In all the soul searching and hand wringing that has gone on since the riots that engulfed London, Birmingham and Manchester barely two weeks ago, little has been mentioned about what I regard as one of the major factors to have impacted on the fabric of British society over the last 50 or so years.
For whilst much has been made of the role computer games have played in the desensitisation of violence and the fact that music videos are increasingly portraying women as little more than sexual objects (and where are the feminists in that debate? Gyrating to Rihanna along with their 8 year old daughters perhaps?) little has been made of the most powerful medium of all, television.
Now I love TV. It is an amazing thing and the people who work within it produce some incredible programming. Yet as a weapon, it is unrivalled. For it has the potential to shape public opinion in a way no other medium can and only a fool would deny that it has certainly been wielded plenty of times over the years and for all kinds of reasons. Some good, most bad.
Never is this more graphically illustrated than in the soaps. Soaps are different to all other forms of entertainment in that they are infinite. Characters come, evolve and go, storylines unfold and die but the essence remains constant. This is of course, one of the great attractions and for many viewers that essence becomes so familiar that it takes on a sense of reality. A place it stops being the product of some writers imagination and is instead somewhere where the characters change from jobbing actors into into real people who actually experience real things. It’s Truman in all but name.
The arguement often put forward in defence of this type of programming is that it’s art mirroring life which would be fine if they showed lives, communities and problems which were actually ‘normal’ in the sense that yours and my lives are normal but they do not. Instead they paint a warped and necessarily condensed picture of a drama. One where hatred, shouting, violence, criminality and dysfunctional families are everyday normality.
And if you’re 7 and your evenings involve sitting in front of some screaming banshee supposedly living in a Manchester suburb and your only datum point is a home life which isn’t that far removed from what you’re seeing on screen, it simply becomes an extension of reality. When that is so destructive (and so repetitive) it can only have a negative impact because if anti-social behaviour is something you witness on a daily basis and it is rarely if ever condemned, how can you hope to learn that it is unacceptable in the real ‘real’ world?
Therefore, those who develop these storylines must be made aware that they too have a responsibility to society to portray life is it actually is as opposed to the twisted vision they trot out for us. Because whilst I’m sure everyone involved with Eastenders is happy to work there, I doubt any of them would actually want to live there in real life.
And that has to be the defining question all producers and commissioners need to ask themselves before they put their signature on that line to sign off that script. Because if it’s not good enough for them, why on earth should it be good enough for us?