple's new-born son.

The BBC, in a fit of spineless timidity, has now said the story will be ended prematurely in the spring.

But why are they being so supine? Eastenders is a work of fiction. It doesn't necessarily reflect real life. It may often wander into the realm of the implausible and the fantastic. That's what fiction does.

The idea that Eastenders has to faithfully mirror life as it actually is (if that can even be accurately pinned down) is absurd.

It's equally absurd to insist that a fictional creation should not offend the sensitivities of a particular group of people.

Apart from the fact that it's hard to know what will or won't offend the viewers, avoiding offence to every motley group in society would be an impossible task. Someone somewhere is always going to feel insulted by something.

And again, the point of fiction is not to avoid offence, it is to create imaginary scenarios and situations. Being nice to people is the job of politicians and vicars, not dramatists.

The overheated followers of Mumsnet really ought to calm down and not expect soap operas to be something they were never intended to be. Eastenders isn't a helpline or a counselling service, it's a piece of vaguely credible make-believe. Nothing more, nothing less.

Pic: Samantha Womack as Ronnie Branning

* Eastenders is a long-running British TV soap opera set in the fictitious Borough of Walford in East London.

35 comments:

Scarlet Blue said...

Yes, I see your point Nick, but it is a rubbish plot-line.
It's tragic enough having the cot death, but the kidnap twist, I think, has devalued the impact of it... it's made the whole thing absurd.
Sx

Nick said...

Scarlet - It may well be a rubbish plotline, but what I'm saying is that the whole thing's fiction and people who treat it as some sort of real-life documentary are being perverse.

Scarlet Blue said...

...maybe they're just using these arguments cos they think it's a rubbish plotline as well...?
Sx

Nick said...

Oh, clearly they do. They insist that no woman who's lost a baby would want to snatch someone else's, therefore the plotline is objectionable. But as I say, this is fiction, not reality.

If the milkman turned out to be a serial killer, would someone object that this wasn't a realistic portrayal of milkmen?

Scarlet Blue said...

I'm not much fun to debate with, am I?
You will have to wait until someone more sensible comes along!
Sx

rummuser said...

"The idea that Eastenders has to faithfully mirror life as it actually is (if that can even be accurately pinned down) is absurd."

I beg to differ Nick. It is very likely that the objection is precisely because it mirrors real life! There must be a lot of identification and inability to face up to that, that results in the fury from the objectors.

Where is the much vaunted freedom-of-expression value that Britain cherishes? BBC should hang its head down in shame.

Roses said...

I don't watch soaps. I have enough real life going on in my own life, to deal with fictional dramas on top of things as well.

So, perhaps I'm not qualified to participate in this debate. But that's never stopped me before.

I agree with Nick. It's fiction. It should be treated as such. It's entertainment. If people don't like it, you know they can always exercise their right to watch something else.

Nick said...

Scarlet - You're lots of fun to debate with. We could even hatch up a dubious storyline together....

Ramana - Well, according to Mumsnet, it isn't true to real life at all. They think it's a hefty slice of artistic licence. But why shouldn't it be? And yes, what happened to freedom of expression?

Roses - Exactly, it's fiction and entertainment. If you don't like it, you're free to press the Off switch.

Roses said...

Doesn't it also leave you feeling, if 9000 people can work up the energy to bitch about a soap opera, why the hell don't people vote more?

Think how much more constructive our society would be. Politicians would have to do as they are damned well told.

Val said...

Lol! Nobody who's got a brain cell could think Eastenders is even vaguelly realistic. I stopped watching the programme a year or two ago because it was just getting on my nerves, and I had been watching it since it began. (Months before it first started, I met a guy who'd been involved in the planning stages of the programme and from his description of it I thought it sounded 'innovative', boy oh boy, how wrong I was!)

I can sum up Eastenders for anyone who's never seen it, in this way: You know how people are always advised when writing fiction to make each character have his or her own style of speaking, own personality, etc? Well, in Eastenders, every single line could be spoken by any character and you'd never be able to tell who said them. The most common one of which is: "Would I lie to you?"

Gawd, Nick... I'm with you on this one, completely. People who think it's real and take offense at it should get a life.

Wisewebwoman said...

Yes, I see these matters of supreme national importance being debated on FB by the younger of my rellies and can only mumble a series of WTFs to myself.
I don't watch TV and the last thing I'd ever watch would be a soap so it all seems to very very Fahrenheit 451 to me where the distinction between reality and fantasy is so blurred.
I find it quite frightening to be honest.
XO
WWW

Nick said...

Roses - I guess they think they'll have an impact in this case (and they have, judging by the BBC's reaction), whereas they're more cynical about politicians taking any notice of them.

Val - That's a great analysis of the programme, that the dialogue is completely interchangeable. Applies to a few other programmes as well.

