Soap Operas

.. hem with their friends and work mates, discussing the issues and what they think will happen next. Katz and Liebes state that in discussing soaps, people are discussing and evaluating the issues in their own lives. Certainly if we discuss Emmerdale or Home and Away with friends we have a sense of belonging or social identity. Storylines are not only discussed by the viewers, but also reported in the press. The newspapers obsession with soap operas was apparent in 1983 when Deirdre Barlow (wife of Ken) had an affair with Mike Baldwin. When this storyline broke, the press printed endless stories should Deirdre go to bed with Mike, or should she leave Ken to set up home with Mike? The Daily Star, Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror, Daily Express, Sun, even the Times, Daily Telegraph, and Guardian covered the storyline.

Ann Kirkbride who plays Deirdre Barlow said I thought the story would spark off a few fan letters, but I never imagined anything like the press and public reaction we got. I never dreamed it would grip the nation like it did. It was scary. The interweaving storylines are another reason why soaps are enjoyed by viewers. There are at least 10 different storylines in each episode, so that if one storyline does not interest a viewer, one of the others will.

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In an episode each scene is generally no longer than a minute and a half, thus keeping the interest of the audience. The assumption here is that the average viewer has a short attention span. Because there are so many storylines, new characters can be introduced to the soap alongside old ones; this all adds to the viewers enjoyment. The most popular TV programme of Christmas 1987 was the Christmas Day episode of Coronation Street, so they must be a pleasure to watch. According to the book BBC People and Programming, most families seem to organise their evening TV viewing around a few core programmes, which everyone enjoys, such as Coronation Street or EastEnders. These are called bonding programmes. At 7pm 80% of TV viewing is group viewing says Clarke. So another pleasure derived from watching soaps is that they can be enjoyed by people of all ages.

Viewers know that there will be no embarrassing sex scenes, no foul language, and no nudity. So in the case of Coronation Street, grandparents and grandchildren can sit down and watch together and neither will be offended. However, this statement does not hold true for EastEnders, where the gay storyline, for example, could upset the older generation. Women are avid soap watchers and it is possible that their enjoyment is in watching scenarios that could occur in their own families, and so prepare them to deal with such situations. They are also enjoyable for women because soaps are about the only television programmes which show that older women, who are larger and not so beautiful, do have a romantic or sexual existence. This is not shown on the screen, just talked about.

According to Fiske : There is a real pleasure to be found in soap operas that assert the legitimacy of feminine meanings and identities within and against patriarchy. Pleasure results from the production of meanings from the world, and of self that are felt to serve the interests of the reader rather than those of the dominant. They also appeal to women because, there is a pleasure in seeing women take active and controlling role; an example being Barbara Windsor as Peggy Mitchell in EastEnders. Soaps are enjoyable because they echo what is going on in the world. Television and soap operas are not the originators of social change, but are merely part of that change. As aids became an illness affecting people in society, so soaps such as EastEnders included it in their storylines. However, despite all the pleasures of soaps that I have written about, things are not that straightforward.

Because soaps are shown at peak family viewing times, care must be taken with the content of the storylines. Aggressive behaviour should be kept to a minimum because there is a positive relationship between the amount of exposure children have to television violence and the extent to which they act aggressively according to Atkinson. Although the pleasure of soaps is that they can be incorporated into the viewers daily lives, and according to Palmer viewers are rarely dominated or controlled by them, I would argue that the opposite is true. Many viewers have to be home by a certain time for a particular soap, or cannot go out until their favourite soap has finished. Soaps are certainly addictive and, although they are pleasurable, they are also a problem because they are a habit that cannot easily be stopped. The cliff-hanger at the end of each episode keeps the audience interested, yet addicted.

With the increase in soap operas, individuals spend more time watching them and this affects their view of the world, even if it is subconsciously. Because they are frequently watched, it is possible that they distort our view of the world. Other activities such as reading and exercising are prevented by soap watching. Critics of soaps argue that watching them makes individuals more passive, so it cannot be a real pleasure because were not actively involved. With all of the above in mind, I would argue that soap opera watching is a definite pleasure.

Viewers can be selective in their watching, and those that choose to watch soaps are aware that they are fiction. I will leave the last word to the late Poet Laureate Sir John Betjeman: Manchester produces what to me is The Pickwick Papers that is to say Coronation Street. Mondays and Wednesdays I live for them. Thank god half past seven tonight, and I shall be in paradise. Bibliography ATKINSON, Introduction to Psychology, Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1996 BROWN, M.E., The Politics of Soaps, Australian journal of cultural studies, 4, 1987, 1-25 CLARKE, Mike, Teaching Popular Television, London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, 1987 FISKE, John, Television Culture, London: Methuen & Co.

Ltd, 1987 KATZ, E. and LIEBES, T., On the Critical Ability of Television Viewers, 1987 KAY, Graeme, Coronation Street Celebrating 30 Years, London: Boxtree Ltd, 1990 THOMSON, Mark, BBC People and Programmes, London: British Broadcasting Corporation, 1995 Appendix 1. Serial form which resists narrative closure. 2. Multiple character and plots 3.

Use of time which parallels actual time, and implies that the action continues to take place whether we watch it or not. 4. Abrupt segmentation between parts. 5. Emphasis on dialogue, problem solving, and intimate conversation. 6.

Male characters who are sensitive men. 7. Female characters who are often professional and powerful outside the home. 8. The home or some other place, which functions as a home, as a setting for the show.