Soap Opera Revision

  1. Make sure you know TWO Soaps in a fair amount of detail.
  1. Be able to refer to character types:
    The thug/ villain
    The hard woman
    The strong woman
    The wronged woman
    The family/ caring man
    The reformed character
  1. Know what a selection of story lines has been recently:
    The moral dilemma
    The crime
    The relationships
  1. Notice what camera angles are used for which stories, what shots and how they are edited together.
  1. What other viewpoints are viewers getting on the same stories?
  1. Make sure you know what has been happening in the ratings war recently (visit i.e. which is the most popular, which has been getting most other media attention: trailers, magazines, interviews, chat show guest appearances, even newspaper publicity.
  1. What pleasures are audiences getting out of which story lines? Think – who is the audience here? Women – why? Men – why? Children – why? Teenagers – why? Gays – why? Working class – why? Middleclass – why?
    Reasons are varied – identification; reflects mix of society – male female, ethnic minorities, jobs etc.; curiosity; conflict; realism; challenging roles; escapism; fantasy fulfilment; interweaving storylines; deferred resolution; cliff-hangers; combination of enigma and action; dramatic irony (audience has superior knowledge to characters); superiority; polysemics (variety of interpretations possible); common culture and reference point for gossip; catch-up element integral to episode; formulaic.
  1. Why popular with networks?
    Value; flexibility; relative cheapness; advertising; flagship of network………..
  1. Check that you know the scheduling commitments of your chosen soaps; plus what is advertised between segments?
  1. Familiarise yourself with the soaps versus realism debate.
    Realism is: a style of storytelling, which attempts to represent a realistic view of life – to show things as they really are.
    Yet soaps are a construct of conventions – not a natural or inevitable consequence, though the dialogue may seem/ sound authentic and the situations seem realistic.
    Do they reflect our society in a truthful way or do they merely reinforce the dominant ideological vies of the roles of men and women? How have soaps changed in 50 years or so? Howe has our society changed in that time? Can you cite any examples of early soaps to use as evidence here? Do some research!
  1. Arguments for and against the value of soaps.
    Trivialising; poor (or not) script writing; issue based; realistic; informative and educational; encourage addiction and passivity; strong women have always been a feature; women are valued; women are not beautiful!; yet the not so beautiful can have a romantic and even sexual life!; an unrealistic no. of bad things happen to same people………
  1. Know the conventions.
  1. Know the experts:

    Modlieski:    “Wicked women in soaps demonstrate a rare opportunity to see powerful women in control of their own destinies.”

    Hobson: “the skills required to make sense of (Crossroads) are particularly female skills.”

    Ang;    “climaxes and fantasies are a way of allowing women to bridge the gap between desire and reality”

    Grey:    “Social class is an important factor in the value women put on soap opera – graduates are able to be more distanced and objective but the unqualified are embarrassed “(about their liking for it!)

    Geraghty:    “emphasis on domestic life…controlled by women.”

  1. What happens when the soap leaves the familiar location? Not usually successful – why?
  1. How will soaps maintain their popularity?
  1. What might happen to scheduling? Look at what has happened in recent years – from twice a week to three, four and even five times? Omnibus editions? Specials?
  1. What happens when British soaps change the stock formula – e.g. El Dorado? Night and Day? Look them up.
  1. Why do they suffer declines in popularity?
  1. What are the effects of single channel genre specialisms? Multi channelled digital TV which causes audience fragmentation? Use what you know of what developments are coming on line technologically with regard to TV and watching – will the choice mean that audiences stay or wander? Will the agreement between networks not to put on opposing soaps at the same time be broken?
  1. What about the increasing popularity of docu-soaps and real life docu-dramas – Big Brother / I’m a celebrity get me out of here etc.
  1. What function for the main settings have in your chosen soaps? For talk? For meeting? For seeing what goes on? So that unlikely characters can actually cross paths….

Other theorists; Buckingham, Brunsdon, Cantor, Dyer; and ~Julia Smith and Phil Redmond. More to follow I hope!

From the English Review April 1999 – Girl Power – Soap Opera and women

‘Paradoxically, although the form was established to sell commodities to the newly affluent post-war society, the values it promotes are more often more old-fashioned, stressing the importance of community, friendship and human relations built on love and generosity rather than profit or loss.’

Modleski: suggests connections with the domestic, gothic and melodramatic ‘serial’ novel of the late 19th and early 20th century.

American soaps have more in common with the mid-19th century novel of ‘sensation‘ which often feature fascinating villainesses (Joan Collins’ Alexis in Dynasty).

Christine Geraghty suggests other sources like Music hall and light entertainment where audiences are persuaded to escape into an artificial world of luxury and glamour – this again would be more true of US soaps. But we can still see it in the glamorisation of Bet Lynch and Rita Fairclough or Angie Watts and Peggy Mitchell. US forms also stress visual excess suing filmic conventions of Hollywood melodrama of the 1950s.

Criticism centres on the forms perceived failures to close narratives, to deal with politics and to move beyond the trivial. Dennis Porter said that soap ‘deals forever with reversals but never portrays the irreversible change that marks the passage out of ignorance into knowledge.’ Unlike quality drama then soap lacks catharsis.

Feminists argue that these criticisms are in fact of female pleasures and skills. The association of soap with women may then be the cause of its denigration, not an indicator of its lack of quality. Soap privileges a ‘feminine’ world in which emotions rather than actions have value. The drive to closure is more masculine, like detective drama, who-done-it. Talk is used to reveal connections between characters rather than investigation or action and talk is a feminine thing!

Geragthy points out that ‘female conversation is the backbone of the traditional soap.’ This is true within it and outside of it! Viewers read secondary texts with avidity.

Modleski points out that the female soap viewer is’…constituted as a sort of ideal mother: a person who possesses greater wisdom than all her children, whose sympathy is large enough to encompass the conflicting claims of all her family and who has no demand s of her own.’

US soaps are patriarchal and British ones are matriarchal. JR Ewing + Blake Carrington vs Pauline Fowler and Peggy Mitchell.

The Aussie soaps of the early 80s introduced teenagers and young children to the soap culture, British soaps swiftly followed suit with younger storylines.

Brookside sought to do something different by setting an estate with three central families: the Grants (working-class, left-wing, moving up) the Collins (middle-class, redundant male head of family, moving down) and Heather and Roger Haversham (young middle-class professional couple in first home). TV Critic Heather Banks-Smith described the cast as, ‘the Harrods, the Habitats and the Hooligans,’ and the families were presented as being in intense class -conflict.

There was also a long story line about a strike and the effect on one family; another had a siege which was then filmed in real time

Masculine identity has become more central and male point-of-view shots have become more common. Martin Fowler and his dilemma over the party he held in his brother’s place for example. The female gossip and strong female storylines have become less central so will female viewers eventually turn off?

Ros Ballaster


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