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Soap Operas Are Regarded Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 2069 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Soap operas are often regarded as bad, poorly acted, not socially valued if not said have no aesthetic at all. Is it because most of the soap opera viewers are women? In traditional view, soap opera is perceived as less significant compare to other forms of television programme. However, this overview changed when soap opera reached high ratings and generated high revenues. It increases prominence of soap opera in television landscape and attract scholars to study this particular genre of television programme. The study of soap opera has not completed without studying its audiences. It is assumed that soap opera viewers are predominantly women. There are various theories of soap opera audience that emerge, such as uses and gratification (…).

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Literature review

The ‘gendered audience theory’ discussed by Mary Ellen Brown in her book, Soap Opera and Women’s Talk is the starting point of our discussion on women and soap opera. In the gendered audience theory, it is assumed that hegemonic values, in which tend to “exclude non dominant perspectives”, has to be deconstructed in order to study television audiences (Brown 1994, p.12). Brown (1994, p.13) assumes that “the interaction between TV audiences and a text does not stop with the moment of consumption of the text”. Rather, she explains that the process of meaning making exists in the ‘tertiary text’, a term used by John Fiske which refers to “the conversations that people engage in about television watching, in which also used in the ethnographic research” (Brown 1994, p.13).

Brown asserts that soap opera gives women ‘reactive pleasures’, that is pleasures of being represented by the narrative that soap opera brought to the surface (Brown 1994, p.18). This pleasure has to do with the idea that soap opera has been facilitating women to talk with each other and expressing their ideas and feelings without being criticised (p.18). Soap opera depicts problems that women in real life are dealing with, it creates conversation between them around the text, which called ‘the spoken text’. This conversation is emerged as result of feeling unrepresented in the dominant discourse, in which women are considered as part of ‘subordinate groups’, where their positions are constructed within patriarchy system (p.23).

Christine Scodari in her book, Serial Monogamy: soap opera, lifespan, and the gendered politics of fantasy discusses Stuart Hall’s (1980) decoding/ encoding model, in which divides the reader into ‘preferred/ dominant, negotiated and oppositional’. According to Lewis, this classic model is believed to leave a gap of readers who “acknowledge the story’s intent but disagrees with it” (p.42). In order to fill in this gaps, Lewis creates a fourth designation, ‘the resistive reading’ that is the process of questioning the idea of preferred reading by exploring “the message’s ambiguity they see fit” (p.42). Scodari suggests to add the qualifier hegemonic or counter hegemonic into the discussion, as the emerging of interaction between soap opera fans creates collective positions of reading. She further explores this conception by discussing interaction between fans of Another World, a mid 1990s US’ soap opera. Scodari claims that the show’s plot was becoming more similar with Days of Our Lives, that tend to focus on catfight between the female characters, she calls this as ‘DOOLification of soap opera’ (p.43). The plot tends to encourage confrontation between audiences that happens in private place such as home, or publicly in the online media. The fans’ reaction toward it was polarised between the preferred, hegemonic reading and the oppositional, counter hegemonic. The fans begin to ‘name calling’ each other and ‘attacking personal’, in which Scodari refers this as ‘tabloid talk’ (p.43).

Jennifer Hayward, in her journal, ‘Day after Tomorrow: Audience Interaction and Soap Opera Production’ discusses about soap opera audience have power over the show. This notion contradicts with the common perception that “soap fans have been considered as passive victims, brainwashed by the show’s narrative” (p.97). Hayward analyse conversation between Oprah Winfrey and one of the ‘addict’ soap’s fans. Hayward finds that speculating what will happen to characters within the next episodes, which called the “narrative game” contributes to what we understood as soap pleasure (p.98). According to the conversation, Hayward assumes crucial function of soap opera as to provide communities an “open lines of communication between viewers, a neutral field discussion for housewives isolated in their respective homes and nuclear families” (p.99). She also adds other function of soap opera, which is to provide a forum for public to explore disruptive social issues as well as political matters. In relation to power of the audience, she contests the notion that soap opera audiences are passive victims. From her analysis of the fans letters and conversation with them, Hayward suggests that “the audiences are showing active involvement with the process of fiction making” (p.99). They send letters to the show’s producer, convey their criticism and even giving suggestion on how the narrative should be. Hayward uses a case study of One Life to Live to show fans’ power. One of the characters of OLTL, left the show due to a contract dispute, the fans response by sending 45.000 letters and then it became the headlines across soap magazines. Hayward calls this activity as ‘active fandom’ (p.101).

