Sunday, 17 March 2013

Has DJ Ryan got his deck out, or is he just pleased to see Katy?

(This post was originally posted by Flaming Nora on the Coronation Street Blog February 2013, reposted to this blog with permission.)

Another fab guest post from Anna Kalinski, who will soon be joining us as a Coronation Street Blogger.  Follow Anna on twitter @annakalinski

During my usual foray across to the Weatherfield Gazette to check the upcoming Corrie spoilers this week, I was disappointed to see that Katy is set to ‘break Chesney’s heart’ with her upcoming dalliance with Ryan.  Yep. I’m thinking what you’re thinking.

“Oh Dear!  I need a DJ at my party! Oh! Wherever will I find one?”

“Oooh! Has he got his deck out, or is he just pleased to see me?”

The interactions are already set up like a low budget 80s porno film.  (What? My friend’s dad hid it in a Video Library case. We were 13. How were we supposed to know what ‘Electric Blue’ was? Traumatised.  I’ve never since waited in for a sparky without a chaperone present. )

I am willing to wager that if we looked at the broad demographic of Corrie fans and their viewing habits - particularly amongst long-standing viewers - there would be many who do not watch other soaps because they feel alienated by the fake tan of Hollyoaks, the explosions of Emmerdale and the affairs of Eastenders.  Cheap thrills have no resonance with most viewers, yet daily we see Corrie edging away from Tony Warren’s kitchen-sink premise and inching ever-closer to ‘A Corrie-mole revealed to the Sun’ territory.

My late grandmother, Hilda-Jean, Lancashire born and bred (she was never going to be from St Albans with a name like that.), would always watch only Corrie because for her it represented what she liked to call “real Lancashire people’s normal lives”. That and she didn’t like Cockneys.

Corrie viewers are traditionally more suspicious of newcomers and sensationalism than viewers of any other soap.  Let’s admit it, when new characters start on Corrie, we don’t really like them; at least not before they’ve proved themselves.  We start muttering about how we don’t like this new-fangled Stella/Eva/Kylie/Becky. We’ll stop watching at this rate. We’re the soap equivalent of those people who start saying they’ll “refuse to use Facebook if it changes to this new...” but then are happily posting away on it the next month.

However, if there’s one thing of which we are intolerant, it is ‘flavour-of-the-month’ younger characters monopolising the bulk of the airtime with their petty, circular and ultimately hollow dramas. And justifiably so. This week, we have seen some truly diabolical ‘performances’ from Katy’s ‘mates’ as the cast of the Chorlton-cum-Hardy version of Clueless, heralding yet another out of the blue pairing.  What-ev-err.

The Katy/Ryan thing is not a storyline. Here’s what’s really happened: Ryan, easy on the eye though he is, is floating around aimlessly. What is a “hunk” without a sexy storyline? The producers have seen the recent paparazzi pictures of Georgia-May Foote glammed up.  They of course think, ‘hang about, we can cash in on her if we put a bit of make-up on her, a miniskirt and pop in some Carmen rollers’. They might even get a cheeky Nuts shoot out of her.  A Babes of Corrie shoot in a Sunday TV supplement beckons. They need new blood because, of course, you can’t be voted Sexiest Female over the age of 29. I mean Michelle Keegan is over 25 now, almost ready for the knacker’s and so of course will probably be put in a home soon or minced up into the soap equivalent of a Birdseye lasagne. Or Holby City, to call it by its name.

So, the Corrie sixty-minute makeover it is.  Nice, fresh-faced homely female character suddenly turns temptress, working her way around the street with affairs and arbitrary  pairings with any available male. Who all of a sudden notices her. They do however, usually wait until the actress turns 21. It happened to Maria, Rosie, Molly, Tina, hell, even Sunita, but they were pushing it there.  But after that, where do they go?  Nowhere. And herein lies the problem. They just drift into overexposure with no real storyline, or find themselves axed.

But, believe it or not, young women can do more than just have affairs and get involved with random wrong’uns. Audiences can actually enjoy the enduring relationships we see on screen: who could conceive of anybody disliking the pairing of Roy and Hayley? Jack and Vera? Ken and Deidre? Because, as in life, if a pairing is right, it will last. 

Why on earth can’t Kylie actually continue to grow into a character of substance? Why can’t we see her as a successful mother? Why does Katy have to be incapable of fidelity because she’s young? Is it really so boring to represent young mothers in a positive light?

Coronation Street is fundamentally about families and interesting things happen in families. Not just people having affairs. Sometimes, women do stay faithful and most times drama does not have to be out of the ordinary for it to be extraordinary.

There were high hopes for new Corrie producer Stuart Blackburn (mind you, any port in a storm...) but here he is doing it again with recent spoilers of fires, deaths and suicide. Alas, we have again been underestimated. Blackburn can trust Corrie viewers. We’re not like all the rest. This is why we are so hard to please and exactly why we want characters to earn the crown and prove themselves to us. We will tune in for gritty, working-class character-based drama- if we are given it. We don’t need shocks, bombings, fires or sexy pairings. That’s not why we’re here. It never was.

The past few years have been increasingly difficult for families. Given its prominence, how disappointing that Coronation Street hasn’t really been able to provide at least a degree of social commentary, and by this, I don’t mean picking a controversial issue such as rape, and plonking it amongst all the other ‘A Weatherfield Gazette please, Rita’ sorts of goings on in the street in a token attempt to be seen to be “tackling tough social issues”. I mean something that we can look back upon and say that it genuinely reflected British society as it was back then.

With 2.5 million unemployed, when you lose your job, the owner of the local cafĂ© doesn’t pop up and give you a few hours just because you asked. You aren’t made redundant one second, then the next, a card conveniently goes up in the window of your local newsagent and you’re hired without interview. In fact, it has the opposite effect of providing social commentary, for such scenes make it implicit that ‘it’s easy to get a job if you’re looking’ and reinforce already deeply negative stereotypes about the jobless. I don’t know what these positions are paying, but presumably a good solid twenty-five quid an hour to pay the rent or mortgage on a house and support a family, whilst leaving enough disposable income to keep buying these laptops?  Though presumably, people struggling doesn’t provide enough material from which to create any sort of engaging drama.  Alan Bleasdale might disagree.

Corrie suffers greatly from such lack of strivers. I’m not saying families don’t break up. They do. 1 in 3 families is estimated to be a stepfamily.  And yet another trick missed.  Here on Coronation Street, family dynamics are glossed over unless it’s affair-related. Aadi and Asha take to Karl like a duck to water; did they even notice?  Amy welcomed Becky as a second mother without a glitch. It’s all a bit Wife Swap.

Families are immensely complex, intense and problematic and there is scope to explore this and to give women in particular, opportunities to take on roles of substance and show their mettle and of course, to provide a forum for quality characterisation without resorting to courting the bad boys or the tabloids.  Because we’ll never get another Jack and Vera at this rate…

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