By Alana Murphy

TW: references to assault, bullying, PTSD, and eating disorders.

Coronation Street and Emmerdale are both popular UK based soap operas. In recent years, the inclusion of diverse characters and sensitive subject matters have appeared within both dramas. The cliché plotlines of affairs, revenge, murder and death remain, which are crucial elements to a soap opera, but both Coronation Street and Emmerdale have begun engaging with personal and deeper concerns than just their character’s love lives. Both soap operas have scripted characters that have their challenges devoid of petty arguments for screen entertainment. 

There is an indulgence felt from soap operas. When I join my mother to watch Emmerdale and Coronation Street, it is easy to pick up on the easy and repetitive plots seen in both dramas such as affairs. They are both programs that I can dip in and out of due to the predictable plots associated with soap operas, it can merely take rearranging the characters from last year to the similar plots to understand current events. However, in recent years, I have stayed for the episode and been surprised and intrigued. This is in part for the tension, excitement and the drama, but mostly for the interest I find in gaining a perspective of a pain, experience, or life that may be unknown to me but so relevant to the news, world, and possibly people around me. It is no longer just alcohol and bar fights. It is now listening to the inner monologue of a young girl with an eating disorder, watching the negative effect of social media for cyberbullying or for silencing the voice of a rape victim, and watching the complicated relationship within families after the death of a loved one. Emmerdale and Coronation Street have engaged with the inner psychological elements of their characters and their cliché plots, creating a more realistic space for the audience to watch through, and for the audience to find characters they see themselves in or feel connected to.

Emmerdale has recently projected Charity’s PTSD on the screen. Charity after a tragic incident begins experiencing symptoms of PTSD which Emmerdale depicts as insomnia, fear, irritation, dissociation and head pain. In the beginning, these issues go unnoticed and undiagnosed by her family but are referenced in conversations and arguments that she has with her husband. The solo scenes we have of Charity dealing with her PTSD include evoking camera shots that follow her vision and memory flashbacks which remind us of the incident parallel to how her mind reminds itself. In recent episodes, we have even seen Charity not just go to therapy but instead watch her in the session. The audience views the personal and vulnerable side of her and this mental issue. The inclusion of scenes of therapy does advocate for mental care and takes some of the unknown and unspoken away from therapy.

I as much as anyone can be drawn into the mess of soap operas, the drama and the sometimes humour which comes from the pettiness and craziness of how they treat each other which is often followed by the thought: “I would never do that”. It is enjoyable watching the fantasized world of ‘what if’ you did give into those angry and jealous impulses. It is an entertaining chaos which you find almost comfort in: “at least my life isn’t that chaotic”. However, what I have found when I join my mother to watch her soaps, Emmerdale and Coronation Street, is that I feel so much more heard. I’m not just gasping when a bottle is smashed over another character’s head or pitying the rejection of the mistress or laughing at the irony of an argument. I am now watching the problems of my present world come to life. I sympathise with Amy in Coronation Street who was bullied into taking her post about her assault down and going on without justice for herself. I learned about diabetes in a visceral way through camera fogginess and dizziness and saw the eating and confidence issues that diabetes caused for Summer in Coronation Street. Coronation Street’s young characters which have gained much more of a focus in the show such as Amy, Summer, and Liam, have been a lot more refreshing, and relatable. It has given the problems following younger characters, even the traumas they exhibit from the older generations issues they have grown up with and the consequences of such issues, apparent and more real. Coronation Street highlights young adult characters that reflect their age group and who live in a world meant to mirror ours. It makes the issues that orbit other young adults feel seen, heard and still important when they are put on the same stage as the scenes of adult scenes. The younger characters are not undermined for their reactions, problems or feelings.

Coronation Street and Emmerdale have begun exploring the inner psychological effects of society and the events and past that they put their characters in which has created a genuine reflection of the possible lives of their audience and no longer stray from triggering topics. Instead, they remain relevant to current worries and are devoted to authentic representations. Soap operas may be dramatised versions of events but shows such as Coronation Street and Emmerdale now include parts of life that should no longer be substituted for or ignored. 

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