Tackling real life issues in Soap Operas

Soap operas – love them, or hate them? I think we can all be a little judgemental of soaps, there seems to be mockery and snobbery surrounding them. It is easy to jump on the bandwagon of claiming them to be a little bit ‘naff’ without actually watching a full episode. Perhaps we have caught a scene once and there was a shouting match. We may have caught a character shouting “You slapper!” after they have been thrown out of a pub for a cheating scandal – it doesn’t exactly scream ‘good telly’ (even though I love it…).

Nevertheless, soaps do have a uniqueness about them. A soap allows for a character to develop and grow over a long period of time. It is a rather distinctive element that we are able to see the birth of a character and then see them get married 25 years later. This ‘real time’ process can lead to an attachment and fondness. After all, we’re allowing these characters to be in our living rooms every evening. When a character is going through a harrowing story-line, we are able to empathise and connect with them in a way that differs to the experience of watching a character in a film. In EastEnders, when Lucy Beale was murdered several years ago, we saw her characters father deal with his grief over a long period of time. Ian Beale was usually the character that we love to hate, but watching him grieve over the loss of his daughter was incredibly difficult to watch. We are impacted in such a way because we start to love these characters, watching them experience trauma can be an emotional experience.

Now, I’m not a big Corrie fan (EastEnders allll the way!) But when you’re a soap watcher, you hear of the story-lines occurring in other shows. There was one particular story-line which caught my eye, and I was intrigued to learn more about the forth-coming scenes and their reasoning for wishing to portray the topic. A relatively long-term character was going to commit suicide.

Coronation Street had decided that they was going to portray male suicide with their character, Aiden, played by Shayne Ward. The writer of the episode has openly communicated his responsibility to be as honest as possible with the scenes, as well as explaining how he felt this plot was a good opportunity to send out an important message to viewers. The show was considerate with its portrayal. For example, charities were approached such as Samaritans who worked alongside Coronation Street during production. Their advice allowed for writers and directors to be thoughtful in not showing the body of Aiden, as well as not disclosing details on how he took his life. Since the episodes broadcast, there has already been reports from the actors and the writers involved that it has already helped people experiencing suicidal thoughts. They have claimed it has help people come forward, and to feel confident in talking about their emotions.

Despite praise, the story-line was also met with criticism. This was always going to be a controversial, with opposing views as to whether or not it should be shown. In my honest view, times like this show us the brilliance of soaps. These shows are mainstream telly, they are watched by such a large part of the population. Even those who do not watch the show may still be impacted by the topics covered due to the sheer amount of publicity. Why is this something to be judged? We are always attempting to find a way to encourage the public to speak out about taboo subjects – why can’t we simply see this as a good thing?

Indeed, soaps are full of light hearted scenes, they make for easy watching after a day at work. However, something that a soap does brilliantly is their emotional and gritty plots. Before anyone starts moaning at a soap’s story-lines and actors, I challenge you to watch a scene like Aiden’s suicide. Or, watch Stacey Slater being sectioned following a diagnosis of bipolar. These are only two of an abundance of story-lines which were created to raise awareness on important topics. A soaps unique way of story-telling allows for them to depict these issues in a special way. These story-lines encourage us to speak out on subjects that, as a society, we don’t often like to discuss. If each plot allows even just one person to come forward and seek help – they have done an incredibly important job.

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