To be perfectly frank, I am still in shock at the level of outcry over Eastenders, and the fictional drama jamboree that was the "Who killed Lucy?" saga. (On a personal level, I still feel abandoned by society. There was no facebook chain status for me to share. I didn't even know she was dead..)
At the time of writing, I know that five people, (yes, five legally responsible and supposedly self sufficient adults, with real life jobs, responsibilities and everything!) have actually gone to the trouble of writing to OFCOM in order to complain at being misled by the Eastenders script, and at least one Daily Mail reader has taken the time to post a comment on their website lambasting British justice over Ben Beale's inevitable "soft punishment" (Some may say several seasons in Panto at Hartlepool is a harsh sentence!) Yep. I didn't leave two inadvertent typos in this piece. Amazing as those submissions are, they're actually true.
I am struggling with a couple of issues on this subject. Firstly, why are people getting so upset about a fictional scenario? It is the job of the script writer or novelist to mislead and enthrall, just as it is the job of the magician to misdirect through stagecraft, and slight of hand. In the plot of my debut novel, The Trackman, I sweated over the narrative for what felt like an age, precisely because I wanted a massive twist at the climax of the story that would wrongfoot the reader entirely. Those who have read it have been largely full of praise, so whilst I struggle with the inevitable ego swell that positive feedback brings, I can also wallow in the relief that comes with the knowledge that I haven't been reported to any regulatory bodies for "lying" to my readers.
To make any body of work, be it crime fiction, poetry or dramatic scripts even remotely engaging, they need to have twists in the plot. Agatha Christie's books would never grab the attention of the reader in such addictive fashion had they been straightforward. It is no fun when you see a joke coming, and even less enjoyable to work out the identity of the murderer within the first few chapters of a novel.
My second issue is more a matter of my own opinion of Eastenders. I cannot fathom quite how people can be so absorbed in a tired soap opera that is as grey and unbelievable as the CGI cityscapes of Gotham, and has had more unconvincing "back from the dead" character revivals than The Twilight Saga!
With the greatest of respect, TV fiction is like other fiction types. It is escapism. It suspends the boundaries of reality. That is, after all the only possible reason the writers on Eastenders get away with entire families living in large houses in London, whilst earning no money for themselves. Nobody can do that in real life except the royal family, so once you begin looking closer, you see that there are greater issues of narrative ridicule to be conquered than whether a child can kill an older sibling.
Whilst I'm on the subject, how believable is it that every single customer in the "Queen Vic" get by just by ordering "a pint? " If I went into a pub near where I live, such a request would be met with a puzzled look anda sweeping glance across the beer taps and pumps on display!
Think about it: would you walk into a restaurant and ask for "a meal?" Me neither.
Why? Oh why, does nobody own a washing machine in Walford? They can afford London proerty prices and rents, but they can't afford a basic Zanussi? Really?
Perhaps the biggest example of "Soap Opera Why-ness: Nick Cotton. (I believe I need say no more on that issue...)
I stopped watching shows like Eastenders when I left home, and fortune, alongside good grace decreed that I married a woman who holds soap operas in the same plunging regard as I do. There is something strangely comforting about the fact that Eastenders is the same ridiculous soup of banality, despair and nonsense as it was in 1985, just as it is strangely comforting that there are some people out there whose perspective is distorted enough for them to buy into a narrative plot, however uninteresting to others, and then moan when that plot actually does it's job and climaxes in a dramatic fashion.
But here's the rub: The Great British public needs to do two things. Firstly, they need to decide what they want. Do they want to be intrigued by the plot of their TV shows, novels etc? Or would they have preferred to have worked out who shot JR before the smoke cleared from the revolver? Secondly, and most importantly, we all need a large dose of perspective tonic. We seemed to have had more engagement and debate over Lucy Beale than we have had over foodbanks, fracking, TTIP, child poverty, and the privatisation of the NHS. Whilst this is indicative of the fact that professional politicians are largely failing at what we overpay them to do, it also shows that we have a national tendency to take the wrong things too seriously.
In the case of the five viewers who complained to OFCOM, I can only hope that they would be just as willing to complain about what is happening to our hospitals, our roads, our children and our working poor. Maybe Eastenders should team up with Casualty and do another live broadcast..