Friday, 13 August 2010

Think of the children

The Daily Mail's vendetta against the BBC continues this week, as they attack the depiction of Phil Mitchell's descent into drug abuse on EastEnders. Apparently, the shocking new storyline sees the gruff, growling bully spiral into depression and substance abuse at the break-up of his family.

Now I don't watch EastEnders - I'd rather be a guinea pig for experimental laser eye surgery conducted by orang-utans with Parkinsons. But even I know that the only shocking thing about that particular plot is that the producers have the audacity to rehash it yet again. Over the year's Phil's had more troubling breakdowns than a mid-90s Alfa Romeo.

Nonetheless, here he is again, bellowing down a half-empty whisky bottle, smashing stuff and doing his party piece where he impersonates an enraged beef tomato. This time though, the stakes are higher, since he's discovered the joys of crack.

Although various drug charities are happy about the fact that EastEnders continues to tackle troubling issues in a realistic and uncompromising way, the Mail is disgusted that Phil's harrowing scenes were broadcast before the watershed.

Like the Meridian, or the Tees-Exe line, the watershed is an non-existent barrier which, in the Mail's eyes at least, ensures that no-one will accidentally confuse the Teletubbies with The Sopranos. It's an outdated concept anyway, devised long before multi-channel cable, the internet or families with a TV in every room.

The article actually makes for a pretty funny read, since author Liz Thomas writes about the druggie dialogue with all the conviction of a partially deaf person attempting to learn a foreign language phonetically. Every piece of slang used in the show's dialogue is pulled out in quotations, and devoid of context, sounds ridiculously unconvincing.

Still, it's enough to make the editorial staff concerned that EastEnders is in some way glamorising drug use for impressionable kids. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that the sight of Phil Mitchell, crawling round a squalid living room begging for "the first blast", is about as glamorousas an outbreak of E.Coli on the set of How Clean Is Your House?

Interestingly, the most startling insight in the whole article comes when Thomas reminds indignant readers about the BBC's habit of ignoring the watershed where its flagship soap is concerned. She cites episodes where a character was drugged and buried alive, the stabbing of a 13-year old boy, and a gay kiss. Because in the Daily Mail's world they're all comparable.

It seems to have escaped her notice that 25 years ago, kids were tuning in to Grange Hill, only to see Zammo scrabbling around on the floor of the school changing rooms, desperate to pick up his spilled heroin. It didn't turn us into a nation of scag-heads.

Most people struggle with addiction during their lives. And popular dramas play a valuable role in demystifying the issues, as well as removing the stigma. Perhaps one day, one of the soaps will be brave enough to portray one of its characters struggling with an addiction to lazy, knee-jerk, reactionary journalism. Just as long as they run it after 9pm.


  1. This is the kind of thing that bugs me when the Mail (and other associated whingers) has a pop about something on TV showing drugs/sex/violence etc. They have no concept of what artistic context is. (Mary Whitehouse had this problem too.)Showing; say drug abuse is NOT the same as PROMOTING/GLORIFYING drug abuse. In this case it is quite the opposite. These people never seem able to grasp this point. Though in this case it is more likely wilfull ignorance on the part of the writer of the offending article.

  2. i've seen a bit of this storyline (dip into eastenders every now and then). phil looked an idiot, stumbling around a dirty house and losing his kids - not exactly "glamorising" drugs. i suppose in the mail's world, any depiction or even mention of drug use is automatically assumed to be "glorifying" it.