Novels are new stories. Are news values and story value the same or similar or even reconcilable? No news is good news; good news is no news; bad news is news. Are stories with happy endings valuable? Do they uplift? I write in the wake of outrage and outcry about storylines in two BBC soaps this week, both involving births and deaths, happening to separate people in one soap, combined for one person in the other. People are protesting that the events are inappropriately sensationalist, the actions by the characters that bring about the events are completely out of character, that the individual and overall storylines are unnecessary and implausible, that the events and their consequences will make the soaps miserable listening for ages afterwards, above all that the stories are unworthy of characters and cast and an injury and insult to the intelligence and loyalty of the audience.
Responses to one registered a sense of bereavement both of a favourite character and his familiar voice and behaviour in his life, and also of the actual character of that character and others, through the scripts that had required them to behave in out of character ways. Responses to the other, that involved a cot death followed by a baby swapping/stealing, registered a sense that bereaved mothers would be deprived of sympathy and demonised by the implication that cot death might provoke a woman to steal another woman’s baby. (NB The plot is right out of the bible, where King Solomon shows wisdom by threatening to cut the baby in half, to let both mothers have half, on the principle that the real mother of the remaining live baby will give her baby to the other mother rather than let it be killed; however this could work only if both mothers knew whose both babies were, not the case in the soap.)
At the same time the BBC’s book of the week is the diary of a mum who disconnected her family from all electronic communications media for six months. In today’s excerpt she wondered whether in all our instant connections we are just seeking contact with people. When Princess Diana died, people were overwhelmed with vicarious emotion, empathy that was nonetheless heartfelt. The point about all forms of communication of experience is that they do evoke empathy: hence the effectiveness of media appeals for disaster relief.
The week’s media events reveal inconsistencies in the media’s attitude to its audience for soaps and new stories and its news and consciousness- and conscience-raising activities. On the one hand editors want to have a loyal audience, and do everything to encourage audience participation and familiarity; on the other editors advertise their manipulations of scripts and storylines coincident with particular anniversaries to produce ramifications for future plots for many long years, providing more opportunities for crises and catastrophe. The business seems bizarre beyond belief, except that multiple layers of belief are at stake. TBC