The random witterings of Jonathan Morris, writer.

Thursday, 17 June 2010


Apparently EastEnders has gone a little bit rubbish at the moment. I say ‘apparently’ because of course I don’t watch it. Not because I don’t like EastEnders, but because I like it too much, and after watching pretty much every episode of the first fifteen years I don’t want to get sucked in again, in the same way that a drug addict might refuse the offer of a nice soothing shot of zesty heroine. It’s the hard stuff.

The reason it’s gone a little bit rubbish, I’m guessing, is because the recent episodes have all be re-edited and had scenes re-shot because a planned plotline, about prostitutes and murder, has been dropped in favour of a plot line involving absolutely no prostitutes at all. For similar reasons, last week Coronation Street had episodes delayed because a planned storyline about somebody going bonkers with a gun unhappily coincided without somebody in the news going bonkers with a gun*.

This is because of a fear of ‘causing offence’. Which is why I’m writing because, basically, that’s a load of nonsense, isn’t it? If your life has been genuinely affected by a tragedy – if you were in the thick of it – you may have better things to do than watch a soap opera. No, it is fear of ‘causing offence’ to those who are not directly involved in the tragedy, but who have experienced it vicariously through the gawping rubber-neck of the media. The sort of people who phone or email in to complain.

Now, I’ve emailed in to complain in the past. I think it’s fun, and hilarious, the disproportionate amount of attention you get, and I delight in abusing that power, and because occasionally it’s warranted, because if people didn’t email in to complain, we’d still be getting cartoon characters jiggling at the bottom of the screen during Doctor Who’s cliffhangers.

But people who complain about plotlines in soap operas mirroring reality – that’s just bonkers. Firstly, because soap operas are supposed to mirror reality, albeit it through the distorting mirror of sausage-machine sensationalist melodrama, so what you are complaining about is essentially a soap opera getting it right, and being too realistic.

Secondly, taking offence on somebody else’s behalf is none of your business; if I was involved in a tragedy, I would have no problem whatsoever with there being a slightly similar turn of events in Emmerdale or Hollyoaks. I would be honoured that the manner of my demise might be topically commemorated in such a fashion. But not Doctors, you have to drawn the line somewhere. I don’t want my death to be overshadowed by a cameo from someone who used to be in ‘Allo ‘Allo.

And thirdly, and climactically for this rant, there’s the sheer idiocy of complaining about the content of a show which was written and filmed weeks, if not months, before the incident . All you are complaining about is a coincidence. You would be perfectly happy to watch murder and mayhem any other week of the year, but not this week. And yet people phone in to complain – often pre-emptively, taking offence on somebody else’s behalf in advance – seemingly on the assumption that soap operas take place in real-time, or filmed on the day of broadcast, and that any similarity between fictional events and whatever grief-porn happens to be masquerading as news this week is due to the show’s makers suffering an appalling lapse of taste.

The stupidity of it. These are, presumably, the same people who, if a fictional character is seen in a television programme getting a phone call, try phoning up the same number in an attempt to talk to that fictional character.

It mainly seems to affect television. Films and novels don’t quite get the same treatment, because obviously they have been prepared months earlier, and theatres don’t get the same treatment, because idiots don’t go to the theatre. That said, they are not entirely immune to the lunacy. But generally if I see a murder being reported on the news, and then happen to watch a DVD, or read a book, which turns out to have a similar theme, then it is my responsibility - and because it is my responsibility, if I feel a little uneasy by fiction being too close to reality, I have no-one to blame but myself. We are grown ups. We are responsible for our own choices, and if we happen to watch a show that offends us, that's our own silly fault, and not the fault of the people who made or broadcast the show.

But the real lunacy – even greater than the lunacy of the complainers – is that the people who run television take any notice of them. Who even cancel or re-edit their programmes before any offence-on-behalf-of-another has been taken, pre-empting the pre-empters. It’s utterly patronising – treating all viewers like the small vocal minority of idiots – and surely serves only to reward and encourage these idiots to phone and email ever more frequently and for ever more spurious reasons.

I mean, obviously it wouldn’t have been a good idea to broadcast The Towering Inferno on September 12th 2001, but get a sense of perspective about these things, tell people before the show that no offence is intended and that it was made weeks, if not months ago, and abdicate all moral responsibility for the content of the show by sticking up a helpline number for anyone affected by the issues at the end, but, well, don’t arse about with shows for fear of causing offense to people who are only tuning in in the hope of finding something to take offence at. Because the impression given is not ‘look how responsible we are’ but ‘look how pathetically keen we are to show how responsible we are that we are co-opting this tragedy to demonstrate what great lengths we are prepared to go to to avoid causing offence’.

Oh, I might have to email in to complain.

* (Remember - guns don't kill people, it's the bullets you have to watch out for).


  1. My favourite personal example of this was when on a certain Dr Who messageboard, a fan complained that my UNIT play was completely unsuitable and could cause offence etc.

    The play was released in March 2005. He decided not to listen to it until the 7th July. The 7th of July 2005. And not during the day when London was being bombed. But in the evening. After it had happened.

    The blurb and trailer are here:

    "'We interrupt this broadcast…' Having survived a day at the seaside, Robert Dalton and Emily Chaudhry are enjoying a few pints… Having spent the day answering the phone and praying for some action, Will Hoffman is enjoying a night out… Having signed a controversial new European treaty, the Prime Minister is on his way back to Downing Street… Having survived yet another day, the people of Britain are settling down to eat dinner, stay in, go out, spend time with their friends…

    '… we're receiving reports that…'

    It's just another ordinary evening in the United Kingdom…

    '… a bomb has exploded in Central London…''

    THE CLUE IS IN THE LAST LINE! Maybe not something to listen to on that particular evening. Twats.

  2. A while ago we watched a couple of months of Emmerdale with a terminally ill person, during which time there was a plotline about convincing someone they were dying.
    We didn't complain, just like the jobless don't complain about unemployment storylines.
    The problem is when popular entertainment uses death, ideally mixed up with sex, for a bit of titillating fun- "enjoy this murder and sexual threat," it says, "share some iffy power fantasies with us, it's all safe and just here for your viewing pleasure". Except if it's not got some purpose beyond getting you watching, it's not safe at all, and whenever there's acts of violence out in society TV has to quickly hide all the ones it hoped you'd enjoy with it and commission some quick response documentaries wondering "What on earth could have made one man so evil?"
    Interestingly,soaps really are like the heroin(e)s you allude to above, in that, even when you're dying you don't want to give them up.
    I'd always imagined before that realising you won't see the end would make you want to stop, but that's where soaps are closer to reality than most fiction. You know you won't get it all but you press on.

    Apologies for 'Thought for Today' style speechifying, please insert own Jewish mother joke.

  3. I am disgusted that Lidster's UNIT script gets more complaints than mine. Who should I complain to about this?

  4. OH MY GOD!!! I was just sitting here, grieving about my friend who was torn apart on a beach by a demon and I decided that listening to your UNIT play might cheer me up.