Friday, 13 May 2011

The Gay Question

It’s a road of less than twenty households, but, if rumours are true, Coronation Street’s about to get its third lesbian resident.  Is this an example of the “gay agenda”?  Is this political correctness gone mad?  Is it a desperate rush for ratings?


Or is it the problem with soap operas?
Here’s the thing: soap operas - or continuing dramas, to give them their Bafta-worthy title - are an art form based around relationships.  Specifically, love matches.  Oh yes, we love to see battles and conflicts, but it’s the love that we tune into.  It’s the couplings and the decouplings that make a soap worth watching.
All British soaps operate in a disturbingly hermetic environment.  They have one set, one load of characters, and one world to play with.  How else do you explain the fact that Deirdre Barlow is the only person in the Street who can’t walk to work?  Think about that for a second.  How realistic is it that every single resident of Coronation Street can leave for work at 8:58 and still arrive on time?  How preposterous is it that Gail Platt couldn’t find a job - in Manchester, the third largest city in the UK - until she started scrubbing Nick’s toilets?
More to the point, think of the twisted relationships that exist in that street.  Let’s start at Number One.  Deirdre and Tracy both slept with Dev, who slept with Sunita.  Sunita was engaged to Ciaran, who is currently shacked up with Michelle, who used to be engaged to Steve.  Steve is currently married to Becky, who was engaged to Jason for a while, after he split up from Sarah-Louise.  Sarah-Louise is the sister of David, who’s currently married to Becky’s sister Kylie, but who used to go out with Tina, who also lived with Jason for a while, but is currently going out with Graham, even though he’s married to Xin.

That’s one paragraph, and a whole load of interpersonal relations and intimate shenanigans.  But where are Sean, Sophie and Sian in all this?  Not mentioned.  You know why?  Gay characters are cul-de-sacs.  Gay characters are a dramatic dead end.
There just aren’t enough of them.  In terms of drama, they’re a big no-no.  It’s easy to set up a love triangle with unlikely heterosexuals in one street - look at Kevin and Molly.  Even though it seemed strange, they did, at least, have all the right parts and desires to indicate that a relationship would be possible.  There was never any suggestion that Kevin would turn to Sean, or that Molly would suddenly become Sapphic.  
In the world of intermingling relations that is the soap opera, gay characters have the disadvantage of being only compatible with a small percentage of other cast mates.  It’s why the bisexual character is far more common in soaps than in real life - Sean’s relationship with Sonny wasn’t about the two of them, it was about creating conflict with Michelle in a very traditional menage-a-trois format.  It’s notable that Sonny disappeared as soon as his storyline was done.
Going back to my original point: if Eva is indeed a lesbian, I suspect the true cause of discomfort isn’t her sexuality, but that we can see the strings.  Sian and Sophie are a happy gay partnership.  That’s pretty dull for dramatic purposes.  As Jane Rossington once said about her character in Crossroads, “there’s only one way for a soap opera marriage to end - divorce.”  Happy ever after just doesn’t work.  For there to be conflict between our lesbian heroines, we need a third party, and so another lesbian character needs to arrive into the Street.  Similarly, with Sean: it would be unlikely for Jason or Tyrone to suddenly turn gay, so a new character has to be introduced for him to have a love interest - hence the return of Marcus.  Eva’s homosexuality is already boring to us because we can see that she’s there purely to create conflict for Sophie and Sian.  If she were a young, attractive, heterosexual character, she’d have the pick of the men on the street: Tommy, Tyrone, Jason, Gary, and so on.  Making her gay means we can see a plotline from a mile off.
It’s a problem that all soap operas have to deal with at some point.  Emmerdale, for example, turned into a hotbed of lesbianism once Zoe Tate came out, something that seems to have disappeared entirely now she’s not in the show.  Similarly, poor Christian in EastEnders is forced to have a turgid affair with every slightly camp man who shows up in the Square, whether he likes them or not.
In the “real world” Sean would have met the man of his dreams via Gaydar, and Sophie and Sian would be on Canal Street.  That’s not only uninteresting to us as a viewer, it’s expensive to film.  Would you care if Sean suddenly announced he was going out with “Brian”, any more than you would care if Gary Windass suddenly started an affair with “Susan”, a woman he’d met on his latest job?  Wouldn’t it be far more interesting to you if Gary started an affair with, say, Julie?
There’s a choice: all or nothing.  Either you introduce gay characters, and deal with the dramatic complications that arise, or you don’t put them in the show in the first place.  I would argue that Corrie’s gay characters are neither tokenist or boring.  Sean has been a great foil to a number of characters, a classic comedian, and has a number of valuable relationships (Eileen and Julie would both be lesser characters without him).  Sophie has grown up on the Street, and so her lesbianism is an interesting twist that has thrown new angles on existing characters - I can’t be the only person who thinks Rosie Webster’s unequivocal support for her sister adorable.  They’re interesting characters who deserve their place in the fabric of our favourite drama (far more so than, say, Cheryl).  
I guess I’m saying that the producers need a little bit of slack when it comes to gay and lesbian relationships in Coronation Street.  They need to work outside our dramatic comfort zone, and while that may seem unusual, it ultimately leads to a better, more interesting drama for all of us to enjoy.  It’s a contrivance we need to accept to make sure Corrie remains our number one soap.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't Eva be waaaaay too old for Sophie and Sian? But I don't believe the rumour anyway.

Rachel said...

Really good post; thank you.

Anonymous said...

Some really good points made

Anonymous said...

It reveals a lack of imagination on the part of the writers that they are now constantly rehashing what was once a brave, original direction for the programme to take.

