Most American soaps, like Dallas and Dynasty in the 80s, and things like 90210 now, are aspirational, a glimpse of a high life that most people will never see otherwise. Everyone is beautiful, perfect hair, teeth and clothes, a cast made of models, twentysomething teenagers with thirtysomething parents, waking up in the morning with perfectly coiffed hair and full make up. Presumably this is so little Americans have something to aim for. Unattainable personal standards are so important to the psychiatric industry.
Australian soaps like Neighbours and Home and Away tend towards a more realistic approach, vaguely 'normal' people doing normal jobs and living in houses within the reach of an average Australian. I lived in Australia for 5 years, and the world of Neighbours is a reasonable reflection of life in a city like Melbourne. The town of Erinsborough was actually based on a combination of Melbourne and Sydney. Australians are probabaly more likely to see someone like themselves on screen than anyone else.
Soaps in Britain, however, tend to be based around working class people living depressing, catastrophe-ridden lives on the brink of poverty, presumably so that everyone has a chance to watch the shows and think, 'oh well, at least I'm not doing as badly as
But back to the soaps... I must admit I felt vindicated tonight. 'EastEnders', the only soap opera I watch (probably because it reminds me why I don't live in London anymore) swept the board at the awards. Best soap, best actor, best actress, sexiest actor, etc.
Scott Maslen, who was voted both best and sexiest actor, plays a character called Jack Branning, who was the subject of a poem of mine. Some of you may have seen this, as it was published on the EastEnders website, but for those who haven't, it's below:
Jack had loved his brother's wife,
The black girl
And the blonde one
And her sister (who got pregnant)
And their cousin, who, if anything,
Was even blonder still.
I've seen him in the club
And in the Square and in a coma
But I've never really met him:
I think I never will.
And yet I know him so well.
I know his family, his history,
Assorted tales of woe,
A man of mystery,
James Bond with an E20 postcode.
I know Jack better
Than some of my closest friends
Because they don't come into my home
Four nights a week,
Telling me their stories,
Giving me a window to their lives
And emphasising significant moments with a drum roll.
Or do they?
I was forgetting about Facebook.
I've come to think of Facebook
Not as a telephone but a television,
Not a communications tool
But an entertainment medium,
Each 'friend' a channel,
Each post a programme,
An episode of the soap opera of their lives.
Yes, I have friends who are like Newsnight,
Like Horizon or Arena,
Discussing high-falutin' ideas
From a position of authority.
But I also have friends who are like EastEnders,
Like Shameless or Skins or Jeremy Vile,
Car crash TV reduced to bile,
And relationship status updates
On an hourly basis
Long into the night.
Do I really know them?
Or is this like applying graphology to a signature,
Doomed to fail
Because the public face of someone
Only shows what they want to be seen?
Do I know Jack?
Or do I 'know Jack'?