Review: Eastenders (2011, UK)
Spoiler Note: This is an ongoing soap opera and this week’s unfolding plot, starting Tuesday 8th November, is discussed below (so apologies to BBC America viewers)
This week one of the UK’s top-rated soaps, Eastenders, has a storyline in which a recently out-gay teen character, Ben Mitchell has falsely accused one of the regular gay adult characters, Christian Clarke of abusing him. This week that will lead to the character leaving the show in a manner that implies he’s gone for good. When it comes to Eastenders, you don’t know if this is just building up to the Christmas specials, considering there is normally a press announcement when actors leave the show permanently.
The show,which has been running for 26 years, is filmed up to two months in advance. I would have had an issue with this storyline at any time of year. However, the deliberate choice to place this storyline in time for an air date ten days before the annual Children in Need appeal, designed to help abused children, represents a serious backward step for the publicly funded Corporation.
Prior to this, Eastenders had not one but two effective and much more realistic storylines about the grooming, exploitation and abuse of another teen character over the past two years, with an effective portrayal of the aftermath. So it’s a shame to see the show returning to the old shock tactics which unwittingly stereotype disclosing teens as lying about their abuse if secretly attracted to the target of the accusation.
This storyline follows the BBC series The Body Farm two months ago in which the same event occurred in episode two, and tarnished an otherwise excellent cold case drama involving the proven abuse of teens passing through a homeless shelter. Unlike The Body Farm, Eastenders will simply continue four times a week and we will see some sort of resolution to this story as opposed to the crime drama’s fast and neat wrap-up inside an hour. The fact remains that it’s still a ridiculous story that plays on the gay = paedophile stereotype as well as that of lying male child victims so everyone loses.
It will be interesting to see if there is any kind of feedback from the storyline and whether it will have any effect on donations to the annual appeal this year, if the BBC is appealing for tens of millions of pounds to help abused children but then the drama department is saying that on the other hand, disclosing teens run the risk of not being believed thanks to their “flagship” soap opera.