Friday, December 8, 2017

The Bethany Storyline on Coronation Street

Every so often I come across a piece of literature or media that makes me wish I had magical powers, so I could force almost everyone in the world to watch or read it. 

For me, lately, that's the Bethany storyline on Coronation Street.

I finished watching it yesterday.

Bethany Platt (Lucy Fallon) is a typical soap opera teenager. She's dealt with bullying, an eating disorder, crushes on older men, her mother's depression, and a dead drug dealer buried under her family's home.

During one of her times of extreme turmoil, she meets up with Nathan (Christopher Harper), a man in his thirties. Nathan showers Bethany with praise and attention. Since she is in great need of validation, AND has a thing for older men, Bethany falls easily to...a predator.

But Bethany doesn't see Nathan as a predator. She sees him as her very romantic boyfriend.

Nathan is a manipulative, evil piece of shit. And that's putting it kindly. He finds and manipulates young girls; then turns them into his sex workers. He has a whole sex ring thing going on.

With Bethany, he transforms her from trainee to worker by setting her up to think she is the cause of expensive video equipment being stolen. He uses guilt and shame and gets her to believe that the only way she can find redemption is by being flirty with Neil (Ben Cartwright), the man who owns he equipment.     

Well, it turns out flirty is a bit of an understatement. It actually turns into sex. Bethany waits for Nathan to barge into the room and rescue her, but it never happen. Later, to her surprise, Nathan actually seems pleased that Bethany has had sex with his friends. Nathan is such a brilliant manipulator that he's able to convince Bethany that men sharing their girlfriend sexually with their friends is totally cool and normal.


I won't blab on about the whole story. I did enough of that already, really.

I'll just say that eventually, Bethany sees the light and escapes (sort of) mentally and physically from Nathan. She finally realizes she was the victim of a predator rather than an incompetent girlfriend of a cool older man.

Yesterday I watched the court scenes. They were brilliant, cathartic, and nerve-wracking.

The whole thing reminded me of gaslighting...kind of on a symbolic level.

What I imagine is this. The jury is the mind of the gaslighting victim.

The prosecution lawyer is what goes on in the mind of the gaslighting victim when they realize they've been wronged.

On Coronation Street,  Bethany is questioned, and we hear the story we have already seen.

When the defense lawyer questions the witnesses, and when Nathan takes the stand, it reminds me of what goes on in the mind of a gaslighting victim as soon as the gaslighter starts talking.

I found the defense team very convincing even though I KNEW Bethany was the one telling the truth.

In the defense's version of events, Bethany isn't the victim. She's the perpetrator against Nathan. She is a disturbed teenager with a very troubled and violent family.  She has major jealousy issues, and when she became jealous about Nathan's ex-girlfriend, she slept with other men to make Nathan jealous.

The time that Nathan tried to kidnap Bethany and hide her away in Belgium? No, that was not kidnapping. Nathan had been trying to SAVE Bethany.

A clever defense team can convince a jury that the criminal is the victim.

A clever gaslighter can make us believe that A) we weren't really wronged B) There is something inherently wrong with us C) We are actually the ones who have done a bad thing.

So I guess that's one of the reasons I'd want people to watch the Bethany storyline. It shines some light on gaslighting.

Also, it shines a lot on manipulation in general. There are manipulated people out there who might not know they are being manipulated. It might help break them out of that particular prison.

Maybe it might also diminish the deeds of manipulators. In some rare cases, a person might realize they actually don't want to be awful like that.  They might not have understood they were doing a bad thing, and once they know, maybe they might try to change.

In other cases, maybe a person won't give a shit about the harm their manipulation causes, but if they realize there's a lot of public awareness about it, maybe they'll feel it won't be so easy to get the results they desire.

In terms of sex crimes, I think the storyline illustrated very important issues. One of these was victim shaming.  Does sexual abuse become okay when the victim has a troubled past?  What if she has a troubled family? What if she has had crushes on older men? Does any of that matter?

For a rape victim to receive full public sympathy do they need to dress a certain way, come from a happy, wholesome family, and have no past mental health issues?

If a woman once posed for Playboy, does that make raping her or harassing her a little less wrong?

The other issue, in terms of sexual abuse, I think the storyline brings up is family support.  Sometimes a story teaches us by having the characters do the wrong thing. In the Bethany storyline, we're taught by showing the very right thing.

Bethany has a really messed up family, but they are so there for her during her time of need...especially her mother, Sarah (Tina O'Brien)

Recently I've thought about parenting and decided that parents can be divided into not-perfect parents, toxic parents, and abusive parents.

Perfect parents exist only in picture books and preschool TV shows. But if Sarah was such a parent, Bethany would never have gotten herself entangled with Nathan in the first place.

If Sarah was a toxic parent, she'd probably either blame Bethany for what happened or she'd convince Bethany that Nathan wasn't such a bad guy, really. Well, he's a really handsome guy. And he's bought you those expensive gifts. I think you should count your blessings. You'll be happier in life if you stop being so sensitive and dramatic.  

If Sarah was an abusive parent, she'd probably be part of the whole sex ring. She would have probably SOLD Bethany to Nathan.

But no. Sarah is a beautiful, Not-Perfect parent. She struggles to support her daughter, be there for her, even though Bethany is dating a man she doesn't approve of.

Of course, Sarah feels a ton of guilt when she realizes the creepy, asshole boyfriend is actually a dangerous criminal.

But you know...while watching Sarah, I always felt empathy for her.  There was never a moment where I thought, You could have just done this. Or you should have just done that.  Okay. Well, thinking about it. Actually there was probably one time I thought that. But I was probably wrong.  It was probably a case of the audience knowing what the character does not.  

Sarah was in an impossible parenting situation, and she handled it the best I imagine any, Not-Perfect, parent could.

Sarah never put any blame on Bethany. She never shamed her for making the wrong choices. She always made it known that Bethany was 100% the victim. Sarah showered Bethany with love and support.  Her behavior was admirable and inspiring.

Well, I can't make the whole world watch Coronation Street, and some people wouldn't be able to easily watch it even if they wanted to.  But I AM very glad that I had the opportunity to see it.

Edited to add 3/10/19-For more on Not-Perfect Parents, Toxic Parents and Abusive is another (more personal) post I wrote.