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Fast times at TV High

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Fast times at TV High

The Sydney Morning Herald

29 July 2006

Rather than educating children, television soaps may be making matters worse, writes Brad Newsome

IT'S fast times at TV High. There's a pregnant teen in Neighbours unsure who the father is, a bulimic girl in Home and Away, a pot-smoking kid in The O.C., turkey slaps being given in Big Brother and many other examples of teenagers - or at least their scriptwriters - pushing the boundaries.

But do such storylines merely entertain or do they have a dangerous impact on their young audiences? Do they foster copycat behaviour or encourage children to take the steps they need to get help?

Angela Conway, the Australian Family Association's Victorian vice-president, says that the teenage TV milieu is "hyper-focused on relationships" and fears that it is giving children "a skewed view of reality".

Conway says some programs are pitched at wide audiences, "so you've got very young children watching shows like Home and Away and, unfortunately, The O.C. You don't want 11-and 12-year-olds being interested in how you throw up to keep your weight down or how to go about cutting yourself."

The most controversial storyline in an Australian soap is on Home and Away, where Mattie Hunter (Indiana Evans) is in hospital with bulimia.

A Channel Seven spokeswoman said: "In the Matilda 'self-hatred' storyline, the Home and Away writing department and medical adviser worked with some eating disorders experts and made some adjustments to scripts based on their recommendations.

"Our writers and producers are always speaking to experts in a particular field and those that have experienced an issue. Naturally, each actor also adds input to the character, performance and the storyline," she says.

"Indiana did her own research into the Matilda storyline. She was conscious of making her performance as real as possible."

Sarah Walker, a project assistant with the Victorian Centre for Excellence in Eating Disorders, who also works on the eating disorder wards at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, says that while the storyline could encourage people to seek help, she still has reservations about it. She is concerned that the story will be wrapped up too quickly and neatly and perpetuate the stereotype in which "eating disorders are seen as trifling and self-inflicted".

Walker, who was hospitalised with an eating disorder seven years ago but has recovered, says that people often have eating disorders for five to seven years before seeking help, and that they can continue to struggle for 10 years afterwards. She says it is essential that Home and Away handles the story well because its audience is the highest-risk demographic for eating disorders.

Professor Ian Lang, head of the school of film and television at the Victorian College of the Arts, says program makers have a strong sense of responsibility and that parents who are concerned about their children's viewing should take more responsibility.

"In some ways shows like Neighbours and Home and Away can be really valuable conversation starters between parents and their children. I'd be more worried about an eight-year-old seeing the bombing of Beirut that's going on at the moment than Neighbours."

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll.


Housemate Ashley "turkey slaps" Camilla (rubbing his crotch in her face) while she is restrained in bed by another housemate. The incident was not broadcast, but was part of the live stream seen by viewers over the internet.


Housemate Michael rubs his penis in Gianna's hair while giving her a massage. Channel Ten admits the scene "should probably never have gone to air".


Matilda "Mattie" Hunter (Indiana Evans) finds herself coughing up blood in hospital. She is suffering bulimia apparently brought on by a series of traumatic events involving a Jekyll-and-Hyde boyfriend, family members lost in the bush and an explosion at a wedding.


Sky Mangel (Stephanie McIntosh) is pregnant and is not sure whether the father is her boyfriend or his brother. At the same time she finds herself attracted to a third love interest.


Seth Cohen (Adam Brody) turns to marijuana because he is stressed about a university admission interview. While under the influence of the drug, he decides to skip the interview and lie about it. Later, while stoned, he accidentally burns down his father's office.


Stingray Timmins (Ben Nicholas) is turning to alcohol and "making a lot of mistakes", executive producer Ric Pellizzeri says, but he will learn that he "has to take more responsibility".

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