When Emmerdale announced it was taking on soap first in an acid attack storyline for Ross Barton, viewers rubbed their hands in anticipation. But now some fans are concerned that the change of story direction isn’t doing Ross or real-life acid attack victims any favours. The Emmerdaily contributor @IShipVanity explains all…
As acid attacks in the United Kingdom are growing into an increasingly worrying occurrence, Emmerdale creatives took on the mantle of giving voice to those who have been victim of this senseless act of violence. An issue firmly in the public consciousness following high profile cases including a Dutch man driven to suicide following a revenge acid attack. It was Ross Barton (Michael Parr) who would have his life crash down all around him after a case of mistaken identity, saw drug dealer Simon McManus (Liam Ainsworth) unleash a devastating acid attack on Ross, ordered by Debbie Dingle (Charley Webb) as revenge for now boyfriend Joe Tate’s (Ned Porteous) deception.
Ross was sent spiralling into a free-fall, struggling to cope with the new reality he was facing. Medical professionals offered a grim prognosis on his chances of a full recovery. Having to wear a mask to prevent further infection and injury, hitting Ross’s self worth like a boxer delivering a knock out blow, his brother Pete Barton (Anthony Quinlan) has been trying in vain to keep him from imploding.
The storyline was an engaging and groundbreaking watch in a sea of storylines that were failing to connect with the Emmerdale audience. Seeing Ross cope with medication addiction and being supported in part by Rhona Goskirk (Zoe Henry), making him confront his reality was a realistic and pragmatic way to really focus in on the reality that many acid attack victims have and struggle to cope with.
Barely scratching the surface of this narrative, Emmerdale turned away from this direction with stunning and disastrous consequence. From being in a position where the audience were sympathising with Ross’s plight, it saw him engage in all out revenge following the case against Simon being thrown out of court. The linchpin of any storyline is to make the audience feel sympathy with the character that has fallen victim of an attack, not turn against them.
Since Simon escaped justice, Ross has kept the company albeit for his own ends and made deals with the Emmerdale criminal underworld. Paying little or no attention to the carnage in his wake as he takes justice into his own hands, the unthinkable has happened.
Emmerdale have turned some audience members against Ross as he held Joe and Graham Foster (Andrew Scarborough) hostage and then nearly killing Debbie in a scuffle last week. The underhand dealings have caused the audience sympathy barometer to shift and shift quickly. Encompassed with the feeling it’s turned into a poorly constructed love triangle plot, for some it’s descended into farce.
It needed Ross’s struggle portraying sensitively and with care, but this now haphazard storyline has in effect done victims of acid attacks a huge disservice. Suspending reality in the process, the storyline shift bears no resemblance of the struggles many people go through. Even in soap terms this is a huge faux pas, when a storyline is so relevant to society it demands more care.
This isn’t even a case of pandering to the OFCOM complaining base but a recognition of the overwhelming distress it may cause by triggering viewers past experiences and making it worse. Every soap has a duty of care to its audience and in this rare case Emmerdale has fallen short.
Instead of seeing Ross seek proper long term care and solace through the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therepy) process or any other holistic and non medicative means, the story now feels nothing like it should have been, now its on a violent path to Ross seeking justice not through the legal process.
To send a powerful message that victims can seek a positive outcome to a hugely difficult time in their lives, has more currency than a violent vehicle for Ross to find a degree of closure and justice. The initial push of the storyline could have fundamentally redefined the character in a positive direction as Ross seeks greater solace in his responsibilities to his son Moses Dingle (Arthur Cockroft) to honing in and expanding his struggle with drug addiction, even finding the courage to help others in a similar situation.
Michael has done an excellent job with the tools he has been given, especially in the moments of Ross’s vulnerability. He delivered a subtle performance as Ross struggled to cope with trying to reconnect with Moses. Emmerdale was offered an anchor to explore the aftermath and how someone can rebuild their life. With the shift in emphasis towards Ross engaging in violence even if Emmerdale revisit these aspects, there is a nagging sense the storyline is running out of steam and sympathy towards him, which they may struggle to get it back.
Emmerdale had a golden opportunity to tackle such a controversial issue with care, instead it diverged into a violent mess, insulting victims of acid attacks and those supporting them in the process. The profound message it would send of a character like Ross, who values his self-worth losing it and finding it again would send is immeasurable. Whilst it’s not a soaps job to dumb down storylines to pander to audiences, it is their job to reflect reality.