Why I like soaps?


Yesterday I went on a wonderful trip organised as a Christmas present. With my son and friend we went to the Emmerdale Tour Experience. Last year we had visited Harewood House in Leeds where the current external scenes of the village of Emmerdale is now located but this was more looking at the sets and internal workings of Emmerdale. I thoroughly enjoyed this and then we took ourselves off to Esholt where Emmerdale was filmed until the 1990s. It still has the original pub, the Woolpack, and we finished our day trip out with a beautiful lunch in the pub, to be recommended. I took pictures of the day and they are below in the collage. There is a picture of Kirkstall Abbey which we passed on the way to Esholt. 

Watching soaps divides people as much as whether you like marmite or not. (I don’t!) The distain in people’s voice when they dismiss soaps with a withering remark quite often based on never actually seeing an episode. This low brow, trashy, poorly acted, waste of time is not worth the time, an oft quoted remark by the soap dispensers. This is despite its wonderful story telling and examination of core social issues in much the same manner as Shakespeare and then Dickens produced in their works. A distinction is often made by TV watchers between worthwhile TV and the rest and it can be a mark of honour to dismiss soaps. Well for me I have been an avid watcher of soaps since the days of Crossroads, admittedly not the best argument on the merits of soaps. My favourites are Coronation Street and Emmerdale but I have a passing knowledge of Eastenders, Brookside, Crossroads, Hollyoaks, Albion Market and even Neighbours. The same people who dismiss these soaps will, if pushed, admit to being a lifelong fan of ‘The Archers’ as if it’s narrative has more cultural merit than any TV soap. Bah, humbug!
I watched Corrie as a child with my family and have never lost the bug. Corrie’s ace in the pack is its humour as it pairs together people who feed off each other with gentle humour, just like odd couples do in real life, Norris and Rita is a good example. But they also by their very existence open up a sociological understanding of life on these northern streets. The storylines, the very shape of the environments are a reflection of popular life and culture. We can all recognise what they bring to mind. All soaps explore community in their own contexts.
Sometimes they tackle difficult issues – be it Hayley’s pancreatic cancer and death in Corrie, or in Emmerdale Zak’s testicular cancer and ongoing, Ashley’s poignant reminders of the horrors of vascular dementia, to name just a few. They may not always get the details right or portray an image which appears helpful to the issue. For instance Stan’s death with prostate cancer in Eastenders fed into the myth that it is an old man’s disease which people die with rather than from. Not sure that 10000 people would attest to this as each year they will die from this disease from their 40s right through the age range. But they took on the issue and it created a debate and perhaps that is the service they bring. They enable difficult conversations to be had through the characters in the soap, a safe outlet for discussion. 
Tackling social issues is more the norm now in soaps than ever before. But from the outset of my teaching I would give examples from soaps to make my academic lectures on crime and social justice come alive. Students would shift slightly uncomfortably in their seats in case anyone near them realised they understood the reference but relaxed once they understood that most students would have a favourite soap. Crossroads provided us with a wonderful example of restorative justice 80s style which raised all the issues of fairness, victim-centredness, remorse and responsibility. This was taken up many years later when Gail in Corrie agreed to a restorative justice conference in prison which was tweeted heavily by the major restorative justice organisations. The early coverage was textbook and a great advert for this process though Gail meeting Michael after he was released, befriending and marrying him is not evident in the textbooks I have seen on this process.
Soaps need drama and thus at times the events are magnified for dramatic effect and we get features of these communities – higher incidence of marriages, deaths and illnesses, multiple car crashes, airplane incidents and murder – which would make them risky places to live your life, though not as dangerous as Midsomer. But they do have saving graces in that you can get a life threatening stroke, heart attack or paralysis and find yourself a year later fully fit and running marathons. 

Enjoying the Corrie tour

Let’s not take them too seriously but if you are going to take against them do so with more knowledge than many have today. The quality of acting is in general very good indeed and soaps regularly spawn high quality actors who go on to stellar careers elsewhere Suranne Jones, Michelle McCutcheon, Ian McKellen to name just three. As much as I love novels for creating characters I can identify with, I can do that through soaps too. It’s a familiar world which we can dip in and out of with ease. 

Taking a bus to Hotten (from Emmerdale!)

I am not going to apologise that I watch soaps nor do I feel that stands against or in opposition to more highbrow drama or novel reading which I enjoy immensely. I enjoyed dipping into the magic behind Emmerdale yesterday just as much as I enjoyed taking the mic for a cricket fixture against Emmerdale when they played our club to raise money for Rumanian orphans. It was great to meet these stars just contributing to charity in this way. 
A few bird shots finishes this blog. 

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