Thursday, December 2, 2010

Essay on Soap Operas

Essay on Soap Operas

Most of the researchers started their work about gender in the soap operas in the 1980’s. That fact remains interesting, since the greatest explosion of number of the viewers took place in the 1970’s. Staring from the very first works in the 1940’s , soaps were mainly examined on their influence to the people. Many criticised them, for the lack of realism, bad influence, addictiveness, connotations of feminine passivity, laziness and vulgarity (Seiter 1994:388). That situation changed in the 1980’s when most of behaviours taken before for granted, became the subjects of work for sociologists. The soap opera phenomena, became impossible to ignore. Especially the question of why so many women enjoy them, became the interest.

Whetmore and Kielwasser noticed a paradox, analysing the opinions of the soap opera viewers. Most of them thought that reality of “Dallas”, “Dynasty” or “Bold and beautiful” is “silly” or “exaggerated”, but still in general opinions, they thought the soaps were “realistic”, “true to life” and “believable”. Another aspect of interest was the time the patience and tolerance of the viewers for boredom. Since some soaps became tapeworm-like long, it was impossible to avoid the repetitions of the storyline. Still according to Carveth and Alexander some viewers had been constantly watching for even sixteen years.



The research over women watching soap operas became more frequent just 20 years ago, since it became the object of interest of many feminist scientists. Basing on interviews with woman, soaps offer them “a relaxing space”, away form pressure and problems. Again paradox in soaps occurred, because most of them contain huge amount of tension, turning points, confrontations and resolutions, witch in a “real life” are considered to be just the opposite to relaxing. One of the interviewed women, when asked about attraction of soap operas, answered: “This is my time away from everybody else, this is my dreamland…you’d be surprised […] I wanna pull my hair out… this is my escape. It’s relaxing, I walk away and I’ve got a clear head again. I can deal with the rest of the problems that I’ve gotta deal with.”

The key to understand why are women attracted to soap operas is to understand how the process itself works. The plot of a soap is usually simple, main character, often woman, is almost definition of a common person, not too beautiful, but not ugly, not stupid, but not a genius. The main character struggles with the traumatic past, and love problems. Often, if the character is woman, she is either attracted to two men, or to one she can never be with. Various compilation of problems come along as the story unfolds. Again this point of view is generalization, some may find in soaps a deeper meanings, but nevertheless the key to understand it all are the relations between characters and mainly their feelings. Women more then men seem to get involved and identify themselves with one of the characters. The process is quite similar to the one in sports and men case. Men also identify themselves with the players of a football team, but not focusing on emotions, but rather strength.

As chauvinist as it may sound every viewer, depending on a gender, has a different role to seek for. This seeking identification process takes place in our subconscious level. It probably comes from a certain pattern given by the parents to their children. Men are thought to be strong, women are thought to be more emotional. The difference is that men are awarded for their masculinity, and female aren’t, they are expected to be emotional, and it seems more natural, as far as the society point of view goes, because they are the ones who care the most about the emotion of their children, and also other people in general.

More about the motivation for escaping into on-screen world, wrote Livingstone, describing it as a “emotional release”. Even though women seek for emotions in the soaps, there is a difference between what exactly they are looking for. Four general reasons were given: venting, truth, justice and romance.

Venting is a general term for all the different feelings that women let out through the soap opera viewing. As the research of Danielle Blumenthal shows the majority of them have a strong emotional reaction to something they have seen on the screen. Interesting part of it is that, although soaps offer the viewers the opportunity to take part on positive feelings such as good fortune of happiness, negative emotions provoked by the creators of these programs were more often mentioned by viewers. Soaps tend to base on the complex emotions from the viewers. This fact also enables woman to release the negative emotions, which because of the social status of women, they wouldn’t be able to suppress in everyday life.

Truth means that soaps allow women to watch character search for and find emotional truth in their lives, whether through realism or fantasy. On the soaps the characters are not only allowed, but even required to indulge their emotions, whether at the expense of rational action or not. Women want to “get in touch with” themselves, and by watching soap opera characters undergo processes of self-discovery, they are encouraged to seek emotional truth in their own lives.
Justice concerns the resolution of moral problems, which more often than not have to do with one character’s manipulation over another.

Bothe emotional truth and justice are linked in that characters are expected to pursue truth, but in a moral fashion, and if they cross the line, which often happens, viewers want “justice” to be served. Viewers preoccupation with issues related to evil-doing and punishment is linked to gender socialization. By watching soaps woman have a chance to be “bad”, and then punish themselves for it. They also know from the emotional experience how subtle and painful emotional warfare can be, but masculinized society is less sensitive to this type of aggression, then to the use of physical violence.

Romance refers to all issues connected with intimacy and sex which are generally apart in the soaps. Romantic storylines inevitably address the three factors previously discussed. As lovers fight, viewers vent, as couples decide if they really belong to each other. This problem takes the biggest part in the soaps, pairing up with a wrong partner is common, and creates not only interesting drama, but also important relation to the sympathy of the viewers. Soap operas as a woman-centred subversion of masculine society, portray a world in which romance is threaded throughout everyday life.

Dannielle Blumenthal gives interesting continuation of a research for emotional participation of women in soaps and television generally. She points out for example, that even though so popular talk shows also deal with human emotions, women don’t like to watch them as often as the soap operas. The reason for this lies in defining what kind of emotions those programs deal with. In case of soaps, it is a romance drama, where all the emotions serve to unfold the true and happy love story, whereas the talk shows, though may seem more realistic, deal with emotions such as anger, aggression, fear, hate, basing on two opposite sides which fight for all the time. Moreover the sense of objectivity is blurred, the narration of the soaps, seem to be passive towards the action, it is the viewers who judge who is wrong and who is wright. In the talk shows, everyone staring from the host, through audience, and on the guests finishing, have their own opinions, so it is not that easy to tell who is actually wright, bad or good. Blumenthal, the author of “Women and soap opera” states that masculinized emotion displays as a turnoff for the female viewers.

World of the soap operas may seem silly or even fake, but surely they has their fans. As sport’s entertainment for men, soap operas provide women with what they want, love, hate, friendship, romance, and a lot of other on-screen issues. The question of whether soaps are a positive or negative socially phenomena remain still unsolved. Early researchers tended to see in in more of a “Matrix” way, as a creator of alternative reality, which once taken the viewer, never lets go. But as research developed and more scientist built their work analysing of serials such as “Dallas” or “Bold and beautiful”, more facts were brought to into the daylight. It became obvious that gender plays a big part in soaps audience. The majority of the viewers are female. The reason for this, seems now quite simple, but it was a source of research for almost twenty years now. Daytime drama series in case of women are more or less equivalent of football games or boxing matches for men. The reason for this lies in our needs. Female watching soap operas fulfil their needs of emotions and dealing with them, whereas men watching a game and standing for a favourite team, become part of that team, their own substitute of heroes, just on a subconscious level. This thesis may seem a huge generalization, but still in most cases it remains true.

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