Search This Blog

Friday, January 25, 2013

Hollyoaks - Esther's Story

Here it is...the very first day after the mega-post that I typed up yesterday...and I'm feeling pretty good about everything. It's out there in the open, and there's no turning back now. The past is now firmly in the past, and I can look ahead to the future. I'll be the first one to admit that I'm still a little nervous about what the future holds. I spent a lot of time holding onto the past that I sort of forgot how to put my best foot forward, and show people what I am capable of. I ended up losing a lot of years out of my life that I can't get back, and you know what? It was my own fault.

Though, I will say this. I did say that I will cease talking about my own battles and my own struggles. Now that I have made peace with it, there's no need to pick those scabs apart any further. Though, one thing that I didn't promise was that I wouldn't stop being a champion for anti-bullying causes. There's nothing that will make me stop doing that. I'll just channel that energy towards helping other people cope and deal with making their lives better instead of wallowing in my own self-pity.

I find it refreshing to see television shows tackle the subject of bullying in schools. Although the situations that are presented on most television programs are fictional, I think that a lot of us can probably relate to what happens to the characters because we've been there, and as a result some of us identify with them because we see a little bit of ourselves in them.

I was recently alerted to a television show that currently airs in the United Kingdom on one of the various anti-bullying sites that I am a member of. The program is right in the middle of a storyline which has a young girl being bullied by a group of sixth formers at her school.

(I had to actually look up the definition of the term “sixth former” before I could continue on, but typically speaking, it's the exact same as our eleventh and twelfth grades here in Canada and the United States.)

That program is the soap opera, Hollyoaks, which has been airing on British television since October 23, 1995.

Now, I wasn't familiar with the show Hollyoaks at first, mainly because Hollyoaks (to my knowledge) has not aired in Canada (and if it does, it likely airs on BBC Canada, which I do not subscribe to). But after watching a few episodes of it, I would classify it as a combination of Beverly Hills 90210 and Degrassi Junior High. It's mostly centered around high school and college aged students and their problems, but also has a few adult characters appearing on the program as well. Because of the show's unique focus on youth-based storylines, there is a very high turnover of cast on the program. Very few characters introduced on the program end up making it past three years on the program. There have only been a handful of characters who have been on the program for five or more years, and Nick Pickard, who plays Tony Hutchison, is the only original cast member of Hollyoaks, having appeared since the show's debut episode.

Since 2012, the showrunner of Hollyoaks is Bryan Kirkwood, who previously served as executive producer for EastEnders from 2010-2012, and was created by Phil Redmond, who also created the successful British drama “Brookside”, which aired from 1982-2003. The show is taped in Chester, England. Initially, the show was aired just once a week, and had only seven main characters. By September 2001, the cast had tripled and episodes increased to three days a week. In 2003, the show began airing every weekday, and as of 2012, there are close to fifty actors on both contract and recurring roles.

Hollyoaks has had its share of storylines over its seventeen year history. Some of them were standard for any dramatic series, such as murder, extramarital affairs, kidnapping, and alcoholism. But Hollyoaks was also a show that wasn't afraid to tackle serious (sometimes controversial) issues, such as teen pregnancy, student/teacher relationships, interracial relationships, schizophrenia, surrogacy, and gender identity disorder.

TRIVIA: Hollyoaks once featured a storyline in which several people became severely ill from carbon monoxide poisoning, and one viewer was alarmed to discover that she had the same symptoms of the characters on the show. It was later determined that she did have a carbon monoxide leak in her home that had she left it further unattended could have killed her. So, Hollyoaks ended up saving her life!

And, as of January 2013, the show is tackling another hot button issue. Teenage bullying. And, it happens to feature this lovely young lady in the center of the storyline.

This is Esther Bloom, portrayed by Jazmine Franks. On the show, she's an open lesbian student who has dreams of being a fashion designer, and who just wants to make people happy. But Esther is also the type of person who often gets used as a bit of a doormat, often being overlooked or ignored by others around her...even members of her own family. She was actually described in an E4 article as someone who “never gets a chance to shine in the spotlight that they so deserve”.

So, you can see why I seem to have a lot of sympathy for her, especially if you read yesterday's entry.

