Thursday, 22 October 2009

Great Job Eastenders!

I rather think there has been a bit of a campaign going on, within the BBC scripting department for Eastenders. Unlike the horrors of the recent babies born over in Coronation St, Eastenders babies have been going through a very slow transformation... from formula fed, to breastfed.

Now, before we start looking at this, let's remember that soap babies have a very hard time, dramatically speaking. They often disappear for months, if not years, and if you stop and think about it too closely, they are often at home on their own, as all the major characters taking care of them, are in the pub having a fight.

Bottle feeding, whether formula or expressed breast milk (as if!) works very well with planning a soap baby. You can parcel it off to the baby-sitters for several weeks at a time. You can also do a bit about dumb and deadly Dads, being too thick to bottle feed them correctly, and refusing to be fathers.

Also, you have the prudish corner to contend with. A BABY BREASTFEEDING BEFORE THE 9pm WATERSHED!!!!!!! Pass the smelling salts.

So there are quite a few issues, on terms of narrative, about soap babies. Not to mention just simple stupidity. I emailed Coronation Street about a new Mum being allowed to breast feed, about 4 years ago. I was informed, in all seriousness, that it would be confusing and dangerous to have a breastfeeding baby latched on to an actress for a scene. As they'd just tried to drown all the Platts, including 2 year old Bethany at the time, I commented back I was quite surprised to hear they'd actually tied Bethany down and thrown her in a car in the canal.. and not pretended they were drowning her....

Coronation Street continues to be dire.

Eastenders however... well I smell a campaign. Slow, subtle, stealthy. First we have Honey, some years back now, falling pregnant with the soon to be baby Janet. Tanya offers her a breastfeeding top.

Rather funny, when Tanya promptly bottle feeds baby Oscar, the hidden and lost baby Who Is Never Seen. (Perhaps she plans to home educate him, and thus is hiding him from the go get?) ;-)

Then, we have baby Janet being born, and Honey's distress that she can't go to the breastfeeding clinic as normal Mums can, as Janet has Down's Syndrome and has heart problems.

Hmm... not very good, and you can see the only reason it's mentioned, is that she's being denied something. You can work out that if Janet didn't have Down's Syndrome in the narrative, Honey would just have bottle fed formula like all soap Mums...


Honey falls pregnant again, and a couple of years later, baby Billy is born, and Honey breastfeeds him, wearing a net curtain. It's a slight plot line, Ian Beale goes ape about 'doing that sort of thing' in the cafe. Billy sounds off about 'doing the best for the baby'. We only ever see the Net curtain, never any actual breastfeeding.

Then... Roxy falls pregnant. Now I've blogged about Roxy and the breastfeeding. I feel they did it really well. I know others were upset about her trying, and complaining it hurt, and talking about the middle class Mums being shocked she was using formula... but as I said at the time, I felt this was true to her character, and very well done. Roxy would never have been seen as the sort of mother to even attempt to breastfeed, and faced with a preemie in a plastic box, she did so. It was fitted around the narrative in soft and gentle touches.

Like Honey, 'tho, we never see it. It's discussed. No Net curtain, but a discussion.

And now Heather. Heather, who in tonight's episode, is breastfeeding baby George.

Without note.

Without comment.

Without narrative construction.

It just is.

It was wonderful. It was simply wonderful, to see a mother in a scene, talk about something else entirely, and just breastfeed her baby. A casual comment that the baby is hungry, and likes to eat. No making a meal of it from either the staff, or the camera. The word 'breastfeeding' never used. Just feeding.

It just was.

It was simply wonderful.

And I wonder... I so wonder... if you look at the above progression, it could be a very clever thing the BBC have just done. By slowly, gently, and without real fuss, made it so that they can show a baby breastfeeding... without net curtain.. and not have it commented upon. Given the groundwork, I think very few people will complain about Heather breastfeeding baby George.

And that's wonderful.