Whetmore and Kielwasser on their journal, ‘The Soap Opera Audience Speaks: A Preliminary Report’ discusses “how the soap viewers perceive the viewing process” (p.110). The complexity and multiple sub plots seem to be characteristic of soap opera, therefore it takes a while for newly viewers to be able to understand the whole narratives. The authors suggests that newly viewers of certain soap opera has to “get over the hump”, that is the process of understanding “the historical ties that bind the characters together” (p.110). This process is enabled through discussion with other more experienced viewers. Soap opera tends to withheld the solutions of problems encountered by the characters, ends each episode with questions in viewers’ minds. This is claimed to be one of the appeal of soap opera (Jen Hayward). This creates viewing dependency. According to Whetmore and Kielwasser, by this viewing consistency, viewers are developing different “emotional payoffs”. They classify these payoffs into three categories; immediate, short term and long term (p.111). Newly viewers usually developing immediate payoffs, because it do not require “understanding of previous plot lines and are usually characterised by the completion of a single event” (p.111). The example of immediate payoffs is romantic scene. Short term payoffs require viewing practice from the beginning of a single sub plot to its completion. It usually found in the ‘mini climax’ of a single sub plot (p.111). Long term payoffs are mostly awaited by devoted and long time viewers. Often, it requires years of constant viewing.

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Barbara Stern and Cristel Russell in their journal, ‘Vulnerable Women on Screen and at Home: Soap Opera Consumption’ contests positive functions of soap opera that have been described by Hayward. Stern and Russel assume that soap opera appealing for women because “it provides emotional release, personal gratification, companionship” and reality escapism (p.222). They claim that soap opera industry continue displaying vulnerable upper class women to put viewers in an inferior position that are constantly exposed to imaginary ways of living and improper role models. Persistent viewing practice is assumed to risk viewers an emotional harm (Jewel and Abate 2001). They claims that the soap industry repetitively convey ‘gender stereotyping’ that put women in subordination (p.223). The negative effects of soap opera are claimed to give viewers ‘parasocial attachment’ and “vulnerability loop in social learning and behavioural modelling” (p.223). Parasocial attachment is defined as viewer relationship with fictional characters in which perceived to be real people, thus “able to influence viewers’ norms, desires and behaviours” (Churchill and Moschis 1975). In long term period, this can lead to ‘cultivation effects’, that is images on television shapes viewers’ perception of social reality (Larson 1996, p.98). This is enabled by viewers’ attachment to characters they observe on a daily basis. The stronger this parasocially interaction, the more it is likely to become a source of behavioural modelling (Stern & Russell 2005, p.223). In contrast with Hayward’s idea, Stern and Russell claim that social function of soap opera have been over expected, because it has negative implications to less educated and less affluent soap audiences. To clarify their idea, the authors discuss recent study of 900 long term soap viewers who mostly perceive that “alcohol drinking looks attractive and is associated with success” (Diener 1993). Behavioural modelling also become concerns especially for adolescent girl soap viewers. The author mention a study of teenage girl soap viewers’ responses to images of single mothers, found that the girls tend to trivialise the parental role of single mom as hip and enjoyable without having to work hard.

Dorothy Hobson in her book, Soap Opera claims that those critics who perceive that soap opera viewers as vulnerable and likely to be fooled by the programmes have not done sufficient studies of the audience. Hobson supports what Brunsdon noted as ‘active audiences’. Those viewers consciously choose which aspects of the programmes that they interesting in and then “interpret the text according to their own experiences” (Hobson 2003, p.166). Soap operas are appealing to women audiences because the programmes portray problems as well as solutions that they can identify with. Viewers at home especially housewives are incorporating soap opera viewing as her daily routines and manage her domestic duties such as cooking and preparing for dinner in a way that enable them to watch prime time soap opera. In an interview she conducted to women viewers, Hobson finds that soap opera are interesting to them because of “the unpredictable events that happen within the serial”, unlike other genre such as news programmes that are most likely to show crimes (p.171). When something bad happens to soap opera characters, the dramatic effect that viewers feel is more likely as if it is happen to somebody they know. Draw from this findings, Hobson asserts that soap opera “carries the message more effectively than the same discourses exposed in a news programme” (p.172). Viewers also make judgement on how the characters should behave in certain circumstances, comparing with how they would react if those things happen to them in real life. Hobson asserts that “watching soap opera is not a passive process”, instead the pleasure of it comes from conversation with other people, sharing opinions and using it as a medium to discuss aspects of their own lives (p.175). According to interview conducted to working women in Britain, Hobson found that women are discussing soap opera within their workplace. This conversation of the narratives enables them to discuss personal matters without making anybody feels being intruded and humiliated. Hobson calls this as “bringing the private sphere into the public domain” (p.179). Conversation about soap opera performs as a medium to discuss personal problems among these working women. Hobson calls this as creating a ‘cultural space’ in the workplace (p.182).



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