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Eastenders: storyline beyond belief?

Do we want to watch cot death and baby snatching on our television screens? Is that entertainment? With over 6000 complaints, has Eastenders gone too far?

The storyline that has caught the attention of thousands has caused uproar, fury and upset. Ronnie Mitchell and Kat Moon having given birth to baby boys within hours of each other. Little James Ronnie’s son dies from cot death and whilst wandering in the Square for help, she hears Tommy crying upstairs in The Queen Vic: she swaps her dead baby for Kat and Alfie Moon’s baby Tommy. Wow. Let me catch my breath. I did just say that two babies were born, one died and then they got switched. Sorry for any bluntness that may have caused offence. Did the scriptwriters think about the repercussions of this storyline?

Life and death are sensitive issues not to be taken lightly, in jest or to be ridiculed. In the case of child deaths our media, over the past few years, has been bombarded with children being abducted, abused or dying. Therefore this storyline caused outrage amongst many who found it offensive, disrespectful and all in all insensitive.

However, soaps are not meant to represent reality. They offer escapism, pleasure and food for thought. Theorists have argued that soaps tackle issues that we like to hide from society that do not fit into the “normal” family structure that people aspire to create in their lives.

The actress Samantha Womack (who plays Ronnie) is reported to be leaving the show and one of the reasons is the horrific storyline. The programme-makers already made last minute edits to the New Year’s Eve episode: a scene showing Ronnie touching the cold hand of her dead baby and Kat (in blood-soaked pyjamas) after Alfie Moon (her husband) finds her haemorrhaging in her bed.

The character Ronnie has suffered immensely throughout her character’s life: abused and raped by her father, having a baby when she was a teenager and her father led her to believe the baby was dead. Evidently many people have felt that this is a step too far for the character and completely over the top. Discussions have been raised about the believability: would you recognise your own baby? In addition most people feel this is the wrong time for such a tragic storyline. Christmas and New Year should be a joyous time and promoting self fulfilment for the year ahead, instead we find soaps competing for the craziest and most eccentric storyline. Is this the sad state of Britain’s soaps? Or is it a harsh portrayal of difficult issues? With the exception that baby swapping (in our culture and society) is very rare.

The last storyline in Eastenders to cause such a stir was only back in April 2009 when Danielle Jones (Ronnie’s daughter) was killed in a car crash. Is this the response of audiences saying enough is enough? How far will television producers and writers go to entertain the public? Is the BBC really conforming to the PSB format? Instead of seizing the opportunity to create happy memories with two strong, independent women in the script entering motherhood after storylines of tragedy and pain, Eastenders took the wrong turn. Through this controversial decision they have probably lost loyal fans as they have simply found the storyline too upsetting and devastating. The insensitive coverage of losing a baby did not consider viewers who have experienced this tragedy and underestimated the emotional trauma it has caused: who in their right mind would even contemplate swapping a dead baby for someone else’s living baby? Eastenders in the past has tackled issues in a thoughtful and responsible manner (story line) considering ethical, emotional and personal problems. Has the focus this time been too much on causing shock and gaining the highest ratings over the Christmas period? What do you think? Dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnn…..

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