Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A little understanding: Representations of Young People in Neighbours in 2011
Pics: Selective Neighbours casts, 1989 & 2011. L-R Characters then: Des, Gail, Harold, Jim, Daphne, Helen, Madge, Henry, Jane and Paul (not sure where Kylie and Jason are) Characters now: Tash, Summer, Kate, Kyle, Brennan, Jade and Andrew.
Twenty five years ago, when I was a lady of small proportions and big dreams, I used to watch Neighbours every evening after school around dinner time. I liked it so much I got a Neighbours annual, learnt the moves to Kylie’s version of the locomotion and asked my mum if I could have a ringlet perm (she said no). I used to discuss the storylines with my own next door neighbour. Everything that happened in those 25 minutes seemed to orient the way I looked at the world; what was to fear(illness in the form of Lucy Robinson’s brain tumour), what was to desire (love against the odds in the form of the seemingly perfect Scott and Charlene) and what was to condemn (ruthless determination in the guise of Paul Robinson). In fact, the issue of condemnation – in the moral learning curve sense - often seemed to rule the scripts. It was this which finally switched me off the programme, aged around twelve. I remember my Mum telling her friends impressively that I had used the word moralistic. It’s just too moralistic I had decided. On a basic level, too much of the dialogue involved people apologising for what they had done. A few decades later, I have begun watching the daily soap opera again; it’s my little, guilty reward at the end of the day, but my opinions on its over-moralisation have changed a little, along with the soap itself.
It’s still a friendly, family drama whose target audience, I expect, is mainly infants and their less intentional guardians, as well as probable older, lifelong fans of the programme. You would think that as a family soap it would keep its issues fairly insipid. Actually, it tackles some pretty gritty and important problems of twenty first century living; particularly those which affect children and younger generations. It may tone down the language and graphic content to fit its remit but recent storylines have tackled gambling and other addictions in young adults (Lucas & Sonya), drug dealing at teenage commercial parties – although the word ‘drugs’ was never used, - faked teenage pregnancies (Tash) with subsequent facebook bullying and exclusion, homophobia at high school (Chris) and discovery of a blood related mother and father when growing up in an adopted family (Callum, Toadie /Sonya/ Troy). These contemporary teen issues seem far removed from the drawn out dramas of Scott Robinson failing his GCSEs or Cody Willis hiding her vegetarianism from her parents. However, the difference is not necessarily the intensity of the plots - at least not since the mid 1990s when there were teenage armed robberies, anorexia and cancer – nor is it the ability of the storyliners to keep aspects of the plot contemporaneous; it is more the complexity of the characterisation. In late 1980s Ramsey Street, Paul Robinson and Mrs Mangel were the clear villains of the set-up who stood in the way of children and young people’s innocent curiosity or fulfilment. The bulk of the characters were good people who sometimes made small mistakes; the kind of mistakes which could be rectified over a coffee and a piece of humble pie at Daphne’s coffee shop (now Harold’s Store/cafe). In 2011, it seems that most of the characters carry with them realistically darker former lives, secrets which still skew their relationship development with the ones closest to them.
Lucas (Scott Major), Sonya (Eve Morey) & old school villian Paul (Stefan Dennis)
These days the neighbourhood’s relationships are centred around a group of teenagers at school and some twenty to thirty somethings who live and work in the suburb. That’s not to say that the older generations aren’t there. There are some familiar faces from the 1980s and 1990s such as Paul Robinson, Lou Carpenter, Dr karl and Susan Kennedy (who have since divorced and remarried) and just recently Harold Bishop who has returned to help Toadie through a difficult time with his ex-partner, Sonya and son, Callum. Sonya – who appears to be late twenty something - is a recovering drug addict and thief who neglected and then rejected her son, Callum, when he was young. She then adopted him after she moved to the street and entered into a loving relationship with his adoptee Dad, Toadie, keeping her past a secret until now. Subsequently, Toadie and Callum are having problems forgiving her or understanding who she really is. It’s a bit complicated and a little unlikely but it is acted with such depth by Eve Morey – who plays Sonya – that you can really believe it - feeling her regret, her denial and her frustration that things should now be different for her reformed self. It must be hard to act those scenes with conviction when the programme lasts for an average of 21 minutes and tackles around three different storylines an episode. Sonya’s friend and fellow addict, thirty something Lucas (Scott Major) attends Addicts Anonymous with her and offers her support, which again is acted with believable warmth and complexity. Lucas also hangs out with Sonya’s long lost sister, the super cool, anti-relationship fitness instructor, Jade, (Gemma Pranita) and other twenty or thirty somethings, such as Kyle, Brennan and Kate – none of whom seem particularly settled in their life in terms of long term employment or partnerships. Kate (Ashleigh Brewer) is on a teacher training course whilst working part time in the coffee shop, Kyle (Chris Milligan) struggles for rent money and does odd jobs. Toadie (Ryan Malonie), conversely, is settled in his law firm, but his love life and fathership set-up is far from conventional, whilst Libby (Kym Valentine) has recently written a five year plan, setting targets for her work/love/hobby life whilst she teaches but lives with her parents. Libby’s life, in particular, sounds all too familiar, except she has an estranged son. What is most interesting is the fact that none of this younger generation have the ideal lifestyle consisting of the magic three: being happily married/engaged with a mortgage and a professional career. Perhaps it is this which has drawn me back into the show which I always considered to represent lifestyles at their most conventional and surburban.
Neighbours still offers a little light, cosy relief in a chaotic, globalised world, where friends live so close by they bump into each other every time they go for a drink or cross the street, where palm trees grow in gardens and where no one has to worry about muffin tops despite eating the freshly baked muffins at Harold’s store every day. Yet for those deeper issues which sometimes lurk under the surface, Neighbours actually tackles them pretty well within the scope of a twenty minute family genre.
Schoolgirl Cody Willis in 1991. Current teenstar Summer Hoyland (Jordi Lucas)always reminds me of her.
- ▼ June (4)