Always a programme to capture the politically correct Zeitgeist, the latest evidence of this is in the extended space given in both the regular Archers and Archers extra programmes to the underclass, the politically correct version of the old idea of the undeserving or hopeless poor.
The underclass are represented by the Horrobin family. This being the Archers the Horrobins are white (natch) and English (natch). The family members have stereotypical underclass names such as Garry, Tracey and Donna. One of the men, Clive, is a violent career criminal. Another, Keith, has just been jailed for four years for arson committed on David Archer’s farm. Bert, the patriarch of the family, is a hopeless inadequate unable to look after himself. He and his son Garry live permanently on benefits. Donna, the wife of Keith, also incompetent in the basic management of a life, falls into the coils of a local loan shark who is violently warned off by her brother-in-law Clive who also robs him. They are a white liberal’s dream: a family who are white and English and begging for politically correct state interference in their lives. Best of all they can hold up a ghastly mirror of comparison with the ethnic minority representation in the programme.
But it is not only the white English underclass who are in trouble in Ambridge. Above the underclass storyline in the social pecking order, there is Ed Grundy is running into ever deeper trouble with his smallholding premium milk business. Ed is, guess what, white and English and of working-class stock. He is shown as bizarrely incompetent . His father Eddie is dropping ever heavier hints that he is finding work becoming ever scarcer. Prior to the emergence of the Horrobins to centre stage the Grundys were the family to wave the banner for white English social dysfunction. The general representation of the family is still that off one dodging and diving for a living.
Then there is Matt Crawford who is (sigh), white and English. Crawford is a property developer of working-class origins who is regarded by his partner Lilian Bellamy (white and English and an Archer family member) as having driven a tenant from one of his properties to his death by Rackmanesque methods of harassment consisting of widely disruptive and unnecessary repair work in an attempt to get the tenant Arthur and his wife Joyce out of the property. Arthur obligingly dies. Lilian blames Crawford and starts an affair with Crawford’s half brother Paul (white and English), and the two engage in all too graphic geriatric sex.
Finally there is Lillian’s son James (white and English), who has spent the past few months living with his mother and Crawford after breaking his leg attended by his previously estranged girlfriend Leonie (white and English). James is a 40-year-oldmother’s boy with the persona of a Sloane who is forever behaving with all the psychological insight of a five-year-old; Leonie is a caricature of pretentiousness whose behaviour that of a particularly uncertain adolescent.
Compare the way in which English characters are frequently and increasingly depicted with the treatment of the ever expanding numbers of ethnic minorities in the soap opera. Blacks and Asians are generally represented in what the politically correct imagine is a positive and or at least dominant manner. They are always good looking and, interestingly, without exception middleclass. There is Usha the Hindu solicitor married to the local vicar (I am not making this up). The vicar was previously married to a black Jamaican who died. His “dual heritage” daughter Amy is a midwife with a degree. Amy’s erstwhile black lover was in IT. Brian Aldridge’s daughter Kate is married to a black South African journalist. The latest ethnic character Iftikar Shah is a maths teacher and cricket coach.
The representation of black and Asian characters is either wooden (for example, Amy) or unwitting stereotypes (for example, Amy’s Jamaican grandmother and Usha’s Hindu aunt) . This is because the white liberals who create the Archers, being white liberals, have next to no experience of blacks and Asians other than the Westernised middleclass ones they encounter. Moreover what contact they do have will probably be in the course of their work not in social settings, because these self-proclaimed disciples of the joy of diversity have a strange habit of living in very white, very English worlds. It is always worthwhile running the Chiles Test over them (http://englandcalling.wordpress.com/2012/12/02/the-chiles-test-for-white-liberal-racial-hypocrisy/) . The result is black and Asian characters speaking in stilted or caricature fashion with the white characters studiously avoiding reference to their racial origins and desperately trying to ingratiate themselves with the black or Asian character. Dearie me, it is just like the social interaction between white liberals and blacks and Asians in real life.
The depiction of the white working-class including the underclass is equally unreal and for the same reason: the white middleclass liberals in charge of the Archers have no experience of the white working-class. But instead of the crawling masochistic subordination shown to ethnic minorities, the white liberal has a mixture of hatred and fear of and for the white working class: hatred because the white working-class do not willingly tow the politically correct line; fear because the white liberal knows the white working-class were betrayed by the left political class through the engine of mass immigration and now stands as a permanent rebuke to the white liberal for their betrayal. If the white working-class were realistically depicted they would be, by the definitions used by white liberals these days, characters which were racist, homophobic and chauvinist. None of that appears in the white working-class characters in the Archers, not even in the world of the Horrobins.
The white immigrant characters, the numerous seasonal workers employed on the Aldridge farm and Elona, the Albanian careworker cannot aspire to the same status as the black and Asian characters because, heaven forfend, that they should be seen as the equal of the Asian and black minorities, but they are of course hardworking and in the case of Elona putting forward a case for sainthood at some future time. (Her husband is Darrell has a criminal record and is (sigh) white and English). One of the seasonal workers obligingly turns out to be gay and has a fling with Brian Aldridge’s gay stepson Adam Macey, thus pushing another part of the Archers’ political correct agenda.
So there you have the rules of the Archers’ character game. Characters who are white and English may be routinely depicted as incompetent, stupid, criminal and unpleasant with at least a proportion of them at or towards the bottom of the social pile; white immigrants must be shown as honest workers at worst and saint-like at best ; blacks and Asians must always be middleclass and if they are not unambiguously admirable ( a rare event), never be shown as incompetent or stupid or pathetic.