For all obvious reasons the global coronavirus crisis has not only given humanity a sharp jerk on the ‘training reins’ but provided time for reflection – and for some – a general re-think (if not quite yet ultimately a re-set) – of who we all are and what is really important in the world.
One of the ironies is that – despite broadcasters prefacing already-recorded dramas and other recently-produced programming with statements reminding viewers that they were made pre-lockdown and the Government’s social-distancing edicts – as most of us sit in our drawing rooms or parlours watching the evidence of our own eyes the ‘devil’s pact’ between programme makers and their audiences is exposed as never before, especially with dramas and soap operas supposedly set in the present tense.
Without seeking to imply I’m ‘above it’ I am not a follower of the BBC1 soap Eastenders, but I do know people who are – or who have been.
Over the decades the producers of Eastenders (and indeed many soap operas) have sought to not only reflect society ‘as it is’ but also, from time to time, act as instruments ‘for social change and/or good’ by featuring story-lines and/or characters addressing such issues as mental health, disability, racial tolerance, alcohol and drugs addiction, homosexuality, child abuse and controlling behaviour. I don’t doubt that in this respect many UK soap operas have played a part over time in promoting diversity, tolerance and understanding.
Separately, of course, the average viewer/enthusiast who regularly watches the programme and/or even builds his/her week around its broadcasts practically regards each Eastenders outings on the airwaves as less the latest installment in an ongoing ‘opiate for the masses’ that a live outside broadcast enabling them to eavesdrop in on the real lives of their favourite East End characters.
This is why the Eastenders producers – who normally work at least six to eight weeks ahead of ‘time’ – routinely drop into the story-lines references Easter or other religious festivals, the Queen’s birthday or e.g. Royal weddings – and sometimes even re-shoot scenes under great time pressure in order to mention ‘current’ national issues in the cause of perpetuating the myth that Eastenders life is lived ‘in the present’.
However,at the moment, watching (as I occasionally do) Phil Mitchell and other Eastenders‘ leading characters hob-knobbing, arguing or even coming to blows in and around their street market – or in the Vic pub – without social distancing or indeed any mention of Covid-19, still less the effects upon of the lockdown upon their lives … I cannot help feeling that this ‘omission’ is systematically destroying many viewers’ fond delusions.