Death on TV – Is It Wrong To Make It Too ‘Familiar’?

Over the past week I’ve watched Eastenders for the first time in years for one reason and one reason only – to see the end of Pat Butcher.

We see and hear of death on TV every day, both real and fictional.

99% of the death we encounter on a daily basis means nothing to us, but sometimes it does.

In fiction, watching the death of a character that you’ve watched for a long time can feel like the death of someone you actually know. It can be very sad, poignant and dramatic, but ultimately it doesn’t personally affect you that much because you know it’s something you’ve seen on TV.

Of course, the reason for that is because it’s fictional. It’s not real and often-times it’s not an accurate representation of what death can really be like. I’m sure for example that

Viewers tuned in to see the death of Pat Butcher in Eastenders, but I wonder how many people were affected by the familiarity of it all

anyone who watched David Tennant’s regeneration as Doctor Who two years ago to this very day they was sad to see him go and was cut up by the brilliant writing and acting, but their sadness will end there.

And that brings me to my issue with Pat’s death.

I’m fortunate enough to have never been with someone as they died, but I know people who have and I know from them that it’s not a pleasant experience at all.

In tonight’s episode of Eastenders, Pat died what I can only assume to be a realistic death from cancer in the arms of her son and in the presence of other members of her family.

This was no touching death scene with someone quietly slipping away in a dignified and content manner like Helen Daniels off Neighbours; poor old Pat was in distress. Her last words were to the effect of her being scared and not wanting to die. Obviously the writing was done with the aim of achieving maximum drama and making the viewer as upset as possible for the passing of poor old Pat.

All very sad stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.

But here’s the thing; once it was all over and done with, what did it do to the people watching?

For me, it made me think ‘Wow, that was well done’ and that was about as far as it went, but the person watching it with me was in a far worse state. By presenting the death so accurately it brought that person back to the time that they sat with their own mother while she died. Ultimately the death of Pat became irrelevant and instead they were reliving one of their darkest moments.

I went on Facebook and made that observation to someone who told me that their friend was saying the very same thing. She recently had gone through something remarkably similar with her own mum and was in floods of tears.

And I imagine it’s the same for a lot of people out there tonight. They’ve not watched Pat Butcher die in the arms of David Wicks; they’ve watched themselves comforting their dying mother or father, husband or wife, child, sibling or friend as they pass over.

And it’s not very nice.

Death is a big part of life and thus it would be ridiculous to think of TV and fiction without it. But fictional TV is supposed to be escapism. Presenting the actual act of death so accurately and in a scenario that will be eerily familiar to millions upon millions of a show’s viewers is wrong in my opinion.

But maybe that’s just me…

Let me know what you think.


4 Responses to Death on TV – Is It Wrong To Make It Too ‘Familiar’?

  1. I have to say, what you’ve said is exactly right! I haven’t watched Eastenders for years as I’m not a great soap fan but after spending time at home for Christmas and being trapped on the couch watching it over a couple of days with the family I found myself wanting to see what happened on New Years Day! I’m not one to break down over sad scenes on t.v but I must say the scene when Pat Butcher died made me break into tears. As you said, it brought me back ten years, when my grandmother passed away from cancer. Afterwards I felt a bit strange as it’s not something I’ve thought about for a long time (preferring to remember the happy times obviously!) I then felt a bit embarrassed and silly but it then made me realise that so many people watching it were probably reminded of a similar situation which hopefully led to happy thoughts of their loved ones. I’m so glad you posted this!

    • sgmilne says:

      I’m very glad you enjoyed the article.

      I’d never thought that it might also lead to reminding people of happier thoughts though. That’s an interesting possibility.

  2. […] the way Pat Butcher unrealistically died on Eastenders around Christmas time (which you can read here) and another good example of that would be Mike Baldwin dying in agony in Many times the hero of […]

  3. […] Death On TV – Is It Wrong To Make It Too ‘Familiar’ […]

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