Friday, March 31, 2006

Room 101

Back by popular request. Oh, OK, I can't think of anything else to blog, so it's back. And this time the contender is:

Da da da da da da doooo...

Yes, Eastenders. Honestly, some people have no ear for music!

It's not the unrelenting misery that I particularly object to (I would have no problem with the BBC showing performances of Hedda Gabler, or Waiting For Godot, for example). Well, as long as it didn't displace something really good like Celebrity Fit Club.

It's the total failure of the programme to reflect anything like London life. Walford tube is, according to the Wikipedia entry, at the precise point of the tubemap as Bromley by Bow. A mere 5 minutes on public transport from Brick Lane, and about 20 minutes from Oxford Street. And yet, there are Norfolk villages with a more cosmopolitan population.

Firstly, there is no social mix. With house prices in London being so high, and people like teachers and nurses finding it difficult to get on the property ladder, even relatively poor areas have their share of singletons or couples who are first time buyers, who would be a little less, well, chav. Perhaps there is an unseen population of normal people in Albert Square, who work and socialise away from the area, maybe have jobs in nearby Canary Wharf, and avoid The Queen Vic. Who wouldn't? OK, there is the occasional doctor or vicar, but they never seem to fit in very easily.

And Albert Square looks like a decent enough place; no East End 1960s tower blocks and sink estates here. Nice Edwardian type houses around a green space, within commuting distance to Canary Wharf and Zone 1. I'm amazed that so many people can live in relatively nice houses while working occasional shifts at a chip shop; a pub; and on market stalls. Do they ever get a job in that strange world just 20 tube minutes away, if that, called Central London, where they could at least work a till in Dorothy Perkins in Oxford Street? Oh no. Very occasionally, when there is a particular celebration, the characters will talk about going "Up West" in the manner that a Victorian explorer might suggest a trip up the Orinoco.

There are no students; no "arty" types who can't quite afford Hoxton; nobody with pink hair; no goths. Well, students would probably get beaten up, 'cos they do that strange book learning thing, so they must be gay, right? Yes, they do have gay characters, but maybe not quite as many as you'd expect for London. And the racial mix never seems convincing. You never hear any extras in The Queen Vic, for example, speaking in a foreign language. Although there are non white characters, they never get to the critical mass necessary to distinguish Walford from, say, suburbs like Staines or Woking (and they never seem to be the ones who stay for a long time, or turn the actors into major celebrities). Not a true depiction of the East End, where a bus ride reveals a wonderful mix of saris; people chatting animatedly in Russian and Polish; African women in butterfly bright dresses and turbans; people with so many facial piercings they probably take 3 hours and a strip search to get through the scanners at airports; and just about anybody else.

Eastenders is The East End as seen by somebody who lives in rural England, who uses a biography of The Krays as their sole point of reference. It's a shame, because there is a really exciting serial to be made about the real East End, if somebody were to try.

Disclaimer: will the lawyers working for Dorothy Perkins please note that I'm not really suggesting that the store would employ some of the female characters depicted; let's face it, most of the stock would disappear overnight.


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