Looking at the way in which media messages and values are conveyed. We need to compare the representations of ethnicity in a range of soap operas. Ethnicity is ‘a subgroup of people sharing a common origin, culture, religion’. When looking at the way ethnic roles are depicted in soap operas, we can see that there is a minimal amount of ‘asian’ or ‘black’ characters. The society we live in today is not fairly represented in the soap operas. They do not clearly embody the ethnic minorities.
The way we need to consider ethnicity within soaps is in terms of how the characters are portrayed, what their social status is, what their occupation is and what their social ‘desirability’ is. Across the media spectrum soap operas are not an exception, they try to involve ethnic minorities but do not always succeed and most commonly use stereotypical views they have to portray the actual ‘asian’ characters. Since the year 2000 the cinema industry has embraced an Indian culture and this is what needs to be achieved by producers of soap operas.
They need to concentrate on showing the ‘multicultural world’ showing that the world is no longer dominated by white people but that other ethnic minorities are having a significant contribution to society. To achieve a balance they need to show the demographic mix i. e. show different people, of different religion, with different backgrounds as one whole community and not split off into ethnic groups. Because we live in a media specific society, where we are hopefully becoming more ‘enlightened’, multiculture is reflected through media and every text is a product of its time.
When analysing the soap operas we will see whether there is a better demographic mix than there has been previously. The concepts of messages and values are concerned with the relationships between the producer’s purpose and intended meaning and the actual meaning that the audience will derive from a media text. Different sections of a community might, for example, interpret different things. Audiences experience texts as individuals with personal and cultural backgrounds and as a part of a society which sometimes have contradictory values and moris.
Ethnicity sometimes has no impact upon the soap opera. Broadcasters have recently been accused of being ‘colour-blind’ meaning that although a character could be black or Asian, they could just as easily have been white because their ethnic background had no impact on the story. Soap operas like Eastenders and Coronation Street, some of the country’s most popular shows have received critiscm for being ‘patchy’ in their representation of ethnicity despite being set in cities with huge numbers of blacks and asians. Only the Liverpool set series Brookside was said to be consistent.
There are many soap operas around at the moment that try to represent the ethnic minorities in the community but use ‘stereotypes’ instead. Eastenders shows Anthony and Paul Truman and their father Patrick, Gus Smith and Nita Mistry. In Coronation Street it is Dev Alahan, Vik and Ravi Desai, and in Family Affairs it is Yasmin Matthews, Becky & Darren Scott and their father Adrian. When looking at this, and comparing the amount of characters that are part of an ethnic group, to those that are white, we can see that there is only a small number that are represented as Asian or black.
Virtually any program, either it be a documentary or a soap opera can make room for Asian characters. And just because a part isn’t explicitly written as Asian doesn’t necessarily mean that it can’t be cast with an Asian actor. It is important for the producer of the programme to be responsible. Ethnicity should, equally, be viewed as a positive facet of any community. Storylines and characterizations should help to promote such a view. Coronation Street is set in the suburbs of Manchester area, and the one main focal point is the local pub ‘The Rovers Return’.
Families featured tend to be white middle/ working class. There are few Asian families although Manchester has a wide ethnic mix but is not really represented in the Street itself. Black characters tend to be the minority here. The main people that represent the Asians are Vik Desai who is the pampered son of Ravi Desai, but is a failed accountant. Ravi Desai brought the corner shop in 1999. Whilst his sister Nita happily worked in the shop Vik preferred to chase the local girls, including Maxine Heavey and Leanne Tilsley.
He suffered a shock when Ravi sold all his shops to his cousin Dev Alahan, thus depriving him of his ‘inheritance’. Vik and his friend Steve McDonald set up their own mini cab firm, Streetcars, which operates from Victoria Street. Vik was dating factory girl Bobbi Lewis until his affair with married housewife Hazel Wilding caused the couple to break up. These ‘job’ opportunities that have appeared seem to offer a stereotypical view of Asians. The parents buy a ‘corner shop’ and the daughter is happy to work in it whereas the son would rather be wandering the streets.
Dev is seen as a slimy entrepreneur in the ‘stereotypical’ corner shop. It is seen as ‘keeping things in the family’. Dev is like a pseudo Mike Baldwin but is neither as successful nor as influential. He did harbor a relative who was trying to escape from an arranged marriage, this again shows that the producers had a particular view of Asian values and that Asian families have been portrayed as traditional. Dev whose character has elements of western thinking too, could, on this occasion act as a bridge. Each area of the UK has different views on ethnicity and so portrays it in different ways.