Wednesday, May 21, 2008

British Blue Collar, or Why I Love Watching Eastenders

I've never liked watching soap operas. I remember growing up and being subjected to them by my babysitters. General Hospital. As the World Turns. The tediously slow storylines. Years later I tried watching Days of our Lives in college when I had my leg in a cast from a skiing accident. Call it experimentation; I didn't inhale. Truth was I couldn't get into stories about rich people's "struggles." People always seemed to dress nice, had perfect complexions, perfect teeth, and lived in big houses. The settings were also so fake. Outdoor scenes always seemed to be shot on some sound stage with fake snow and plastic trees.

A few years ago I happened upon a BBC show called Eastenders. I had trouble sleeping, and was flipping channels at 11pm, drinking a beer and eating a few pickled sausages. PBS was rebroadcasting the British soap, albeit six years behind. I was instantly hooked. Being an English teacher, I was drawn into the British dialect and colloquial phrases often used around Albert Square. I also found a down-to-earth quality in the characters and storylines. What American soap opera is about blue-collar workers struggling to survive in a middle-to-lower class neighborhood? Sure, the whole show is filmed on a studio lot, and I've never been to England, but there is a sense of realism and community that I'm drawn to. Not everyone dresses to the nines, some characters have wrinkles and don't bleach their teeth white, and some characters are just plain homely, but that's real life.

My favorite family is the Slaters. If the story were cast and filmed in the States, I would imagine the Slaters as country rednecks in the truest sense, but not in a malicious way, similar to the old television sitcom Roseanne. Hard-working, hard-drinking, blood-is-thicker-than-water kind of family. They fight amongst one another, but will stand up for family, almost in a clannish way (like they did for Little Moe). In fact, the first episode I watched happened to be the one where Kat reveals to Zoe that she is not her older sister but her mother by way of their pervish uncle Harry. Now, I am hesitant to compare that to the hillbilly stereotypes of Appalachia where it is thought that through inbreeding we all are our own grandparents or something, but there it is nonetheless.

My wife bought me a book about Eastenders off of Amazon UK. Though published in 2003, the book has already spoiled some of the upcoming story lines for me (seeing that PBS is currently showing episodes from 2002). I already know that Janine will marry Barry the used car salesman then die, and that Zoe and Anthony don't end up together (I was so rooting for them in a Romeo and Juliet, or Hatfield and McCoy kind of way). Call me a pansy for watching soaps, but I challenge anyone to find an American soap opera as edgy or as gritty as Eastenders. So, sod off!


deborah wilson said...

David, I read this post a little while ago - but said nothing...I will not remember the name Eastenders!

12 years of The Young and the Restless was enough for me. I quit watching when Nikki Newman got shot. I've never counted, but I believe that Nikki and Victor hold the record for the most marriages and divorces between one man and one woman on the entire face of the planet. That's not including their in-between spouses.

Soaps are addicting though, back in the day, I use to set my vcr to record my soap while I was working and I would watch it in the evening when I got home.

God forbid the cable went out during the recording of my show. This use to happen all the time with our cable company. I began to notice that whenever technical problems occurred it was always during the week, during soap time, 12 - 4. Never did the cable go out on weekends when the ball game or nascar was on - that I recall. No sir ree!

But perhaps it was only my imagination. Yeah, that's it.

David Wayne Hampton: said...

My grandmother used to watch Days of our Lives until it got, as she said, too "racy." And that was 20 years ago. The only other bit of TV I watch is Lost on ABC, the one about the plane crash survivors stranded on an island. Some people say that's a soap opera of sorts. I guess I have a thing for serialized, continuing stories. I refuse to watch these so-called "reality" shows. I teach high school. I see enough drama queens, pubescent "chest beating" boys, and people otherwise showing their rear ends that I don't want to be subjected to it at home. And to know these people get paid to do it on television!