TV Soap Operas – Their Influence on Society & Vice Versa


We all have our favourite soaps, and lets face it folks they have been a part of our lives ever since Ken Barlow and Coronation Street appeared on our screens in 9 December 1960. Coronation Street, along with other favourites such as Eastenders and Emmerdale has had a huge influence on our society, and how people interact with each other in todays world. Similarly it could be argued that the world we live in today reflects what we look at on Free TV. When Coronation Street hit the air 50 years ago TV was still in black and white, it was post war Britain and people behaved accordingly. As we moved through the decades the young Ken Barlow slowly but surely lost his mummy’s boy image and it wasn’t long until extra martial affairs were the order of the day for Ken.

As Thatcherism Britain began to wield its social destruction, the soaps due fully followed. Images of drunken men and domestic abuse frequented our screens more often. The introduction of Eastenders to the airwaves in February 1985 depicted the daily goings on of Londons East End, and real problems such as HIV and drug abuse highlighted the city’s social problems. When Emmerdale Farm hit our screens in 1989 the show was a true representation of the quite rural life in the Yorkshire Dales. However it wasn’t long until Emmerdale followed suit and social inefficiencies were soon to the fore. Is it fair to blame what we watch on TV on today’s social problems, and what are the mechanics behind this relationship?

Without doubt the soap land culture has done many wonderful things for society. It has given us many witty and fun loving characters. Coronation Street has given us the Duckworths, Emmerdale the Dingles and Eastenders has given us Dot Branning and Alfie Moon. Each of us know a character from the soap world in our own lives. We can all relate to the know it all in the pub or the busy bodies in our local cafe. This sense of familiarity allows us to feel at ease with our own lives. Yes people get divorced, and young people die in real life. So why should it be any different on TV? The truth is it’s not. TV is a true depiction of real life events, albeit ten times more concentrated than reality.

Producers of these soaps would argue that they are merely trying to mirror real life. After all it is the 21st century and why shouldn’t gay marriages and transsexual tendencies be shown on our TV sets. However the line has to be drawn somewhere. Rape scenes like the one shown on Coronation Street or the assisted suicide and self harm story line in Emmerdale do more damage than we realise and are truly depressing. Eastenders is the worst offender for this. The relationships between the characters is often deplorable and how they relate to each other on screen is less than what you would call acceptable.

Having been to London recently and witnessed firsthand the lack of respect people show each other it is quite easy to draw conclusions linking soap land to real life. Stopping short of blaming the London riots on Eastenders and other soaps, the producers of these soaps have to realise the effect they have on people. Certain vunerable groups can be heavily influenced by what the watch on TV. They see characters such as Phil Mitchell and others as role models. But creating role models is not in the interests of those in power. Ratings are. Audiences want to be shocked and the soaps more often than not meet their expectations.

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