Nick said...

W3 - Indeed, matters of supreme national importance, I don't think. Have they really got nothing better to do than moan about an "unrealistic" TV character?

Scarlet Blue said...

IT'S ALL TRUE, I TELL YOU!!!
Isn't it?
Sx

The poor actress who plays Ronnie has been taunted in the street whilst she was with her real children. She was screamed at and called a murdering cow [?]. I think this is much worse than the complaints.

Grannymar said...

I have no television, but it is amazing how much I have heard over the airwaves and on-line about this story line. It is not one I am happy with, but then I lost a three month old niece to Sudden Death Syndrome many years ago. I have never forgotten how I felt and I was only an aunt and not the mother.

Nick said...

Scarlet - Yes, I read about Samantha Womack being screamed at in the street. People who can't tell the difference between the actress and the TV character are seriously weird.

Grannymar - The sudden death of a child is always devastating, as you say not only to the parents but the whole family. I'm sure the programme-makers fully accept that.

secret agent woman said...

Soaps are meant to be overly dramatic and not necessarily reflective of real life. I always thought people watched them for just that sort of escapism.

kylie said...

i agree that it is fiction and should be viewed as such but i also know that some works of fiction can be deeply offensive and maybe more thought should have gone into the story.
now that it has started, though, it is just piss weak to change the story on the basis of complaints.
what about artistic integrity??

Nick said...

Secret Agent - Exactly, they play around with reality rather than faithfully reflecting it. To complain that it isn't real enough is wilfully missing the point.

Kylie - Works of fiction will always be offensive to someone. But if you removed everything that might be offensive, either you'd end up with a children's story or a load of blank pages. You'd be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

nursemyra said...

Why don't they just change the channel?

Nick said...

Myra - It seems they prefer a big lather of righteous indignation to a bit of common sense.

Macy said...

Wow , what price bad publicity hey? Here I am never having watched Eastenders, and now I'm commenting on one of its plotlines???

Glad someone else is as mystified by the fuss as I was. 9,000 people don't think the plot is realistic??
So what?
Do I now think a bereaved mother would snatch another child? No.
Do I think at least 9000 people should grow up? Yes.

Nick said...

Macy - I know, I never watch Eastenders either but here I am posting about it. Well said, why don't the offended 9000 just take a deep breath and find something better to do with their time?

Baino said...

Er Google "woman steals baby" and it's a totally plausible plot line although I haven't watched Eastenders for years, I'd be more up in arms if I was a Cockney Londoner! I do hate how oversensitive minorities get their knickers in such a twist. Of course it's fiction, if shit like that happened in your street you'd move. It's like Neighbours, God who'd want to live in Ramsey Street!

Nick said...

Baino - Well said, if that happened in your own street you'd be up and away. Though mind you, the most extraordinary things happen in the average street these days.

tattytiara said...

I definitely think the word "offended" is yielded too often as a weapon and afforded too much respect. When it comes to parents who have lost kids, though, I can completely appreciate their reacting less than rationally to a piece of fiction. I can't imagine seeing the world through their eyes and I don't want to. If something hurts them I want it to stop.

Nick said...

Tattytiara - Agreed, people are so ready to be "offended" over just about anything. Stopping something that hurts sounds fair enough in principle, but again, people can be hurt by all sorts of fictional scenarios. Programme-makers would have their job cut out to avoid hurting anyone. And nobody's forced to keep watching. The off switch is a few feet away.

Liz said...

I don't watch EE but have heard of the plot. Yes, it's fiction but the trouble is that cot death is unimaginably dreadful. The inexplicable death of your tiny baby? Too horrendous to contemplate.
So maybe the snatching was a step too far.

Nick said...

Liz - I'm sure you're right that a cot death is utterly traumatic to the unlucky parents. But sensitivity to grieving parents is the job of a counselling service, not TV drama. Nobody complains about the dozens of murders that feature in crime dramas.

Megan said...

Somewhat on the point - You should see the security they have in maternity wards these days. It's like entering lock-down.

Nick said...

Megan - Really, that bad, huh? I don't know whether security is that tight at UK hospitals but certainly there have been cases of unwanted visitors and intruders endangering patients.

Liz said...

I think we'll have to agree to disagree on this, nick. If the storyline involved Welsh people, women, stay-at-home mums, Archers fans - all of which I am - it would be fine; some things just - oh, no.

Nick said...

Liz - Okay, we'll agree to disagree!

Los Angelista said...

Sounds like a fantastic soap-opera-ish plot line to me. What would TV be without baby stealing, mysterious twins suddenly appearing and people that you swore were dead coming back from the dead. I might have to start watching this if I can find it here in LA. ;)

Nick said...

LA Liz - Indeed, all the classic plot twists are wheeled out again and again. Just how long can they get away with reanimated corpses?