Several years ago I remember waking up in a cold sweat after a nightmare about EastEnders. I think it was about Sonia Fowler – that sweet brainy trumpet-playing girl who fell in love with bad boy Martin after he’d accidentally killed her lovely previous boyfriend, then didn’t realise she was pregnant until she went into labour, gave the baby up for adoption but then had a breakdown and kidnapped the child back.
It was after poor Sonia had been falsely accused of murdering her cantankerous mother in law (the brilliant Wendy Richards) that I woke up gibbering in the small hours about the amount of preposterous bad luck that could befall this one girl. In that chill cold dawn, I was struck by the horrifying realisation that Sonia, and every single one of her East End neighbours had endured a life scarred with abuse, heartbreak and trauma, and that tuning in to watch their misery three nights a week was doing nothing but giving me nightmares. So I gave up soaps from that day forward, and I haven’t missed them at all.
I do still spend a lot of time keeping up to date with politics though, and you could argue there’s not much difference between Westminster and EastEnders. Art could imitate life if you pitched some of these ideas to the EastEnders production team: how about a smooth-talking PR man from the Cotswolds who’s going to charm his way into the top job at Bridge Street Market, then do a runner when his fake plan to take Walford out of London horribly backfires. As his taxi disappears out of the Square to the sound of the drums going “Doof-doof-de-doof”, the power vacuum left by his departure is filled by the pantomime-style evil matriarch in leopard-print heels. She’s got a dastardly plan to cut off the Queen Vic’s contract with the foreign brewery, despite having no clue who’s going to supply the beer in future. Meanwhile the only people who can stop her are bickering in a corner of the Vic; mild mannered Jezza (a longstanding extra who has somehow just got a starring role) thinks that perhaps setting up a cooperative organic micro-brewery under the Arches might help, while Caroline and Tim, the yuppies who work ‘up west’ are muttering about forming a partnership to take on the evil matriarch – only problem is they haven’t actually got enough mates to pull it off. The only hope is if Nicola, the feisty Scottish lass, takes on the leopard-print matriarch outside the Vic, with hair-pulling, handbag-swinging and lots of screaming.
So let’s face it: giving up soaps whilst getting my daily political fix through mainstream and social media is like the year I gave up chocolate for Lent and ate a Greggs donut every day instead. I’m still addicted to the same thrill of moral outrage at whatever the bad guys are up to, still getting the same group-think buzz of clicking ‘like’ on a Facebook post which 20k of my fellow Guardianistas have agreed with. Of course, the problem is, it’s real. Leopard-print matriarch is actually fucking up real people’s lives, and if Jezza can’t turn things around, we’re all screwed.
But, no matter how real it is, I’ve realised that – just like I couldn’t help sweet, tragic Sonia in EastEnders – there’s nothing I can do about any of it. All my righteous anger, my carefully crafted blogs, my Facebook rants have never convinced one single Conservative or UKIP voter to change their mind. Perhaps – hopefully – my likeminded friends feel comforted by hearing my voice alongside their own in our echo-chamber, but ultimately, all I’m doing is getting myself stressed. And while I’m ranting on Facebook or shouting at Question Time, I’m neglecting the rest of my life. At the trivial end of the scale, the washing pile gets bigger and the book I’ve been reading since Christmas isn’t getting finished, but by the same token, the time I spend on following the political soap opera could be better spent on playing games with my kids or trying to get a new business venture off the ground.
So with #GE2017 just around the corner, I’ve decided to give up my ringside seat to the circus. I know I can’t completely switch off from politics like I did with EastEnders, but I won’t be contributing. No more joining in Facebook conversations about how much I hate the Tories, no more angry tweets to the BBC about the number of times Farage has been on Question Time (they never reply).
If I see relevant connections between what’s happening in the political sphere and things I’ve read, I might still share them (like I did here). And if I stumble upon anything that inspires me to get creative or satirical, I’m going to try and develop those ideas (like this one). But other than that, I’m tuning out. Hopefully this means I won’t be waking up screaming after nightmares about this lot: