Hello Again, Sydney

One Sydney-sider's experiences moving back to Sydney after a long absence overseas.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008


Not sure if you'd call it a perk of my current job, but I spend a lot of time reading about soap operas. The two big local ones are Neighbours, set in Erinsborough, a fictional suburb of Melbourne:

and Home And Away, set in Summer Bay, a fictional beachside town:

Apart from the unusually high number of natural disasters, long-lost sibling discoveries and "problem" pregnancies that occur, the thing that strikes me as interesting about these places is the image they present of Australia.

Most of the US soaps (from golden oldies like The Bold And The Beautiful through to 90210, The OC, and more recently, Gossip Girl) are set in the upper echelons of society. In the UK, EastEnders and Coronation Street focus on the working classes. But in Australia, the characters are staunchly middle class. Not sure if that says something about who the audience is, who they wish they were, or simply who they feel comfortable watching.

Take it as given that all the residents of Erinsborough and Summer Bay are more photogenic than the the average Joe at your corner store. But check out the last names too. In Neighbours we've got Parker, Robinson, Kennedy, Barnes, Scully, Taylor... There are also some some Kinskis and Cammenitis, to be fair. In Summer Bay you get Stewart, Campbell, Hunter, Holden, Harris, Smart, Franklin, Phillips, Baker, Roberts. I was going to pull up a list of popular last names and show how divergant real Australia is from what we see in these shows, but damn Wikipedia, apart from Nguyen and Lee, it's actually not far off. Still, my point is that you'd have a hell of a time finding a suburban street in Sydney or Melbourne without an Asian or Mediterranean or Middle-Eastern family. You'd be excused for thinking the White Australia policy was alive and well in these shows.

Not that I'm advocating any kind of affirmative action. For a start, these kinds of changes often come off looking ham-fisted. Neighbours tragics still recall the Lim family who moved in to Ramsay Street in the early '90s. They lasted about two weeks - long enough to be accused of eating someone's dog when it went missing. And besides, I know soap operas aren't striving for verisimilitude. (Though there are people out there demanding more realism from their daily dose of escapism. "How come we never see the characters getting a haircut?" or "Why don't they ever go to the toilet?" are two of the most common gripes.) I understand that we're trying to get away from the real world when we watch these shows, but it's interesting to see what is deemed to be an appealing alternative.

And as Australia becomes more culturally diverse, I wonder if these shows will eventually stop attracting the desired market/demographic. What will the cast of these shows look like in 10 years?


At 1:21 am, Blogger Kristina said...

The Lim family was accused of eating someone's dog? Oh Good Lord.

The comment I hear over in the States on that subject is about "Friends". How could these people not have one single black Friend in New York City? (Or any other ethnicity for that matter.)

Then you run into shows which create an ethnic sidekick to look politically correct, and that person embodies every stereotype anyway. Not sure that's any better!


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