Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Is it really all that bad?

Posted by Nick S. on February 19, 2008

Apparently so – “I’ve watched it for 25 years and I’m heartsick about it”, writes one poster on the As The World Turns Media Domain forum. “The show is all about plots”, writes another, bemoaning the lack of focus on characterisation (I would be interested to find out what the same person thought about the Valentine’s Day special). In a 1974 book called “TV: The Most Popular Art”, the author (now teaching at the University of Georgia) gives three plots that are a pattern of soaps, repeated ‘again and again’:

  1. Women who give up their children for adoption begin to search for them
  2. Good men go about their business, only to have it confounded by their scheming partners
  3. Pattern of accidental death followed by trial for murder

If we look at the three main stories from last week’s As The World Turns, we find:

  1. Sophie kidnapping her child from her adoptive parents
  2. Chris discovering his research partner to be Dusty’s murderer
  3. Sam being shot and killed, with the presumption of Parker as the murderer despite his motives and/or innocence
So I wonder – has ATWT really changed all that much, in terms of story? Certainly, the soap is moving at a much faster pace, but the same is true of the actual plots going on? I’m not so sure. Either way, I enjoyed my first week of the show, and am looking forward to next week’s (or rather, last week’s). A brief thought for my first blog post.

4 Responses to “Is it really all that bad?”

  1. ernestalba said

    Stereotyped stories come with the territory of daytime soaps. As you’ve shown, nothing has changed about that. Is it harder to glean character information from the dialogue spoken during these stories? If one is just looking at these three stories from last week, one might be able to make that argument. Sophie actually speaks very little and does very little outside of clutching that “baby” for most of the show. It is only at the end, suddenly, that she has a change of heart, though we know little about the thought process that made her do it. We all know how inane Chris’s partner Evan’s chatting is. There’s not much character to glean from his statements. Sam might be the exception. His motivation for assaulting Carly is clear; I don’t know what more they could do to develop that part of his character.

  2. jenn said

    I don’t think that fans really want things to change. If such dramatic storylines didn’t happen, what would the soap opera be about? What would make the fans keep watching? You need to see if Sophie is going to be successful at stealing her baby back. Chris being accused of the murders that Evan was committing…it’s harder to talk about, since we came into that storyline after it had begun, but I feel like that provided the opportunity for Chris-fans to worry and anti-Chris-fans to hope for his guilt. It brings a whole “who is the killer?” aspect to the show. As for Sam and Parker…I haven’t seen this week’s episodes yet, but I had had my money on the shooter actually being Sam’s girlfriend. I spose I’ll have to reserve my comments on that until it actually happens.

    I really don’t think it needs to change – especially since as we’re new to the show, I’m still highly entertained by it all.

  3. ernestalba said

    It’s not about dramatic storylines at all. It’s about character development. Characters can be developed in much less dramatic ways than a kidnapping or a hostage crisis. In fact, I’d say it is detrimental – it draws focus away from how these people feel and towards the setting and the context. This is why these people, in fact, developed so little as characters (see my original comment). With so much focus on having to give them actions to do – Evan with the needle trying to stab everyone, and Sophie wandering around NYC – they aren’t given a chance to develop as characters. Chris can’t honestly confront Evan because now everything he says is geared towards saving a woman’s life. I don’t want to begin discussing the disaster that is Sophie’s romp in NY. We know she’s A) crazy about her kid and B) crazy. Everything she says and does in NY only reinforces that over and over, from running away from every trustworthy person she meets to losing her purse to refusing to take her child to ahospital or the police after realizing she has no food and the child is burning up.

  4. samford said

    And here we have a conflict in class opinion that is actually at the heart of soap opera fandom. Are soaps about continuous drama or are they character-driven? The answer is inevitably some of both, that no one wants nothing to happen but also that no one would watch if it weren’t for compelling characters and actors that you can watch develop for years, but what is the right measure of these two ingredients? I’ll admit my bias up-front, that I’m a character person, and that I care much more about the WHO than the what on soaps. I realize that not everyone feels the same way, but a good number of longtime soap fans complain because their primary concerns are character continuity and, as I point out in the essay on Tom Hughes, on re-action rather than action.

    I agree with Nick’s original post and some of the responses pointing out that soaps have always been plot-driven, and some of those plots don’t particularly fall in the realm of the “realistic.” In fact, some of the MD posters have posed the question more than once as to what their earlier days of soaps viewing would have been like if there had been a board to share their complaints on a mass scale with one another. I’d venture to say further that part of soaps viewing pleasure is seeing both the potential, and the impossibility of continuously reaching the full potential, of what these shows COULD do. There are always disappointments, always plenty of debate and negotiation about what should and shouldn’t happen, etc.

    On the other hand, I do feel that Ernest is right in that soaps often get so caught up in plot that they don’t take advantage to the power of re-action on these shows. Constantly having big catastrophic moments gives us little time to really get to know characters, and it may make characters like Sophie less easy to identify with because we don’t really know them like Lucinda, Barbara, Tom and Margo, or others we’ve seen for years. Perhaps even Brad is good example of this. They brought him onto the show and cleverly never even had him involved in a serious romantic entanglement for a long time, so that he was a well-developed character before we ever saw him at the centerpiece of a plot. They built for his relationship with Katie from the very beginning, but we have gotten to know this latest version of Brad (and how he’s changed when he was portrayed by a different actor back in the 1990s) fairly well by this point, so that we actually care what happens to him, in theory anyway.

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