If you agree, tell the BBC. We can't complain, if we don't congratulate where it is due.

It will be interesting to see where it goes. I cannot for the life of me see how they can get Heather to wear a net curtain (thank the System Overlords!). I can see her breastfeeding the baby in front of the father, whoever he is.

I can see her going to the bottle relatively quickly, as this is a soap baby. But who knows? Maybe she will carry on breaking the taboos... or maybe, it will be the next baby, or the next but one baby, whose mother will not just breastfeed, but actively reject bottle feeding.

That does feel a bit of a stretch... but I could be wrong!

Regardless, I do think this one moment of completely natural, no overstatement, no fuss, just is, breastfeeding, should be applauded.

Great Job Eastenders!


Tilly Floss said...

You couldn't be more right.

Muddling Along Mummy said...

I agree - it's the just being that is important. That it goes on in the background and isn't worthy of comment

shall head off and congratulate the Beeb for their efforts right now (having just finished breastfeeding my little one!)

Ali said...

I was very pleased when Neighbours had a teenager breastfeeding her baby and discussing how much the baby loved to feed and how frequently etc, They also made a point of the fact that although she was returning to school, she expressed frequently and the baby was fed breast milk exclusively. It was very positive but then they went and killed off the mother. The only upside to that was the fact that they made a point of mentioning it when, a short time after her death, they ran out of frozen bm for the baby and had to switch to formula. All in all it was well handled.

Anonymous said...

So how does being delighted about the no bells no whistles approach to breast feeding fit with an active campaign? I have breast fed both my children with absolutely no comment from anyone, anywhere. Trains buses, streets supermarkets, restaurants, all kinds of areas. I've made none and received none. And funny looks - sometimes they're people who aren't used to it, not against, rather like I would ave before I had children. I have had many many comments about sling wearing but none about feeding. I have been lucky maybe but I just don't see feeding as a campaigning issue. Sorry.

Morgan said...

Because it's been portrayed as normal and everyday in a drama.

That's very rare.

It's about normative feeding being shown as just that, in a constructed drama.

Fit to Bust said...

I contacted Corrie many years ago to complain about Audreh being disgusted by Sally's BF - no reply - likewise when someone asked if it showed that she'd stuffed tissues into her bra as she was leaking milk. I also complained about Ken having his 2 yr-old on his lap with seat belt over both of them. No reply.

My sister has been v irritated by EE's view on BF, and I (who hardly ever watch) was underwhelmed by the shot of the girl with prem baby being given a tiny bit of info about expressing milk by a nurse some months ago. I shall view EE now online and then contact BBC to say well done.


Morgan said...

You may want to contact Coronation Street again, Alison. They've just shown someone taking the cold formula bottle out of the fridge, and slamming it in the microwave...

Anonymous said...

I applaud your sentiments, but honey please, no child "is" Down's Syndrome! That would imply that their disability defines them. The child "has" Down's Syndrome, or even "lives with" Down's Syndrome. "is" the syndrome or "suffers from" the syndrome is as awful to me (the parent of a child who has a syndrome) as limiting choice is to you.

Morgan said...

Oops, I'll go fix that.

Anne Lyken-Garner said...

I don't watch soaps, but am so pleased they're showing mums (even if it's pretend) breastfeeding.

I breast fed my 3. We lived in Ireland at the time where it was much easier than it is here. I only had 1 major run-in for b-feeding in public (I was all covered up and decent). They were trying to promote breast feeding as a lot of young mums had stopped doing it.

Anonymous said...

And did you see Heather with EBM this week in Eastenders. She is still breastfeeding :-)

Morgan said...

Yes I did! And whilst I wasn't pleased with the whole "pump to go out and drink" thing, I was totally very much pleased by the whole scene! Loved the way they showed the milk, and Shirley was so totally supportive. :-)

Anonymous said...

Tis a pity she had not read your post about drinking, Morgan :-)

P.S. Love this blog.