Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Moral contradictions on Coronation Street

(This post was originally posted by Flaming Nora on the Coronation Street Blog August 2014, reposted to this blog with permission.)

Guest blog post from ELK, a regular Coronation Street Blog reader

We grouse a lot about storylines in which the residents of the Street turn on someone they've known forever, suddenly willing to believe – out of nowhere - that they are capable of criminal behaviour. Take, for instance, Tyrone (the gentle lout, who, in light of Kirsty's accusations, becomes, in almost everyone's eyes, a closet wife-beater) or Peter (the alcoholic bigamist who, despite his known flaws, probably does not deserve to be tarred as a murderer, at least not until he's been proven guilty).

This phenomenon, of residents, so ready to undergo annesia and forget the things they used to know about a neighbour, has always been a staple of the show, going back to its roots.

No one would – or could – fault Ena Sharples of a crime, correct? Being the moral backbone of the street? Except they did. They turned on her as swiftly, with the same pack mentality, back in 1966.

For those who don't remember, here was the setup - Ena and Minnie went to a supermarket outside of the Street, got confused by the high-speed, high-tech check-out system, and left the store not realising the cashier had failed to charge them for two tins of salmon. Next thing, Ena is being charged with shoplifting. News gets back to The Rovers before the end of the commercial break.

Annie Walker, addressing her husband Jack, is the first to point out that Ena Sharples, having held a high and mighty attitude for all of these years, is not precisely deserving of sympathy: “I never said, Jack, that she wasn't human. She has many failings. She was capable of a lot of interference. Caused a great deal of hurt in her time. I know. I myself have been the object of her speculations.”

Jack Walker, for what it's worth, tries to support Ena, reminding his wife of Ena's strengths: “[S]he was always a leader. If ever there was a battle to be fought, she was there in vanguard.”

Hilda Ogden, being Hilda, is part of the exchange, eager to cash in on new gossip and an opportunity to denigrate others: “You never had to send a replacement. Just shout her name and kids would scatter.”

If you would like to revisit the episode, it's here:

What I'm trying to say is that all of these characters – Annie, Hilda, Ena – entered the pantheon of Corrie legends long ago, yet, if you go back in time, not one of them was unilaterally moral. Hilda would put anyone down if she thought it could elevate her own status. Annie was ready to bear witness against a regular customer, and Ena garnered no sympathy from the neighbours, precisely because she was, at root, no different from them, capable of ill-timed pettiness and Bible-thumping when the occasion least called for it.

So I don't think Coronation Street is a moral place – nor in my opinion should it be judged on that basis. It originated in the mind of Tony Warren, a young gay man growing up amongst stale rules and moralizing matriarchs, who was clearly fascinated with the contradictions played out among people he knew, a small working class enclave, as generous as they were stingy, as wise as they were ignorant, as charitable as they were mean.

In other words, the Street transcended morality. It was simply real.

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