Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Immigrants in Underworld

I'm so predictable sometimes... I watched The Verdict on Coronation Street last night, one of the top UK soap dramas, along with 12.6 million other viewers. 'Murdering minx' 'Toxic' Tracy Barlow was found guilty of killing her boyfriend with an ornament and sent to prison. Then the National Grid spiked with an electricity surge of 1,600 megawatts - equivalent to 650,000 kettles being boiled at the same time, as everyone made a nice cup of tea when the episode ended.

A soap habit is a funny old thing, but not harmful, except in the amount of time it could potentially consume. Sometimes they do tackle interesting issues though. The currently developing storyline in Corrie about Polish immigrants in Underworld, the local underwear factory, could be good if it's done properly. Almost daring!

In case you don't watch it (which is quite likely...) it's about the tensions felt by indigenous machinists, as Polish workers are gradually employed in the same job, but on lower wages, creating anxiety about job security amongst the existing workers, and leading to clashes in behaviour. Probably sounds a bit boring from that, but it's better than you think... gobby Janice Battersby stirs the sh*t. It's an area of employment (in real life) with traditionally little job security, poor employee rights and pay, and lack of unionisation. Almost a textile sweat-shop.

Immigration has been a hot political topic in the UK on and off for absolutely years, and more so with the recent expansion of the EU and people seeking political asylum. I may be wildly wrong, but if a fictional soap like Coronation Street (or Corrie, as we affectionately know it...) gets its story right, it could be about the only time many of its viewers get to see both sides of a complex issue (in a simplified format, of course). It's probably true to suggest that most people already have a view on this, which is reinforced by whoever they discuss it with in conversation, and their choice of newspaper.

However, if the immigrant storyline in Corrie is well written, it could present both sides of the issues to its captive audience, in a dramatised human scenario instead of impersonal statistics (real or 'enhanced'). The viewpoint of normal working class people with real anxieties about jobs, housing and public services could be dismissed as racist fantasies by well-meaning liberals, but these views should still be considered, as they are frequently based on their day-to-day experiences (on both sides). The story from the immigrant's point of view, showing what can happen when seeking legitimate employment in the UK, and along with the related problems of cultural integration, could be humanised, rather than being an impersonal, scaremongering 'rivers of blood' type of story in the news, or a reason to vote BNP.

At the risk of stating the glaringly obvious, all political issues are about individuals and are rarely straightforward. Maybe I'm being overly optimistic here, but British soaps are well-written and have a huge viewer base. People identify with and care about the characters, even though they're fictional. They're entertainment, but story-lines are discussed and picked apart because they relate to real life. It's not a bad way to make people think about things they had taken for granted, or to question - ever so slightly- their pre-existing views on a variety of topics.

And I haven't written this to try to justify my viewing habits either, I'm definitely no cultural snob... now where's that TV schedule...

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