Surely the EastEnders Stereotyping Department are missing a couple of tricks with the character of Christian?
OK, so he’s got the fag-hag friend, the Kenneth Williams sneer, the tight-fitting clothes, the beautifully decorated flat and the penchant for dancing on tables with a flower behind his ear, but where are the Barbara Streisand albums, the framed Judie Garland prints and the leather cowboy hats? Why isn’t he singing ‘I Will Survive’ every ten minutes? How come he’s not sat at home, bursting into tears as he watches ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ for the umpteenth time? Why hasn’t he mentioned Bette Midler once in the entire time he’s been in the show?
You see, if you watch EastEnders for any length of time you’ll realise that, with the possible exception of black people (though I wouldn’t take that as gospel), the show doesn’t ‘do’ foreigners, minorities, the mentally ill or people of a different sexuality very well at all. They can paint you a picture of a wheelin’, dealin’ car dealer so well that the character consumes the actor playing him, but hand the EastEnders writers a gay man, or an Asian, or an Oirishman and they fall to pieces.
In the case of homosexuals, the character will be either boringly worthy, flamboyantly over the top, or a predator that ‘turns’ a previously heterosexual character into ‘one of them’. Hand them an Asian, and the usual overbearing mother/tyrannical father type soon comes to the fore. Dump some of the characters in the Emerald Isle, and yorr soon lookin’ around for de feckin’ liddle people and de fairies, begorrah, begorrah.
At present, my point is illustrated perfectly by the Masoods. The Masoods are such a cardboard cut-out of an Asian family, it’s as if the writers have a checklist:
- Overbearing mother? Check.
- Daughter who wants to have fun, yet who mum wants to see married to a good Indian boy with excellent prospects? Check.
- Son who is expected to be an academic whizz-kid? Check.
- Father away in India looking after elderly family member, because that’s what Asians do? Check.
- Monstrous bullying uncle disgusted by the un-Islamic behaviour of his brother’s family? Check.
This lot comes hot on the heels of the mistake that was the Ferreira family, whose specaility was a monstrous tyrant of a father and a sister who was going off the rails by dating white folks. The whole family was so badly written, so one dimensional, and so shamelessly stereotypical, that they were all hastily culled from the show (a fate shared by the DiMarcos – a woefully underwritten Italian clan who always seemed one line away from saying ‘Oh whatta mistaka to make-a!’ over the pasta bowls).
Indeed, the writing was on the wall the moment the Ferreiras arrived on the square – the dad’s an overbearing Asian bully, yes, but he’s an Elvis impersonating overbearing Asian bully. As if that disguised the usual paper-thin ‘Asian issues’ agenda.
They do it time and again. The Fowlers visiting Oirland episodes garnered so many complaints from real, breathing Irish people that the BBC was forced to issue an apology. Their portrayal of Asians has been an ongoing thorn in the show’s side for over twenty years; and don’t even get me started on the mentally ill – Stacey’s manic depressive mother is a veritable masterclass in how not to write a manic depressive, but is a useful road-map for any aspiring writer who wishes to portray a one-dimensional, Monty Python-style loony.
You wonder, sometimes, where they’re going to plant their great clodhooping feet in it next. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a trip for Garry ‘n’ Minty to India – the hapless mechanics chased around the streets of Delhi by bearded turbaned thuggees, falling in love with the Maharani, and befriending a comedy ox-cart owner called Babou - ”Oh, goodness gracious me, Garry! You are werry funny man, bud bud, ding ding!”
Or perhaps, just perhaps, they might try hiring writers with a knowledge of the world that isn’t restricted to wheeler-dealers, happy-go-lucky stall holders, and tarts with a heart of gold. On the evidence of the latest set of stereotypes, they could certainly do with them.