Thursday, 10 May 2018

Why Coronation Street was right to highlight male suicide story

Guest blog post from Jade Rainbow who is on Twitter: @MissJE1994
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On Monday 30th April 2018, Coronation Street announced that they would be highlighting the issue of male suicide in an upcoming storyline that would see the character of Aidan Connor, played by Shayne Ward, tragically take his own life. As with most of the programme's recent decisions, fans have been divided by the news, with some saying that this is an important issue that needs to be raised, and others saying it is another dark and depressing storyline that doesn't fit in with the Corrie we know and love. 

I am writing this piece to share my own thoughts on this issue, all opinions are my own and not intended to cause offence.

I personally think this is a brave move by Corrie, and one that is absolutely necessary. Think about it, how many times in Coronation Street's history, or any soap for that matter, has an actor decided to leave, resulting in their character either being murdered or dying in an accident, like being hit by a car for example? Plenty, far too many to mention in fact. And how many times has a character been written out by suicide? A hell of a lot less, which is crazy when you think about the fact that three times more people die by suicide than in road traffic accidents. Soaps, by their very nature are unrealistic, how could so many things all happen in the same place in real life? But they do tackle real life issues, because if they didn't, how could anyone ever identify with them? They are what every other TV show is, an over dramatised version of real life. Suicide is the biggest killer of men under forty five, with eighty four men a week dying by suicide, and in 2016, 76% of all suicides in Britain were committed by men, so yes, this is happening in real life, and therefore should be included in a programme that tackles real issues.

From lurking on social media, I've seen lots of different reactions to the news; some people are saying this shouldn't be shown on a soap, it should be shown on a documentary, others are saying there has been no build up and this has come completely out of the blue, leading to speculation that the original intention was to kill David Platt off in this way after his rape ordeal. 

Okay so, a documentary is all well and good, and absolutely should be shown, but where's the shock factor, and where's the empathy? How can viewers be shocked by a male suicide when they're watching a documentary about male suicide? And how can they feel any real sense of sadness when a person they don't even know dies? 

You might think it's easier to feel sadness about a real person than a fictional character, and I personally agree that it should be, but there's no denying that the soaps are an absolutely massive platform that a large proportion of the general public are hugely invested in, a petition to free Deirdre Barlow from prison was even started twenty years ago, and although with the increase in TV channels, meaning that no programme enjoys the viewing figures that it used to, they are still in a pretty influential place, and Corrie is currently pulling in its highest viewing figures for a while, so why on earth shouldn't they use their status to try and raise awareness and make changes? 

The character of Aidan Connor has been in Coronation Street for nearly three years, and is well liked, so in some respects, viewers will see his exit as the death of a friend, and it will possibly have a bigger impact on them than a documentary would (you only have to look at Facebook and Twitter to see how seriously some people take the soaps). Moving on to those saying that there has been no build up, there absolutely has been, granted not in any scenes involving other people, but we have seen Aidan crying or looking distant when on his own, and have watched a gradual change come over his character that can be traced right back to his disasterous wedding to Eva. His whole character has changed and become more aware of other people's feelings, for example Sophie, and he has been shown going above and beyond the norm in his kindness to Summer and Liam. 

Also, let's not forget the letter we saw him post in January, now believed to be a suicide note to his father, which he then intercepted when he decided to donate a kidney to Carla, so he has been planning this for a long time. The whole point of course is that outwardly he does seem fine, because he is bottling everything up and successfully convincing his family and friends that he is absolutely fine. This is highlighted by the reactions of his father Johnny, who goes to see why he hasn't turned up for work, and finds his body, and his sister Kate, who is happily fooling around at work with Daniel when she gets the news, because they genuinely don't have the slightest inclination that this has been on the cards, (shout out to Richard Hawley and Faye Brooks, and also Catherine Tyldesley for phenomenal acting at this point). 

Personally, I don't believe for one second that it was ever the intention to have David departing in this way, as I mentioned before, the signs of Aidan's struggle have been there for a while, and following on from David's rape, his suicide would just be too obvious. Aidan's death obviously strikes a cord with David, but this encourages him to tell Shona that he was raped and thus begin to come to terms with it, and that's a far better story arc.

Coronation Street, and particularly Kate Oates, has come under scrutiny recently for its "dark" storylines, and I have to stress at this point that I do completely understand why some people feel this way, it's not "Classic Corrie", but personally I've enjoyed it and found it more powerful and emotional in recent months than I ever have in the past twenty years. 

