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Why Eastenders leads to Big Government

Someone called Patrick Sullivan visited me this afternoon, sent to me by Sean Gabb who has been teaching him. He is a promising young libertarian writer who showed me two pieces he had done. One was very long and rather dull-looking, full of sensible opinions about pension reform and the EU, of the sort that have been said many times before. But the other was about the British soap opera Eastenders, and was, I think, of real interest.

We don’t have nearly enough libertarians commenting about TV drama. We have lots with opinions about pension reform, but not so many who know what happened on The West Wing last night, or who is just about to be expelled from Big Brother. So here is Patrick’s piece about Eastenders. It’s called “Why Eastenders leads to Big Government”. Any month now Patrick will have blogs and websites charging off in all directions, but for now this is all there is, so no links, just a piece of writing.

Every week 13 to 17 million people across the nation tune into Eastenders. This programme is often derided as trash. I would not agree. Eastenders is very clever television. The production values of the show are high, and it skips very cleverly between story lines at least every 90 seconds, which means that the viewers are able to keep numerous plot threads in their minds at once. Eastenders also carries a message. This message is: “Your life is miserable. No matter what you do, it will go on being miserable. You are unable to look after yourself, therefore you need the state to look after you.” Eastenders creates a demand for an intrusive government.

In Eastenders a person in a suit is almost always a villain. This must cause many of those watching the show to distrust men in suits. Men in suits are often businessmen. Whenever a big corporation pops up in Eastenders it is more often than not to cause trouble for the cast. Big corporations never seem to offer jobs and opportunities for individuals in the fictional world of Albert Square.

The cast of Eastenders are always in a perpetual state of misery. They never seem able to surmount the obstacles in their way. Whenever a cast member seems to find a problem too overwhelming to deal with, the state is generally expected to solve the problem.

Eastenders also pushes the Blairite constituional agenda, and seeks to undermine the institutions of this country which protect liberty. New Labour has so far failed in its attempt to abolish trial by jury. In Eastenders, the character of “Little Mo” was found guilty of attempted murder even though she was innocent. “Little Mo” was found guilty by a jury of her peers. The message this gives out is that trial by jury doesn’t work and that a centralised judiciary would do a better job.

In Eastenders nobody seems to better themselves substantially. There appears to be little room for entrepreneurial vigour in the world of Albert Square. When a character leaves Eastenders, it is not to pursue opportunities elsewhere. It is due to death, going to prison or the desire to flee from some problem or person.

Compare Eastenders with the Australian soap Neighbours, which is also shown every week day on British TV. Neighbours offers viewers a positive message: “Life isn’t miserable. Hard work will get you somewhere. You don’t need the state to solve your problems. There are opportunities if you seek them out.” . In Neighbours, characters often leave due to opportunity elsewhere. The state rarely appears, and when it does it is usually a nuisance. Alas, the production values of Neighbours are lower than those of Eastenders, and Neighbours only attracts an audience of 7 to 8 million viewers per episode.

If you sat two children of identical background and mental health in front of a television set for a year, with one watching Neighbours and the other watching Eastenders, the child who watched Neighbours would be less dependent and happier than the child who watched Eastenders.

Patrick Sullivan

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