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How is the EastEnders Packaged as being a real representation of Britain. Julia Smith- “We do not make real life, We reflect it” In the 1980s there was a rating war among the Television channels. They were fighting for viewers. BBC was losing. They did not have any flagship programs like ITV (Coronation street). So BBC introduced a soap called ‘Triangle’, but it was unsuccessful at attracting viewers. They were trying to make some other soap. In 1982 there was a real sense of panic among the executors of the BBC because of the birth of a new channel- channel4.
They were showing a new soap called ‘Brookside’. It also attracted many viewers like ‘Coronation Street’, because it dealt with real issue in every day life. At the same time, Julia Smith, producer of the ‘Grange Hill’ came up with the idea of a new soap to compete with programs like ‘Brookside’ and ‘Coronation Street’. They watched ‘Coronation Street’ closely to assess its popularity with an aim not to duplicate it, because the viewers will not stop watching ‘Coronation Street’ in order to watch something like ”Coronation Street”. On 19th February 1985, the BBC released the soap ‘EastEnders’.
The target audiences for ‘EastEnders’ were all types of people. It was shown at 7pm so that everybody could watch it. Julia Smith tried to attract viewers in many ways. She attracted the young viewers by selecting actors from ‘Grange Hill’ i. e. Susan Tully (Michelle Fowler). It helped young viewers to recognise and understand the characters because the characters in ‘EastEnders’ are the same as in ‘Grange Hill’ i. e. Susan Tully mentioned her working class character in both programs. Julia Smith also tried to attract the older viewers by introducing prominent actor/actresses from named past series.
For example, Wendy Richerds (Pauline Fowler) from ‘Are you being served’. EastEnders is one of the most successful BBC programs in history and to date is topping the charts with viewing figures of over 20 million viewers per episode. It represents the East End of Britain in many ways. It is relate to the real life. The main difference of ‘EastEnders’ from other soaps is that when dealing with issues, ‘EastEnders’ focus on the individual character. For example, how the problems affect the character, how he or she deals with it, and the ways in which the problems effect the family, friends and community.
Whereas in ‘Coronation Street’ and other soaps, focus the issue on the adults and their views on the situation and not the character with the problem. For example, the issue of drug addiction i. e. Nick Cotton (John Altman) and his heroine addiction and various other drug issues such as dealers (Oscar Jame as Tony Carpenter). ‘EastEnders’ depicted how Nick coped with his life. Whereas, in ‘Coronation Street’, drug addiction by Denise Welch’s (Natalie Barnes) son Tony, did not follow and focus on Tony and his Problems but on Natalie and Des Barnes, and how they coped with the drug addicted son.
‘EastEnders’ is based on real present day issues which effect the people in the society. For example, the HIV/AIDS of Mark fowler’s (David Scarboro) and the way of his life. Pat Evans’s (Pam St Clement) car accident and the way she felt about it. Nick Cotton (John Altman) and his drug addiction. It tried to show the different issues in the society. The other issues include, drink driving, teenager runaways, adoption, gambling, murder, mixed marriages, unmarried mothers, extra marital affairs, divorce and teenage pregnancy. These all reflect the ‘New realism’ of society.
The issues shown in ‘EastEnders’ are not just hard and aggressive but also address some simple issue such as, the professional at seduction (David), depicting even the smoothest operators can have regrets or problems. Such issues are real where viewers can relate to similar experiences. ‘EastEnders’ deal with issues in a positive way. It shows society other ways of dealing with an issue. It shows the easy way to deal with a problem. The program shows the traditional values of working class people. Some of the families’ shown in the program are long rooted.
For example, the Fowler family was for three generation. In ‘EastEnders’ different types of characters have been used. Nick Cotton plays as a bad character. For teenagers, Ian, Michelle and Sharon have been used. Ian was the good working class boy. Michelle was the aggressive working class girl, and Sharon was the spoilt wealthy working class girl. These characters emphasised the different types of working class teenagers as opposed to creating a typical stereotype. ‘EastEnders’ is set on the street called Albert square.
