Eastenders: yet another ethnic cliche

This post was written by Reuben Bard-Rosenberg on December 21, 2009
Posted Under: Uncategorized

Whenever I tell people I watch eastenders they are shocked. Believe it or not I don’t spend my life reading Das Capital. Yet right now it seems to be ethnic cliche season. We’ve already since the Mitchells’ christmas ruined by a vicious debt collector with a conspicuously Jewish surname (“the name’s Issaacs”). Now we have a more widespread and popular cliche. Those who watched Amira prison visit last week would have seen it. Yep it is evil, authoritarian Asian father who yells about respect in a foreign sounding accent. Of course what gets portrayed is not standard bourgoies moral authoritarianism. No its the sometimes violent, quick to lose his temper, semi-barbarian village elder type authoritarianism.

And its not like they haven’t done this before. Remember that Asian elvis impersonator in Eastenders a few years back? Like Amira’s dad he starred in a storyline that revolved his violent, authoritarian attitude towards his children, yelling half formed sentences in a foreign accent. Indeed it seems that East is East, a hugely overrated, unnuanced movie – full of cheap humour about circumsisions and what not – has established an archetype that must be regurgitated.

This is not to say that Asian family life – like family life all over the world – isn’t affected by patriarchy. But what I would suggest is that form in which such patriarchal authoritarianism is portrayed – namely irrational, violent and often inarticulate men – owes something to colonialism as well as to feminism. Meanwhile, as somebody who works day in day out with lots of Asian families I have never met anybody akin to the goofy caricatures constantly portrayed on TV.

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Reader Comments

Have Welsh or Gaelic speakers ever been featured in Eastenders? Do they ever get a mention on any TV station in any program, TV producers being so keen to promote British multiculturalism as they are?

Written By Philip Hosking on December 21st, 2009 @ 7:19 pm

It’s packed full of cliched caricatures regardless of ethnicity. Brassy landladies, dodgy dealers, philandering vicars. It’s got the lot. Except reality.

Written By Chris H on December 21st, 2009 @ 8:11 pm

Luckily for me, my tastes are far to refined to watch such cliched stereotypes and recycled story lines such as those proffered by Eastenders.

I only watch Hollyoaks.

Written By Owain on December 22nd, 2009 @ 12:12 am

Wot bruv? stereotypes on eastenders? You’re ‘aving a giraffe

Written By DavidR on December 22nd, 2009 @ 8:33 pm

It is “packed full of clichéd caricatures” as Chris H says, but the stereotypes of white working class people are mitigated by the fact that there are lots of them, so at least you get an impression of variety and a bit of depth occasionally.
In fact, some of the characters and issues are portrayed with some empathy and complexity, particularly Stacey and her mother, who are grappling with bipolar disorder. This is greatly helped by the fact that both characters are played by talented and sensitive actors, but the script for this storyline is also pretty good on the whole.
Clichés and caricatures are a very serious matter, though, when a single character seems to represent a whole minority group. I was utterly shocked by the portrayal of the one Jewish person in the entire cast as a brutal debt collector. This is much more than a cliché — it’s a vicious, centuries-old, antisemitic image which the producers of Eastenders either agree with or have failed to recognise. Either way, it is shameful.
Something similar applies to the racist portrayal of Amira’s father as a two-dimensional, threatening patriarch, whose character and relationships make no sense at all, and whose appearance in the series seems entirely gratuitous, at least so far.

Written By julia on December 23rd, 2009 @ 5:02 pm

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