Steve Owen

“Themes and characters in television fiction reflect the society in which they are produced” Refer to examples; including the two broadcast fiction texts we have studied to explore this statement. I agree that television fiction reflects the society in which they are produced, shown in the themes and characters in the programmes. It may not appear so on the surface, as in Eastenders, our society is not dominated by East London ‘gangster types’, nor as in father Ted, religious pillars of society are not typical targets for creating ‘slapstick’ humour.

However to a certain extent, television fiction programmes do reflect the society they were produced in, primarily because if British people produce them, then British influences will come through in the themes and characters almost subconsciously when they are produced. The narratives of television fiction vary considerably from the realistic setting and storylines of Walford residents in Eastenders to the slightly ‘life is like a joke’ approach to narratives in Father Ted.

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Narrative satisfaction is very important in any television fiction programme, as it will keep the audience coming back for more. Storylines may not appear to be true reflections of society, but the messages and representations are to do with human emotion and reaction to events. We react in this way, as it is the particular ‘norm’ of society to do so. Narratives in soap opera such as Eastenders are often dramatic and far-fetched, but still to the point of plausibility.

Creating a community of people that we feel familiar and comfortable with allows the fiction to continue. It is not necessarily the fact that Steve Owen is a thief, a cheat and a liar and that Phil Mitchell has the capability of having him murdered that reflects our society, more that the tension and suspense created in the build up of such drama makes us feel included in the story and so we react as an audience that knows that driving a car at 60mph with a baby in the back will end in tears.

We react with emotion, sympathy, compassion and pity for the characters as they deal with hardships and a never-ending search for ‘normal’ happiness. Similarly in sitcom like Father Ted, we laugh because there is such social stereotyping that makes us automatically think of some women as ‘easy’ targets and accuse them of naivety. This may not necessarily be the case in a more matriarchal society in other countries of the world, but it is socially acceptable and therefore the storylines do reflect the society in which they were produced.

A narrative function may be the agreed, accepted and standard practise in our country but may be confusing and misleading in another society altogether. Narratives are made plausible by the characters, as the work of Todorov shows, how narratives are constructed. There has to be development through a story in a systematic and believable way. Like the character archetypes devised by Propp, the role and functions of characters within a narrative have to have some kind of drive and ambition to create changes.

Soap operas reflect Propp’s ideas about characters that are common to all narratives, such as the villain; Phil Mitchell or Steve Owen, and the helper; Pauline Fowler or Pat Butcher. As do characters in sitcom to some extent, as in Father Ted being the leader, and having a slower follower in the background. The difference between Soap Opera and Sitcom are that narrative ultimately determines the way in which they reflect society or try to achieve social realism. The codes and conventions of sitcom are very different to the likes of soap opera in what they are trying to achieve.

It is more difficult to achieve that sense of realism in an episode that lasts for half an hour and has to go through the stages of equilibrium. Whereas in soap operas and drama series storyline are developed over longer periods of time, allowing the audience to develop feelings and emotions towards the characters, the audience gets to know the character and setting overtime, and that is an important part of narratives within a soap opera, shown by their capability of gaining and holding huge audiences.

In soap opera the narrative is never closed, making it important that social issues are reflected as they develop. In sitcom although the situation remains the same, the plot changes quickly, there often is no need to comment on social issues as they occur as there is not time in the narrative. Representations of character and setting have to reflect the society there were produced in or are set in if they are going to be believable. Often in television fiction representations are social stereotypes.

The way a typical pub should look in Eastenders, the fact that as Father Ted is set in Ireland, there is rolling hills and Catholics. Although other representations are not always stereotypical of people in society, as in sitcom, when characters are often deliberately changed away from the normal to create humour. It is the representations that reflect society, representations are caused by choice, and the producers chose to represent a person or a place in a particular way because it allows them to make the fiction more plausible.

In Father Ted, although a comical point is raised about birth control, it is a social issue that audiences can relate to because of debates and discussions that have gone on in the past to do with Catholics belief on the controversial topic of birth control. If this had not previously been an issue in our society then the point would probably have not even been made in the programme.

Almost like intertextuality, except for the fact that it is not the use of another idea from a one text into another, instead social issues and morally accepted rights and wrongs that are included to represent the themes as being up to date and British. Similarly the representation of men with fast cars in Eastenders is a reflection of society as typically men aspire to drive a fast car, if for example, Eastenders was to be shown in places in India or Africa, this point would not be relevant as it does not reflect their society.

The values and Ideologies contained within television fiction are often the most direct reflection of society, it is all very well having slapstick humour in sitcoms such as Father Ted but the values and ideologies portrayed and explored within them are what reflect human nature, feelings, emotions and attitudes and often a British person has typical British ways of thinking. In Eastenders values and ideologies that dominate the soap opera include such things as the fact that belonging to a community is a good thing as it gives a person a strong sense of identity and belonging.

Albert Square and The Queen Vic play an important role in Eastenders as they establish a link between the characters. It is interesting to see where characters go to reflect and have a quiet think when something has happened. Also another value and ideology that frequently features heavily in Eastenders is that fact that you do have to pay for your actions, in reality the consequences of our actions may not be quite as dramatic as Steve Owen dying in an explosion, however the aim of such a storyline is to show that people do get their ‘just desserts’.

Values and Ideologies of a society change over time, often quite considerably if a current affair is dominating the news. Therefore there have been such storylines in Eastenders to do with homosexuality and Aids, because these are issues that cause debate in society. A television fiction programme such as Eastenders or other Soap operas have to be quite sensitive in their approach to such issues, moral views cannot be enforced upon an audience and it is important that no bias or judgements occur. However the values and ideologies raised in sitcom are often very different.

The very nature of sitcom allows for certain rules and boundaries to be broken, sitcom is all about having a laugh at the expense of another and making a comment on society in a critical way. Such as in Father Ted, showing how revenge can backfire on you, and that you should be satisfied with who and what you are. Also the topic is raised about the church being indecisive and weak, this is still quite a sensitive area as questions about the church are around in society, but generally there is this belief.

20 years ago this would not have been the case and a storyline such as this would never have been thought of nor even considered. Television Fiction has to adapt and change with the times, it has to adopt certain issues and reflect attitudes that are currently in our society. This is often why, when looking back on episodes of old sitcoms, people are shocked that certain terms are used to describe black people, when in today’s society they would be seen as being racist remarks.