Soap Operas


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A starting point for students researching soap operas as a genre area

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Soap Operas

  1. 1. Soap Operas A potboiler of a topic!
  2. 2. Popular Culture… Many people have a problem taking Soap Operas seriously! The very fact that they are popular often categorises soaps as unworthy of study. Stephen Logan of Cambridge University suggested that ‘popularity that lasts…remains the most reliable criterion of artistic merit.’
  3. 3. Style <ul><li>Melodrama : Usually associated with US soap operas…good & evil tends to exist in extremes </li></ul><ul><li>Realism : Concerned mainly with social issues and associated with UK Soap Operas. (Note: You can mention your knowledge of naturalism from Boys from the Blackstuff ) </li></ul><ul><li>Suburbia : Australian soaps fluctuate between melodrama & realism. </li></ul>
  4. 4. The Institutional Context… <ul><li>Soap Operas are relatively inexpensive to produce </li></ul><ul><li>Sets and costumes are fixed </li></ul><ul><li>Soaps bring in huge advertising revenues for commercial networks such as ITV & C4. (Multi-national brands tend to want these prime time slots) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Soap Opera Narratives <ul><li>Soap operas are first and for mostly serials , whose conflicts are not resolved at the end of each episode, although cliff-hangers are still commonly employed! In East Enders, the actors talk of the last page in scripts as the ‘dum-dum, dum, doosh!’-the dramatic high point with which the programme ends. Some soaps employ the Block pot style, where one central story line is resolved but the series still remains a serial with many narratives not resolved. </li></ul><ul><li>Brown (1987)suggested that soaps have an infinite middle </li></ul><ul><li>Emotional complications & climaxes : The emotions of the characters are crucial in soaps. </li></ul><ul><li>Plot Expansion : A plot develops/extends over a long period of tike in soaps; often this can be over many years! </li></ul><ul><li>Rotating Plot Lines : Shifts from one set of characters to another…this is part of the serial structure. </li></ul>
  6. 6. Soap Opera Themes <ul><li>LOVE: From relationships come ambition, jealousy, happiness etc which can all be used in a soap plot. </li></ul><ul><li>CONFLICT: Always based on personal relationships rather than problems at work. The sphere of action in soaps is definitely based on the domestic setting. </li></ul><ul><li>SECRETS: The exchange of secrets sets up dramatic irony and conflict where the audience is invited to know more than the characters. (Uses & gratifications theory) </li></ul><ul><li>SKELETONS in the CUPBOARD: Stops the plot getting boring when new information surfaces about a character’s past! </li></ul>
  7. 7. Soap Opera Writing <ul><li>4 storyliners & 1 story editor who creates the plot over several episodes. </li></ul><ul><li>The story is then given to a team of freelance writers to write the script (10-12) </li></ul><ul><li>Finally, the script editor creates half-hour episodes from the script. The writers tend to work six weeks ahead of schedule. (Peter Pinne, Grundy Productions, Australia) </li></ul>
  8. 8. Soap Opera Characters <ul><li>‘ Some characters are slightly larger than life so that people will either love them or hate them .’ (Julia Smith, Creator of East Enders) </li></ul><ul><li>These tend to be stock types or stereotypical and enough characters to populate the rotating plotlines. Characters may change over time and this can be a pleasure for the viewing public. </li></ul><ul><li>The scheming villainess: Often presented as a victim… </li></ul><ul><li>The long suffering woman: Many viewers may identify with this character and regard her almost a a friend. (Hyper real: the media world is more real than the real world!) </li></ul><ul><li>The romantic hero: Single, handsome and available but often rebellious and appealing to a teenage audience. </li></ul><ul><li>The ruthless villain: attempts to ruin his rivals but is always punished in the end </li></ul>
  9. 9. Soap Settings… <ul><li>The setting is often referred to as a potboiler . The setting of the soap creates a sense of community, which an older audience likes to feel part of. (Acts as a surrogate family to the grey market) </li></ul><ul><li>The pub or café is a central meeting place in soaps which allows characters to gossip, speculate and interfere in each others business. </li></ul><ul><li>Private locations: the domestic setting is crucial. </li></ul><ul><li>The suburbs: Popular location in Aussie soaps which is removed even further from the world of work and securely within the domestic sphere. </li></ul><ul><li>The country town: this is used in some UK soaps such as Emmerdale , based in the north of England in Yorkshire. </li></ul><ul><li>Some critics have suggested that the distinction between ‘true soaps’ and drama series such as The Bill & Casulaty has started to blur over the years. </li></ul>
  10. 10. Representation… <ul><li>Many critics believe that soaps have been a force for change and have modified attitudes in certain real-life communities in the UK, this is perhaps as a result of the high levels of realism created in soaps. However, they rarely lead on social issues, preferring to aim for the middle ground by acting only after an issues has been mainstreamed, such as gay and lesbian characterisation. </li></ul><ul><li>Neighbours is criticised for being ‘…the Australian version of the American dream, owner occupied, White-Anglo Saxon-Protestant paradise.’ </li></ul><ul><li>Unrealistic minority characters: Minority characters often stand for the whole of their ethnic group. They cannot be either villains or heroes/heroines so they often take a wishy/washy middle ground which is unsatisfying for viewers. </li></ul>
  11. 11. Soap Audiences <ul><li>The stars of soaps tell hair-raising stories of fans who confuse them with their character. (The world of the hyper-real) </li></ul><ul><li>When the character Deidre was duped by her boyfriend and imprisoned for credit card fraud, a campaign was launched and included Tony Blair to have her freed. </li></ul><ul><li>80% of the viewers of soaps are women. </li></ul><ul><li>Critics have suggested that the elderly watch soaps for friendship and company. </li></ul><ul><li>The audience likes to engage with the issues of morality and ethics used to develop soap storylines. </li></ul>
  12. 12. Richard Kilborn- Using the Uses & Gratifications theory <ul><li>Remember that U & G is all about active viewers who look for pleasures to be gained from watching soap operas, in this example. Kilborn noted seven main gratifications (pleasures) from watching soaps: </li></ul><ul><li>Soap opera schedules provide a regular encounter for viewers </li></ul><ul><li>Sharing opinions provides social interaction </li></ul><ul><li>Soaps fulfill personal needs, like sexual gratification. </li></ul><ul><li>Audiences identify with the characters in soaps </li></ul><ul><li>Soaps provide escapism (especially the US soaps) </li></ul><ul><li>People learn from the programme </li></ul><ul><li>Watching a soap is like watching a game with its own rigid rule system. The audience likes to engage with this formula and guess outcomes of the narrative. </li></ul>