“Have you been watching ‘Neighbours’ since you’ve arrived back home?” came the message from my friend Sue. “No, though I’m planning for some catch-up.”, I told her.
While I’ve been in Lismore over the last few months I became a regular viewer of the popular Australian soapie. It fitted in well with our nightly routine of dinner at about 6.00 pm and washing up done by 6.30 pm. Pat and Jack also watched “Home & Away”, though I never really warmed to that show. But I have really enjoyed watching “Neighbours”.
“On Neighbours, they’re mostly indoors and often drinking wine, while on Home & Away they’re usually outside, and often drinking coffee”, I observed a few weeks ago.
There are also a lot more gay storylines on Neighbours. Most prominent is the story of David and Aaron who have recently adopted a baby. It all got complicated, however, when it turned out the mother of the baby they had was someone other than they thought it was. And that David’s father had paid off the mother to stay “away”. As it turns out the baby is actually the child of David’s brother. To be honest, it all got a bit confusing for a while, so if I’ve gotten it wrong, I apologise.
One of my favourite moments of watching the show with Pat and Jack was the night when Jack asked, “Which one’s the girl”? referring to David and Aaron. Twenty years ago I would have tried to explain the complexity of human sexuality, and that neither was “the girl” in the gay relationship. Jack is now in his eighties, and it didn’t seem worth my time, so I just replied “David”. :) Don’t tell me I’m wrong :)
There’s also a pansexual threesome storyline. “I’m a proud ally of anyone’s sexuality or gender identification”, one of the actors said in tonight’s episode. Can you imagine anyone saying that on Neighbours even five or ten years ago?
Though the plotlines on Neighbours have sometimes been a little “out there” you have to remember it’s a soap opera, and it’s meant to be entertaining. And I was entertained.
I LOVED seeing the singer/actor Lucy Durack appear recently on the show. “I know her. I’ve worked with her”, I told my family, and they seemed quite impressed.
Someone I know who also works in the media told me she used to work on Neighbours when Neighbours was more “white bread”. “It was such a queer workplace, but there were no queer onscreen characters”, she told me. Things have changed.
And it’s more racially diverse now than it was in the past. It’s still a step short of the actual cultural diversity of Australia but it’s getting there.
In a meeting today at work about cultural diversity, a colleague asked me how to convince his colleagues of the need and value of greater diversity in the media, I told him about my experiences of watching “Neighbours”. At first, everyone laughed. I suspect this is because they think I’m such an urban sophisticate! But then I made my point.
“Tell your colleagues to watch Neighbours or any of the reality shows, and you’ll see cultural diversity everywhere”, I told him. “These are inherently ‘commercial’ programs, and if you think they’re doing it because they’re ‘woke’, you would be dead wrong. They’re doing it because they know if their shows look and sound like a broader cross-section of Australia, more people will watch them”.
I also mentioned the recent ABC show, “The Newsroom”. The series has featured a couple of culturally diverse actors playing significant roles. Back in the 80s, there wasn’t a lot of diversity in newsrooms. “They’ve chosen the actors because they’re good actors, but it was also good to see them in the context of their family and friends”, I told them. In case you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend it. Good storylines, good acting.
Since arriving back in Sydney I haven’t watched a huge amount of live free to air TV. I have, however, watched a fair bit of catch-up, including tonight’s episode of Neighbours. “Leo and Britney are taking the baby back to New York” was tonight’s cliff-hanger.