As I mentioned earlier, it has recently been pulling in its highest viewing figures for a few years, and a whole new set extension has recently been introduced, so I would say that, as a show, it's in the best state it has been in for a few years. The programme has changed, it's not the same show it used to be, but then it's been on TV for nearly sixty years, the world isn't the same place it used to be. Classic Corrie is being repeated on ITV3 at the moment, we're currently in the mid eighties, and while it's by no means boring, the overall pace and feel of it is far slower, and wouldn't necessarily capture the broad audience range that it does now. 

My dad was in his twenties in the eighties and was certainly in a minority as a fan of the show of that age, but now far more teenagers and young adults enjoy it, which can surely only be a good thing. In order to survive in an ever changing world, people, businesses, and TV shows have to evolve and change, otherwise they get left behind and forgotten. Let's not forget of course, that it hasn't always been a light hearted gentle comedy as some people seem to think; way back in 1960, just weeks after the programme started, May Hardman died of a brain tumour on New Year's Eve, Harry Hewitt was crushed by a van in 1967, Valerie Barlow was electrocuted in 1971, Ernest Bishop shot in a robbery in 1978, Alan Bradley went under a tram in 1989, and Joe Donnelli, Katy Harris and Alison Webster, to name a few, have all, granted in very different circumstances to Aidan, taken their own lives. Yes, some aspects of the show have become darker, but there are still some lighter moments, I mean can we just take a moment to appreciate the comic genius that is Andrew Whyment as Kirk, and David Neilson as Roy is actually one of the most beautiful creations in TV history.

So, Coronation Street is currently on top form, it is pushing boundaries and getting people talking, and is therefore in an excellent position to highlight important issues, especially those that are still seen as taboo in some way, like David Platt's rape, another subject that has been highlighted in the past, but primarily focusing on females. I don't think that storyline went too far, the act itself wasn't shown (obviously it couldn't have been even if the writers had wanted to because of Coronation Street's pre watershed slot), but I think not showing it worked far better, it isn't glamourising what is, in reality, a hugely important and serious issue. 

The same can be said for Aidan's suicide, he was last seen crying alone at home at the end of Monday's episode, and Wednesday starts with his death being discovered without us as viewers actually seeing his body, we don't need to see the details, our imaginations can do the work for us. Some people have complained about spoilers because the nature of Aidan's exit was revealed nearly a week in advance, but that was absolutely the right decision, this is a hugely upsetting subject that is, sadly, very close to home for a lot of people, and they need to be given the choice on whether or not to watch. Once again, the subject is being tackled with sensitivity and respect, and not as a sensationalist storyline designed to shock and impress viewers. Monday and Wednesday's episodes have been some of the most devastating television I've ever watched, solely because they haven't been over dramatised, they have been drawn from true experiences, this is happening daily in real life. I myself recently found out that a childhood friend with whom I had lost contact several years ago, had taken his own life a few months ago. He was twenty. After the airing of the rape storyline, national charity Male Survivor reported a 1700% increase in calls, so if Aidan's storyline can make even half of that impact, that's still an amazing achievement, and even if it touches just one person who sees themselves or someone they know in Aidan, that's still potentially a life saved. 

That is the reality that we have to remember, the storyline hasn't made me sad about Aidan per se, because he isn't a real person, and Shayne Ward is still alive and well, but what has made me sad is that this storyline has happened because this issue actually needs to be highlighted. I have seen posts from people saying that they can't allow their children to watch this sort of thing, because they don't want them to see something like this, and they wouldn't be able to explain it to them. I don't have children, but if I did I would have no problem with allowing them to watch it, it happens in real life, children are living in real life, and it could so easily be any one of us. I would talk to them about it afterwards, and explain that sadly this does happen to real people everyday, but I would also encourage them never to shy away from subjects that they would rather not think about, because there are many issues in the real world that we can't control, but we should talk about them all, and talk about how we feel about them, because talking is good, and suicide is a permanent solution to what is usually a temporary problem, and maybe more lives, both men and women, can be saved if we all talk a bit more and listen to each other.

So to wrap this up, all I can say is thank you Coronation Street for bringing this to the spotlight and getting people talking. I honestly can't really put into words how this week's episodes have made me feel, but they have been some of the most thought provoking and fantastically acted pieces I have ever seen. Never did I imagine, as an eleven year old listening to "That's My Goal" when Shayne Ward won the X Factor, that thirteen years later he would absolutely knock spots off so many other actors with his heartbreakingly honest portrayal of Aidan's struggle, it was even his idea to add in the very last scene of Aidan alone in his flat, and fans are now calling for him to get a British Soap Award this year. I could also never have imagined how truly brilliant Coronation Street would become, it says a lot about the show when you honestly feel there is no clear winner in the Best Actor category between Connor McIntyre, Jack P Shepherd and Shayne Ward as they have all put in such astounding performances recently. 

