Sunday, 4 February 2007
EastEnders and Moral Justice
One thing that the curse of postmodernism and the Age of Irony doesn't seem to have battered into total submission is our sense, innate or cultural, of moral justice. Generally, though it may be thrilling occasionally to see a villain prosper, we prefer to see good win over evil and people who act well to succeed. EastEnders has subverted this on many occasions, which is, oddly enough - for me, at least - why it keeps its position among the soaps despite its ridiculous storylines. It exerts a sort of gruesome fascination with its relentless close ups of human misery and gives us a vicarious suffering, one we can switch off. In today's combined edition of the previous week's episodes, we saw Kevin (Phil Daniels) be attacked and abused by his own daughter - for the crime of bringing her up with love and respect, but without telling her he was not in fact her father. She ended the episode by storming out, inviting him to "do what you've always wanted to and push off". With his life in tatters he drives away in the dark. This is why EastEnders leaves me feeling dirty and uncomfortable: a good man, acting out of love, duty and care, brings another man's children up without their mother, comes to see himself as their father, is torn - as you might expect- between self-fulfilment and duty and finding the synthesis of the two his real destiny. His reward, to be rejected by the adult child in a fit of hysteria. I don't know what it's like to be adopted or discover you aren't who you thought you are - but I do know good men when I see them (even if they're not real) and there is so much evil in the real world that it leaves me deeply dissatisfied to see them destroyed on television or in books. It is, no doubt, occasionally what happens: but it is wrong and disturbing. A man is destroyed and we just turn over to watch something else, caring only while we see his face. I'm not using this to make an argument that EastEnders is great literature, just to point out the pervasiveness of evil, the swathe of nihilism that surrounds us, and our moral balances which may have different weights on them but can be held steady.