Guilty Pleasures - Emmerdale: A Soap Walks into a Barn

For Guilty Pleasures Day, Romeo Kennedy comes clean about his favourite soap opera...

"Why do you watch this?" I continually said to my Gran when I was a child, as she sat in her pink reclining armchair tuning into her favorite television soap, Emmerdale Farm (as it was originally called.) "It's rubbish" I would say, and my Gran would ignore my petulance. And rightly so, It was only years later that I realized as to why she never missed an episode of the ITV Soap

You see, my Gran was the only English member of the family hailing from Yorkshire which, for those who don’t know, is where the soap is set. And, when I think about it, I truly believe that her love of Emmerdale was in part because she thoroughly enjoyed it but also it was a way for her to connect with her northern roots.

So fast forward to present day,

Now, I know soaps get a bad rap. I get it ... Sort of. The times I have brought up that I am a fan of the show, it usually gets met with surprise. But to be honest I think they deserve at least some respect if not more.

Take ITV’s Emmerdale. The show has been running since 1972 (known as Emmerdale Farm until 1989) establishing family, relationships and a somewhat exaggerated look at village life. It has varied mixture of drama, romance, tragedy and comedy and, of course, conflict.

There is a level of continuity there that is so expansive, when dealing with the characters but also with the characters' story-lines and how that contributes to the many different story arcs and how they intertwine with one another over a long period of time. It is no good for the writers to suddenly change a particular character’s way of interacting because that way all of the story-lines that a certain character is part of would have an altering impact. Of course sometimes this is warranted, as long as there is a sufficient explanation, otherwise it just looks daft and it basically means that the writers have to do a hell of a lot of retcon to make it work. This is because long term serving characters in many of our beloved TV soaps have been on a bit of a journey, some that have lasted many, many years and to make drastic changes would mean unpicking tightly woven threads of that characters history moreover unpicking other characters relationships, and larger reaching story-lines. Thus making a bit of a mess.

However it doesn't always go to plan and some do it better than others. Take the Channel Four soap Hollyoaks for example (sorry Hollyoaks), buildings inexplicably appear or disappear in a very small village with little or no explanation at all. Sounds more SF than soap. Having said that, even in Emmerdale the actual village was referred to as Beckindale until 1994 and I couldn’t tell you if that was explained or not.

In a general there are many aspects of soaps that I find charming. These snapshots and glimpses that resemble a simulacrum of "reality" are at times greatly dramatized and exaggerated and some are not really based in reality (i.e whenever a character is talking about someone in the next room, the said someone never hears them) but at the heart lies the cold hard truth. Familial relationships in all shapes and sizes are damn complicated and the more convoluted the more drama emerges. For example, family dinners in soaps never go well. It becomes less a special occasion and more of a battle ground where revelations and grievances are laid out warts and all because, to have drama, there has to be conflict be it through one’s self or in the company of others.

So why is Emmerdale my guilty pleasure?

Well, in truth, I used to call it such but no longer, and whilst that may sound like a contradiction of the theme of this article, this is because it is one I have thoroughly embraced. If this had been ten years ago, it wouldn’t be something that I would even admit liking, and certainly not in a public setting, for fear of embarrassment or chastisement but the thing is, as far as guilty pleasures go, I came to something of an epiphany. Never let anyone shame you or make you feel bad for the things that you like and the stuff that makes you happy!

So yes, my name is Romeo Kennedy and I’am an Emmerdale super-fan, and you can laugh, and mock but you know what? I don’t care.

So why is Emmerdale is my favourite soap? Well, my friends, I shall tell you.

Firstly it handles many important issues such as addiction, mental health, bereavement, and serious illness with the utmost respect and with the aim of raising awareness. Whilst that might seem trite, there are many so called taboo issues that gain traction and public awareness when put into a story form, and can even play a part in reducing stigma, and changing perceptions when handled correctly. These days most soaps, including Emmerdale, work with certain charities and other organizations to ensure that they are representing the facts and not the misinformation. Again some soaps are better than others at this but, in the case of Emmerdale, they recently cleaned up at the National Soap Awards on a storyline that focused on Alzheimer’s. In this occasion it showed all sides of this terrible disease and did so in a way that was not rushed or lacking in detail.

Furthermore, I just love the story element. Yes, like I said, it is a screenshot on exaggerated village life and I guess, having lived in many a village over the years, as a viewer you can spot certain similarities. For example, everybody knows your business, and gossip is currency.

But it’s the whole story element of Emmerdale that I return to, it's the breadcrumbs that the writers leave, leading you to guess at what will happen next or to something altogether bigger and then each week watching this story as it is being built piece by piece like a big soap snowman ... Or something. It's the characters and their traits, the way they interact with each other, and how over time they grow and develop.

What makes me smile, is that if my Gran were here today, I wouldn’t hear the end of it.

“Not so rubbish now, is it?” She would probably say

And every weekend as I sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and watch the omnibus, it’s a way for me to connect with something that my beloved Gran used to adore.

Follow Romeo on Twitter @RomeoRites

Images - ITV

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