Anonymous said...

Great post!

John in Cincinnati said...

Wonderful post with some thoughtful commnentary. As a gay man, I have never really seen a very accurate portrayal of gay people on the soaps.
Writers, give us some better storylines!!

Anonymous said...

A serious underestimate of the homosexuals in Corrie.

Sophie & Sian
Sian & Marcus
James
New daughter at the Rovers
Todd and boyfriend seen together on the "gay awayday weekend" episode.

Mostly down to the stated homosexual agenda of producer Phil Collinson.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget, though not homosexual I think, TV's

Marc as Marcia
and his (her) friend
Justine
to be featured more soon.

Frosty the Snowman said...

Good post Merseytart but I have to disagree with you, Sian IS boring, and has made Sophie so, Sian is pretty but has nothing else going for her, no personality or anything really, a very bland and forgettable character that I heard is leaving and will be absolutely no loss at all.

Anonymous said...

Good post Merseytart although for Manchester I would suggest that six gay characters out of a regular cast of sixty is perhaps not so unrealistic.

Also I don't know what Canal Street is like but the clubs, bars, and pubs in Soho and Tower Hamlets all operate a strict over 18's only policy so Sophie at 16 and Sian at 17 wouldn't get in without a very good fake ID.

It is however a problem which has, to a certain extent, been resolved with Roy and Hayley. Apart from the incident with Tracy I don't think there has been a hint of an affair but there has been drama and screen time for both of them.

David said...

While I am happy that Corrie is finally introducing more gay characters, perhaps it is getting slightly overkill now. Why not concentrate on other minorities for a bit?

Anonymous said...

Counting Todd and boyfriend (his name was Jools by the way) as homosexual characters is like including poor dead Elsie Tanner in the cast list, as she was mentioned yesterday.

Excluding them is hardly a "serious underestimate" of the homosexuals in Corrie. I have no idea of what is the producer's "homosexual agenda", but your agenda is clear, anonymous.

And what have the transvestite characters to do with homosexuality? Gay men like men. Very few transvestites are gay.

Anonymous said...

Counting Todd and his boyfriend in the list of street homosexuals is like including Elsie Tanner in the cast list, because she was mentioned yesterday.

Failing to include those two is hardly a "serious underestimate". I don't know what the producer's "homosexual agenda" is, but your agenda is clear, anonymous.

The transvestites have no relevance. Gay men like men. Few transvestites are gay.

Anonymous said...

David, rather than "concentrating" on minorities, why not concentrate on good characters, irrespective of which social category they fall into?

Adam Rekitt said...

The Sophie/Sian story has been one of Coronation Street's few recent highlights. The reactions to the revelation of "their secret" were in keeping with the 21st Century. It was far better than Eastenders' Christian/Syed story which mainly consisted of someone screeching about how digusted they were every two minutes.

All this reaction to a rumour that a third lesbian will be joining just shows how far there is to go. Gay characters are "a dramatic dead end". That's true for unimaginitive writers who can't think beyond adultery and love triangles. What about unrequited love where a straight character falls for a gay character? Or how about a gay character having a drunken fling with a straight character? At least that's a different take on adultery.

If gay characters come with tired why won't my parents/friends/neighbours/cat accept my sexuality then I agree its overkill. If they are entertaining characters and have interesting stories then what's the problem? The day the introduction of a gay character is no more remarkable than that of anyone elese, is the day this country will finally have grown up.

Dolly Tubb said...

Mersytart - great blog.
Adam Rekkit - round of applause. Couldn't agree more.

Steve said...

really great comment.

Dierdre's transport is not the only transport question. Where are all the cars parked that are owned by the resident's? They drop someone off on the street and maybe it stays there for an episode but then nowhere? DO any of the occupents of Victoria Court have cars if so where are they?Where are all the customer's at the bistro from? They don't drive - no parking and we never saw them in the Rovers. Why does no one catch the tram? Why is Dev's shop the only corner shop in Manchester without secrity netting on the wondows and doors? And before the tram crash no one used the Post Office in the Kabin and then it closed but no petition from the residents. They replaced the post box with a newer one but took away the Post Office. Where has Schmichael gone again and also Ozzie and Biscuits? Ken and Dierdre go off to pottery but never put the dog out first as we do when we go out. These and many other questions need answering.

And to go back to the gay question, if everyone was bi - it would open up limitless stories.

Flaming Nora said...

Brilliant blog post! I'm still hopeful that Gail and Eileen will end up together. Really.

Adam Rekitt said...

Thanks Dolly! :-)

Anonymous said...

Can't wait till Roy's mum find's out Haley used to be a man. FIREWORKS.
Gay storylines don't bother me at all...I love Sean, but I find Sian boring as well...all pouty and 'Sofa..dawn't..SSOOOFFAAA'
Ugh...get rid.

Anonymous said...

If this is true, then it is horribly contrived. Though I always find it too convenient in Soaps where new characters are only ever introduced as a love interest for an established character or to make waves and break-up a relationship. If the characters are too happy, they are torn down.

Sophie and Sian, Ches and Katy etc are good, young couples who are destined to be split by the powers that be. When will they realise that people would rather see these couples grow and face issues together rather than apart?

Corrie is undoing all of it's progression with this and becoming another victim of tokenism. It is insulting to the viewer and we will all know that the Corrie producers are making all the right noises about equality without following through whole-heartedly.

Even Becky/Jason/Steve then Peter/Leanne/Nick - the love triangle is boring and overdone. Move on! I don't care if the couples are straight or gay, just stop messing with them all!

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