Unlike ‘Brookside’ (Brookside Close, Liverpool), ‘Coronation Street’ (Manchester) and Emmerdale (Yorkshire), ‘EastEnders’ is set in the East End of London. The main reason for this may be that they did not want to copy the other soaps but wanted to compete against them. Some of the choices to make ‘EastEnders’ became inevitable. For example, it is focused on a totally working class people. Unlike ‘Brookside’, ‘Coronation Street’ and Emerdale that is focused on middle, upper and some lower class people. Therefore, the viewers of EastEnders can gain an insight into working class lifestyles.
Everything is about working class people. The traditional working class value is important. As for Ian’s father, Pete Beal, men are meant to do the hard work and women are for cooking and domestic work. So when Ian became a chef, his father felt ashamed of Ian and called him a ‘woman’ and many other names. But Ian moved away from the working class value. This emphasised the changing attitudes and values in the working class culture, in the young in contrast to traditional values held by the older generation. The storylines in EastEnders revolve family. Everybody lives together in the same street.
Which naturally occur in everybody’s life. People does not stay very close to their family. But there are some exceptional ‘EastEnders’ does not always show everyday life of families or the individual but show issues, which do arise, in some minor cases. For example, a newly wedded couple from Bangladesh were shown to have problems. The husband raised in England a married wife from Bangladesh. The husband was an alcoholic. The relationship ended in divorce. Although this issue does occur in some families, it is very rare and does not depict a typical Bangladeshi family.
This issue also reflected the problems of alcoholic abuse existing in all communities, as opposed to the stereotype that only white cultures suffer alcoholic abuse. The setting of ‘EastEnders’ does look real to us. What we see in the program is something that we can relate to. The dullness and the flatness of the world we see is contrasted by the character and the storylines. It reminds us that the ordinariness of life can be very exciting. Richard Dyer, the cultural analyst, researched why people like ‘EastEnders’.
He found that the viewers like to see the characters as having a hard time, they like to think what they would do. It is called empathy. It is through our empathy with the character almost a kind of voyeurism that millions of people have established a connection with the program. The setting in EastEnders looks the same as the East End. For example, when Grant and Tiffany are waking up, we can hear the sound of the dustbin men. One reason for this can be that they want to make environment real. Or it can be because they are trying to break away from tradition belief of the dirty East End.
The street market sounds reflect the East End’s traditional market sounds. For example, Mark shouting to sell his goods. Like a traditional market stools seller. This emphasises that some of the traditional values still remain. The shopping center in EastEnders is quite similar to the shopping center in the real East End. Most of the shop owners are white. Everybody is shouting to sell their goodies. There are some pubs like Queen Victoria. There is a Fish & Chips shop. They also have some foreign restaurants. There are houses near the market like in ‘EastEnders’.
The shopping center in ‘EastEnders’ is not totally the same as in the real East End. For example, in EastEnders they do not have any chain stores like ‘Sainsburry’, ‘Tesco’ or ‘Kwike Save’ like in the East End. The racial mix in EastEnders does not reflect the real East End because, in Albert Square the popularity is predominately white working class people. Where as the East End have greater ethnic minorities. Also the community is shown to support Asians against victimisation that is, Sanjay and Gita Kapoor. This shows the new attitudes towards racial equality as opposed to the traditional stereotypes.
To conclude, Julia Smith, EastEnders’s instigator stated, “We do not make real life, we reflect it”. It means, as opposed to creating mythical storylines which are then claimed as real life happenings EastEnders show actual issues as they exist in fact with the outlook of regarding things as they are in today’s Britain. Hence the program reflects ‘real life’ but does not create a myths of real life. EastEnders aims to show the ‘New realism’ of Britain. It aims to depict issues, which have recently developed in contemporary society, such as HIV/AIDS.
At the same time, it shows the movement away from traditional beliefs, emphasising the new changed values and attitudes held today, such as the changing attitudes towards the role of men and women in society. The program also shows some traditional stereotypes are still maintained, for example, the long rooted extended family network. Both the visual and sound effects of EastEnders image that of the East End making the program more realistic. Also it is the characters who play them, and the showing of all these issues together that truly enhances the realism of EastEnders.