Soaps Bring Greater Awareness of Issues
Recent events in Neighbours have brought an important health issue into the public domain. With Susan Kennedy dealing with a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, viewers join her on her journey through shock, fear and acceptance.
It’s by no means the first time that a soap opera has dealt with a serious issue. In the past few years EastEnders has tackled adoption, child abuse and murder while Hollyoaks has run storylines on anorexia and self harm. Brookside aired the first pre-watershed lesbian kiss on British television in December 1993, and several soaps now feature openly gay characters. Topics like racial tensions and adolescent problems reflect what’s happening in society as well as in individual lives.
Soaps are some of the most-watched and best-loved programs on television today, and use their reach and advantage to bring society’s problems, ills and issues to a wider audience. Gone are the days when thorny or difficult topics were brushed under the carpet. This can be highly beneficial for people who may be experiencing similar difficulties. Viewers often admire, respect and identify with characters, especially since soaps appear so frequently in the television schedule. And since many soaps feature long running storylines and veteran characters, their day-to-day lives become intertwined with audiences’.
Often, soaps will provide a direct link at the end of the program informing viewers how to get help with similar issues, usually in the form of a phone help line or web address. Even if affected viewers don’t use this form of help, just the presence of their issue on television can be enough to start the recovery process.
It isn’t only people who suffer from the featured illness or problem that benefit. Television exposure can take the mystery or taboo out of an issue and lead to wider acceptance.
Critics often brand soaps as sensationalist for issue-driven storylines, but if greater awareness is raised and shame and secrecy are made things of the past, it’s surely a good thing.
For more information on MS, visit www.mstrust.org.uk