Soap opera, like other forms of popular culture, has to work according to certain rules. Any transgressive female, for example, must be punished.
Take Helen Archer in Britain’s longest running radio soap The Archers. She is currently in the process of being…. What exactly? I don’t even know how to describe it. Cut down to size? Put back in her box? Left a shadow of her former self?
Her husband Rob Titchener – a nasty control freak of a man – is cleverly taking control over every area of Helen’s life until she will eventually have nowhere left to run. It’s psychological abuse plain and simple, and the odd thing is Helen’s a smart, well brought up girl who should be able to spot the signs, but men like Rob are clever. Men like Rob know how to get key people on side and make women like Helen feel unsure of themselves, through techniques like gaslighting.
The story line has miles to run, if scriptwriters want to draw it out. Rob is only just laying the groundwork and could, given enough time, gain custody of Helen’s son, take control of her business, and lay claim to her inheritance. He could leave her a gibbering wreck, banged up in some institution, whilst he gets away with everything.
Helen may be a character many Archers fans love to hate but the process of seeing her so reduced – bit by tiny bit – is utterly excruciating, especially if you happen to be a woman who has experienced an emotionally abusive relationship and can see Rob for the abuser he is. There must be women all over the UK shouting at the radio – “Wake up Helen! Can’t you see what he’s doing?!”
Archers fan forums are already bickering over whether the story line should include ‘trigger warnings’ (for the record, I’m in the no camp, despite shivers of recognition of the Rob-type). It’s gripping radio drama and it’s got the chattering classes a-chattering. Everyone’s wondering just how far the scriptwriters will go with this. Will we have to see Helen completely crushed before the Archer clan wakes up to Rob’s evil game?
But what exactly has been Helen’s transgression? Why must she be punished, according to the laws of popular culture theory? In the old days soap storylines punished women who left home and husband. Times have changed however.
These days, the worst thing a thirty-something woman could possibly want is a traditional marriage and be a stay at home mum.
Helen has never exactly been the ambitious go-getting type. She’s happy staying close to home, making her ‘Borsetshire Blue’ cheese in the family dairy, and being around for her son. For this she must now pay. The destruction – I fear – will be total.
If she wants to be a stay at home mum, well, she must now be one to the Nth degree, kept close exactly where her husband can control her every move. Because we all know, don’t we, that’s what’s coming to the woman who wants to stay at home – she cedes all control, makes herself easy prey.
The punishment for Helen’s transgression has been swift and brutal. Not long after her return home from her honeymoon Helen was raped by her own husband. This was not done in an Eastenders violent way, but by a mix of seduction and ultimately force. It was chilling to listen to and fits perfectly into the feminist theory that marriage is merely a license to rape. This is what Helen deserves for even considering giving up work to become a full-time mother – bodily submission and humiliation.
What’s the message here to any woman who happens to be listening? Don’t be a sucker of a stay at home mum or you’ll end up like poor old Helen Archer, boxed into a corner.
Mark my words, sooner or later Helen will run crying to her mother Pat Archer (your archetypal wimmin’s libber – imagine Libby Purves in dungarees in a field and you get the picture) saying “Everything you said was right. I should never have defied your wisdom. I should have listened when you warned me about stay at home mums.”