The main perpetrators of the bullying against Esther were two girls who acted like they were Esther's friends, but were more like frenemies. They are Ruby Button (Anna Shaffer) and Sinead O'Connor (Stephanie Davis).

(For the record, she just happens to be named after the “Nothing Compares 2 U” singer.)

When Ruby and Sinead begin hanging out with the popular Queen Bee student Maddie Morrison (Scarlett Bowman), the bullying intensifies, and begins to become more psychological. They post videos of Esther in embarrassing situations online for everyone to see, spread rumours about her having a mustache, and post slanderous messages on a project created by another student known as DocYou about her.

The bullying plot climaxes when Esther ends up witnessing a near kiss between Maddie and Jono (Dylan Llewellyn), Ruby's fiance. At the time, Ruby and Jono were going to head off to a place known as Gretna Green where they were to elope. But with Esther witnessing the kiss, she thinks that Jono is cheating on Ruby with Maddie, and tries to stop the wedding, which prompts Maddie to lash out at Esther, calling her foul names, wishing she was dead, and telling her that if she did die, nobody would care about her. What a princess, huh?

Anyway, Maddie, Jono, Sinead, Ruby, George Smith (Steven Roberts) and Neil Cooper (Tosin Cole) hitch a ride to the venue by “borrowing” a mini-bus. Unbeknownst to Maddie, the mini-bus had one flaw. The brakes weren't working properly. But, given that their original ride, Bart McQueen (Jonny Clarke) was intoxicated and couldn't legally drive without getting arrested, they had no choice. Before leaving, the group realizes that a double wedding that is happening just down the road on the way to Gretna Green is taking place, and that the cake for the wedding was left behind, so the group decides to deliver it on the way.

At the same time, Esther is determined to stop the wedding between Jono and Ruby, believing that Jono had cheated on Ruby with Maddie. Esther's big mistake was convincing the intoxicated Bart to follow the group in the mini-bus to stop the wedding from taking place. A chase followed suit, and Maddie quickly realized that there was something wrong with the brakes. She managed to stay in control...until she saw a small child standing in the road, and swerved out of the way to avoid her, heading straight for the reception of the double wedding in the process! And, this is the tragic result (skip ahead to the 5:12 mark).

In the end, four people ended up losing their lives. A wedding guest inside the reception was crushed to death by falling debris. The other three that died were all passengers in the minibus. Neil was killed when the minibus exploded after the other five escaped. Maddie refused to help Neil when he was calling for help, and she ended up getting karma delivered to her in the form of a blazing minibus door falling on top of her, making her victim number three. 

The fourth victim was Jono, who died in Ruby's arms of massive internal bleeding.

The three surviving victims were George, Ruby, and Sinead. George was just lucky to be alive, but Ruby and Sinead were very angry and upset...and before Maddie was struck dead by the burning door, Maddie had put the blame on Esther and only Esther for the crash.

I mean, sure, Esther probably could have come up with a better way to handle the situation, but she wasn't the one that was driving...Bart was. And, since Bart was in love with Sinead and promised to help her raise Sinead's unborn child together, Sinead, Ruby, and Bart all put an intense amount of pressure on Esther to keep quiet about Bart's role in the accident which killed Maddie, Jono, and Neil.

This included Sinead and Ruby bullying Esther relentlessly for weeks. Ruby and Sinead taunt Esther, claiming that she was solely responsible for the deaths of their friends. A teacher did step in when she discovered the bullying that was going on, and tried to report it to the headmaster, but the man seemed to look the other way, and almost pretended that it wasn't really happening. I've known quite a few teachers like that. It's pretty frustrating to talk to them.

Things escalate when Ruby and Esther get into a fight and Esther ends up accidentally breaking a necklace that Ruby wore that had part of Jono's ashes inside of it. This was bad enough...but did I mention that Ruby was living at Esther's house at the time (Esther was living with grandparents Frankie and Jack Osborne, and at the time that Ruby moved in, she and Esther were friends)? And, that Esther's family thought that Esther was the problem? So, she had no support from her schoolmates, aside from her friends George, Phoebe Jackson (Mandip Gill), and Tilly Evans (Lucy Dixon), and her family was getting annoyed with her.

