Over the past couple of weeks the BBC aired two notable items which made headlines. One of them was a (very good) documentary about assisted suicide. It is understandable that this sparked debate in the press – it is still illegal in the UK to assist a loved one in killing themselves. The other was an episode of EastEnders, which depicted two topless men, in a loving relationship, in bed together. Realistically speaking, it is not understandable that this incident should make headlines. What the two men do in the 45-second scene has been legal in England since 1967. But still, according to the Daily Mail, this ‘gay bedroom scene’ has sparked ‘uproar’.
Let’s look at this alleged ‘uproar’. After the broadcast of this apparently shocking display of affection between two males, 125 homophobes in Britain felt the need to sit down and write complaints to the BBC about the scene. This may sound like a big number. But EastEnders is watched by millions of people each week. The viewing figures usually average out between 5 and 7 million. So, as our American friends would say, let’s do the math. If 6 million had watched that particular episode, and 125 viewers complained, that means 0.002 percent were outraged enough to voice their concerns. I don’t see this as an uproar. 40 percent, maybe. 5 percent at a pinch. But less than 1 percent? No. This shows that the majority of Britons are not bigoted or homophobic enough to feel they have to login to the BBC message boards or start drafting letters expressing their disgust.
77 people sent in messages of praise, commending them for the positive portrayal of a gay relationship. The BBC issued a statement about the scene (it is a shame they felt that had to), explaining that ‘EastEnders aims to reflect real life, and this means including and telling stories about characters from many different backgrounds, faiths, religions and sexualities’. The company went on to point out that they approach ‘our portrayal of homosexual relationships in exactly the same way as we do heterosexual relationships, ensuring depictions of affection or sexuality between couples are suitable for pre-watershed viewing.
But this little event, which has been stirred out of all proportion (mostly by a particular newspaper – no prises for guessing which), has opened up a discussion about the suitability of the programme for children. A number of the complaints made to the BBC were from parents expressing (in my opinion rather ridiculous) fears that the depiction of homosexuality in the show would ‘confuse’ their children. I would worry about the welfare of any child whose parents prefer them to watch depictions of drug abuse, rape, domestic violence, brutality, infant death, vicious murder and child abuse (all of which have been plotlines in the long-running soap) than let them see a same-sex couple, evidently in love, embracing each other in bed.
No sex took place in the scene. If the two young men had been shown bonking the night away, groaning with orgasmic ecstasy, I would have had an issue with its pre-9PM broadcast. But the small scene was innocuous. This issue also comes down to the type of people who watch EastEnders. Now, here we get into rather awkward territory. It’s very easy to get snobby about the soap’s target demographic. But, as Frances Ryan in The Guardian recently said, most of the people who tune in are the types who apparently like to see ‘brains splattered out with a Queen Vic bust on Christmas day’. Surely these people, who must be by now desensitised by the content of the show, would be the tougher members of society. They can stomach anything. Especially if it’s nasty and broadcast just after the Christmas lunch. But apparently they can’t cope with a bit of man-on-man kissing.
Thankfully though, we do seem to be heading towards a time where those who object to depictions of homosexuality on TV fall into an extreme minority of the sad, the pathetic and the bigoted. In 2008, the BBC was ‘flooded’ (the Daily Mail’s word, not mine) with over 150 complaints about a gay kiss. Now, we’ve got down to around 125. Hopefully in another two years (or when the writers of EastEnders again dare to portray gay people as humans full of love) that number will get nearer 100. Slowly but surely the people at the Daily Mail will realise that this is not an ‘uproar’. This is a tiny, small-minded part of our society that wish discrimination and inequality to continue on TV. I am very glad their number is starting to dwindle.