My whole family watches Corrie but it's never been "unmissable" for me personally, if I went out and missed an episode here and there I never bothered to catch up, but this last year has been amazing, and there have been too many fantastic storylines to mention. I have never cried over something that isn't real on my twenty four years on this planet, but tonight I did. I have never seen such a raw, emotional, beautifully written and acted piece of drama in a soap before. Well done each and every person involved with the show, you are quite literally saving lives.

"Don't hide out inside yourself, if you only let the sun shine on you, I promise you, you're not alone." - Shayne Ward.

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Anonymous said...

Beautifully said. I've been watching Coronation Street faithfully for many more decades; it became part of life's routine. Missing an episode now and again wasn't an issue; it was easy to fill in the blanks when stories were slower. But now, I don't want to miss anything. Kudos to Kate Oates, the writers and many cast members for bringing gripping, unmissable and thoughtful viewing.

Zagg said...

Yes, it was done well. But personally, I am tired of the heaviness of this show. Too many devastating stories at once. With Oates gone, I hope we get away from..."If you are affected by this storyline". It has been overused and overworked to a ridiculous degree.

Louby said...

My first reaction on hearing that this was going to be in the programme was that I was a step too far and I wouldn't watch. However I did of course and I have been impressed with how well it has been portrayed. Aiden sitting among his family, but obviously feeling tormented was particularly moving. It will have interesting to see how different characters are affected, short term and long term.

I wonder if statistics will show a drop in suicides from now on.

I do agree with Zagg, can we please have a break from the heavy stuff!

Anonymous said...

Jeanie: Suicide is a potentially interesting topic for a soap/drama because it will have such an enduring impact on the survivors and generate a lot of on-going stories. But really, how much misery can any one street/show/viewers endure? Particularly because viewers tend to have different relationships to the characters of long-running soaps than they do to characters in dramas or movies--they seem more real, more like family. So, having Luke gruesomely killed, Andy tortured and killed, David raped, and now Aidan take his own life all since January is just too much for me. I'm glad others can tolerate it, even enjoy it and celebrate it, but there is only so much human suffering from characters I've gotten to know and care about that I can take!

On a totally different note, a problem I have with Corrie's treatment of this suicide is that why the act itself seems very real and raw and Aidan's last moments undoubtedly poignant, its causes are far-fetched and ridiculous--the disastrous wedding with Eva and the equally preposterous baby storyline. If you grant the show the point it is making--that anyone can commit suicide if situations push them that way--not just those who seem troubled or depressed--then there seems little question that Eva and Adam are responsible for Aidan's death. Ie. they set him up, stole everything from him and then sent in people to gut the factory. Then Eva took it upon herself to decide whom she could gift hers and Aidan's baby to--which is actually an illegal act, since the father has as much right to the baby as the mother. Ie. if Eva didn't really want to raise the baby, she should have seen if the Connors wanted to raise her--she had no right to give her away like a piece of property to her semi-step-sister. So these three things--stealing everything from him while faking a pregnancy, ransacking the factory, and giving his child away to the resident wannabe mother--are presumably the things that pushed Aidan over the edge. Since such a preposterous and extreme series of events are unlikely to ever occur in real life, it seems farcical for Corrie to try to pretend that this is a realistic and serious statement about male suicide and its causes (not being able to speak about their pain).

Laura said...

I don't think Eva and Adam are to blame for Aiden's decision to take his own life. You could just as easily say he and Maria were responsible, because they chose to have the affair that caused Eva to want revenge in the first place. Or Carla's fault, for giving him the factory and overwhelming him with responsibility. And on and on it goes. Once you start playing that game, it quickly becomes everyone's "fault".

Shayne Ward explained in his interview that Aiden committed suicide because he was convinced everyone would be better off without him. That suggests to me he felt he wasn't a good person, and that he would only continue making mistakes that hurt others, so he believed he should end his life.

That thinking is heartbreaking, but sadly all too common, and I'm glad Coronation Street has shown this story line. I believe the show is meant to depict what many of us experience in our everyday lives; things we can relate to. Not too many of us have serial killers as neighbours...but I think everyone knows someone who is depressed, and perhaps even suicidal. I remember the suicide of a classmate shortly after we graduated high school 18 years ago. We were all shocked; no one saw it coming. Later I reread what I now realized to be his goodbye message in my year book, and I've never cried so hard and so bitterly in my life. I was so angry with myself for not realizing it when help was still possible for him.

This is something that is so real, for so many people. This time, at least for me, Coronation Street got it right.

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