The final straw came when Ruby and Sinead up their campaign of bullying Esther, arranging for the people in her school to send her text messages stating that she wished she had died in the crash, and throwing bottles filled with urine at her. Now, to me, that is absolutely disgusting, and I couldn't help but feel heartbroken for her.

But the more abuse that Ruby and Sinead inflicted on her, the more miserable and isolated Esther felt. And, on the episode dated January 21, 2013, Esther decided to do the unthinkable.

She swallowed an entire bottle of pills, washed it down with a bottle of vodka, and waited for death to consume her. And it likely would have too had George not stopped to bring a pale looking Esther back home. Initially, Esther's family were absolutely furious with her...until Esther started throwing up and passed out cold.

It was then that Esther's family heard the awful truth...Esther had indeed tried to kill herself. What they didn't know was why. They especially didn't know that Ruby and Sinead were the ones who pushed her over the edge. If they had, perhaps they would have tossed Ruby out of the house and none of that would have happened.

Instead, the prognosis for Esther was not good. She had taken so many pills that there was irreparable damage to her liver, and the odds were that she would be forced to undergo a liver transplant. And even if the transplant was successful, she would have health issues for the remainder of her life.

A terrible price to pay.

But what made Esther do this? Why would she think that suicide was the only answer for her? Well, in the days leading up to the suicide attempt, everyone seemed to turn their back on Esther one by one. It started with Sinead and Ruby, spread to Esther's loved ones, and eventually the administration of the school that Esther attended. One by one, they all let Esther down, and when she was at her lowest point, she felt like she could not trust anyone. Sure, George and Phoebe were always there for her, but neither one really knew the extent of how bad the bullying had gotten because Esther kept it hidden. And, Tilly had a prime opportunity to help Esther before she had taken the pills and vodka cocktail, but chose to leave Esther alone to meet up with somebody else, believing that she was okay. Only, she wasn't.

At this point in time, it appears as though George and Phoebe have decided to help Esther by standing up to Ruby and Sinead every chance they get...and even Tilly is starting to feel obliged to help Esther out, feeling guilt over leaving her behind when she probably needed a friend the most. But with George, Phoebe, and Tilly in a school that seemed to protect Ruby and Sinead while the real victims slipped through the cracks...well, it is a challenge.

And, I think that Hollyoaks (and Jazmine Franks in particular) deserve an award for not only bringing the subject of bullying out in the open to a UK audience, but for showing the gritty and often harsh realities that the victims of bullying have to endure.

To me, watching those clips, I sympathize a lot with Esther. If it weren't for the fact that she were a fictional character, I would have given her a huge hug and told her that I would be her friend. And, I completely get why Esther felt like she was alone...but she should have told someone...anyone about the bullying, before this happened.

And, honestly, if you're in a situation that Esther is currently in, where you feel alone and have nowhere to turn, know that you are NOT alone. There is help out there for you, and there is definitely a light at the end of what seems like a dark, desolate tunnel. Allow me to provide a few websites and phone numbers for you.

First off, for Canadian residents, there's the Kids' Help Phone line at 1-800-668-6868. It's a number that has helped thousands of troubled kids, and will always be there for you when you need it.

In the United States, call 1-800-SUICIDE, 1-800-273-TALK, or if you happen to be hard of hearing, you can also dial 1-800-799-4TTY.

Even Hollyoaks' official website has some great resources for you to use if you are being bullied, or have suicidal tendencies. If you click HERE, you have the access to various websites and phone numbers (UK bases). And, on the DocYou videos (which can also be found on YouTube if you can't access them), you can hear the cast members themselves talk about the storyline, and what research they did to get into their characters. It's quite interesting stuff. Do check it out if you like.

For a show to devote so much attention to a cause like bullying...well, I think it's well needed. I almost wish that Hollyoaks were airing in Canada and the United States so we could watch it unfold as well.

Because Esther Bloom's story has not ended yet. Her story is just beginning. And, maybe I'm being cautiously optimistic here, but I think that despite everything, Esther will finally have her place in the sun...and because I am a firm believer in karmic retribution, I imagine Ruby and Sinead will get their comeuppance soon enough.

At any rate, that's my piece on Hollyoaks.

No comments:

Post a Comment