The EastEnders Controversy

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Above is an extract from BBC Radio 4‘s Any Questions programme on 7th January 2011 (Any Questions is Question Time, but on the Radio). The panelists are Matthew Parris, Michael Portillo, Ken Livingstone, and Vivienne Westwood.

A question is asked about the EastEnders controversy (Ronnie’s baby died and she swapped it with Kat’s) and the number of complaints it had generated. Most panelists are in support of the BBC, who have already changed their plans for the story and say they will finish it early (April/May rather than December). This is great Media Studies fodder because:

  • It’s the BBC, and everything controversial they do at the moment gets massive press coverage from their enemies in the media (Daily Mail, News Corp), and they can’t help being obsessed with themselves, like a potty trained kid.
  • It involves – perhaps – a certain amount of contempt for the audience, in that I suspect the producers don’t really care who they upset as long as the viewing figures go up
  • It’s the BBC (again), so why are they chasing audiences anyway when they don’t need to?
  • Most of the complaints came through mumsnet (I won’t dignifiy them with a link), who have turned into the pressure group who think it’s okay to embarrass Prime Ministers by asking them who they like in the charts and what biscuits they like.
  • There’s an open question as to whether – now it’s so easy to get organised, thanks to social networking tools (see Clay Shirky) – it’s also more likely that complaints won’t get taken seriously – because they’re so easy to make.
  • Most of the complaints have been to Ofcom, which is a media regulating QANGO like the ASA and the BBFC.

Meanwhile, here’s Charlie Booker’s take on the story:

I’m not entirely certain I can pinpoint the moment I first realised EastEnders isn’t a documentary. Maybe it was when Den Watts was assassinated by a bunch of daffodils. Or when he came back from the dead and then got killed again. Or when Steve Owen’s mother tried to French-kiss him on her deathbed. Or when Ricky Butcher became a speedway champion for one week. Or when Melanie Healy slept with Phil Mitchell on Christmas Day. Or when Max Branning got buried alive. Or when Janine pushed Barry off a cliff. Or when Janine got so agoraphobic she sat indoors eating dog food. Or when Janine ran over Danielle in a car. Or when Janine framed Stacey by stabbing herself on Christmas Day. Or when Janine slept with Ian Beale and then blackmailed him by threatening to tell his third wife, Laura. Or when Janine slept with Ian Beale and then blackmailed him by threatening to tell his fourth wife, Jane. Or when, while Googling a list of Janine’s crimes, I realised Beale had managed to convince four whole women to marry him.

 

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