Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Archive for March, 2008

Examining Camera Technique: Part Two

Posted by ernestalba on March 31, 2008

Let us first list the camera techniques through which soap operas deliver their stories to their audiences. According to Timberg:

  1. use of close-ups and extreme close-ups (i.e. an “intense, intimate camera style”)
  2. eye-level camera angle (versus low or high shot angles)
  3. z-axis alignment (one character in the foreground and another in the background)
  4. slow truck-ins or pan-in of the camera
  5. fades and dissolves at scene’s end
  6. stylized expressions of pity, jealousy, rage, self-doubt
  7. transitions that indicate connectivity between situations or people (e.g. troubled expression of one individual in one situation transitions into troubled expression of another individual in a similar troubling situation)
  8. a dance-like camera choreography that constantly shifts point of view and follows characters around during the discussion of an important issue

The truck-in, close-ups, and shifts of viewpoint guide the audience through the web of lies and half-truths in the words of the characters and allow them to empathize with some of the characters and alienate other characters at the same time. The pullback and the dissolve allow the viewer to critically examine the drama that just unfolded.

Now let us use this new knowledge of these techniques to examine a scene from ATWT. Read the rest of this entry »


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Lily Lily Lily.

Posted by jenn on March 30, 2008

I was doing a little surfing on soapcentral last week, and came across an article regarding the real reason Martha Byrne is leaving ATWT. I found it quite interesting, and thought I would share a few tidbits with you all.
Continue reading behind link

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Drawing the Obvious

Posted by Nick S. on March 27, 2008

The problem with fan studies is that it just dates so quickly. Christine Scodari writes about the politics of soaps in her piece “No Politics Here”, part of a reader published in 2003…which doesn’t seem like so long ago, except already it’s terribly, terribly dated (although not as much as Tune In, Log On, a copy of which I picked up from the library to glance through before the reading was due.There’s a valid argument to be made that this doesn’t really matter. As ethnographic studies, they’re both worthwhile texts – and, after all, that’s both what they intend to be. Tune In, Log On is actually a good read. It’s unfortunate the same couldn’t be said for “No Politics Here”, which comes to the ultimately confusing conclusion that “the cyberfan community appears to be no exception” to the rule that “there are no politics in the soap opera community”.

The examples Scodari uses are often deeply flawed – those wishing to discuss feminism and soaps being told “if you want to post something political go to a political folder” on an AOL board isn’t really an example of the mutually exclusive nature of politics and soap opera at all – on the contrary, it’s simply another user attempting to enforce his/her own convictions upon others…there’s a case here of reading too much into what really isn’t there.Fast forwarding a decade or so, we come to what’s going on right here and now on the message boards. Clearly both USENET and AOL died something of a death, but the basic board structure remains almost identical.

I think anyone visiting the official site message boards (with a surprising lack of moderation) would be hard pressed to say that politics and soap opera fandom are incompatible (try the “Young Love” section for some fairly fiery comments…we’ve had a bit of a lull recently, but track back a few months for some good flame wars).Just to be clear – soap opera itself and politics are – potentially – incompatible (aside from Ameera, who makes me just want to jump up and scream every-time I hear the line “In my country…”), but it’s naive to suggest that the fandom and politics are also separate when talking about message boards.

At the time when this was first suggested, this was (IMO) a fairly reasonable thing to assume, particularly because fan communities were generally lacking in the real-time social networking we take for granted today. Even today, it’s fairly conceivable that the networks themselves – on Livejournal, Facebook, Myspace, whatever – constructed around soap operas are also apathetic, but that’s only because people with similar views concentrate themselves around the same networks.

However, when it comes to the types of free-form discussion found online – particularly un- or little-moderated discussion – I think it’s reasonable to suggest that the usual suspects come into play. I just find it hard to accept that somehow, on the whole on the internet, soap operas provide this magical island where people simply don’t bicker about politic, or bring their own beliefs into their discussions about the shows.

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Poverty and the Soap

Posted by Nick S. on March 26, 2008

It’s interesting that money appears to be a concern for nobody in ATWT, and soaps in general. Sure, it comes up in conversation from time to time – Henry not being able to pay his hotel bill – but only ever as one off scenes, never as a long running story-line (a few episodes later, Henry seems to be back at the bar again, and he never seems to run out of sharp suits). This is also interesting, because nobody seems to do any work either. Quite how Noah is paying tuition when he doesn’t have a job is a mystery. It does help that everybody seems to be invested in a seemingly infinite number of properties and deals (Lily co-owning WOAK, for example), but it still doesn’t address the underlying problem that nobody in the show appears to suffer from abject poverty – at least, nobody who’s a main contracted character. Read the rest of this entry »

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Why So Musical?

Posted by fourfourteenam on March 26, 2008

In most movies and television shows, there are rarely musical moments.  Sure, every once in a while you watch an episode with a famous band debuting a new song, but in most shows most of the main characters are not musically talented… like Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”… unless they’re casted that way.  And if they are not casted for musical talent, they are rarely given the opportunity to showcase those talents even if those actors do have those talents.


So imagine my surprise when I kept on seeing soap actors singing and showcasing their musical talents on tv.  Remember Gwen and her singing at the night club in the Valentine’s Day episode?  Well, incidents like that happen a lot more often in soap operas than normal television shows.


I’m not saying that celebrities should be musical when they’re not, and everyone sighs and shakes their head when not-so-talented celebrities decide to try singing careers… Paris Hilton anyone?  


Many soap opera actors are extremely talented musicians and were actually Broadway actors before they were in soap operas.  Another interesting aspect is that soap operas that film in New York actually recruit talent straight from Broadway.  Many soaps like “One Life to Live” have many actors that still work on Broadway or start working on Broadway after they’re casted.


Also many soap operas like “All My Children” actually do Broadway fundraisers for different causes like HIV awareness and treatment.  Many of the actors in the soap opera take part in a themed show like the Lion King and any of the proceeds from the tickets sold are given to charity.  Since most of the actors were originally from Broadway and classically trained, it is not difficult for them to perform live in front of an audience.


Now that I think about it, I can definitely see how recruiting from Broadway is a very good idea for soap operas.  Since soaps are shot on a tighter schedule, it would make sense to find actors that are used to acting in front of a live audience, so they can get things done on the first try.  Also, a lot of the soap operas require a lot of dramatic acting.  Since much of the acting on the stage in Broadway is dramatic for effect, this skill can be translated into soaps.


Broadway seems like a great place to recruit talent, and it’s always interesting to see how these two industries are so closely tied.

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I am a soaps fan.

Posted by laura47 on March 25, 2008

The other day I was standing in a supermarket check out line in Berkeley, California, with some friends I am visiting for spring break. I saw a copy of Soap Opera Digest, and I picked it up and flipped to the As The World Turns content. I gasped, I cried out “[elided] is related to [redacted]?? [elided2] is leaving?!? What about [plot line]!”

I was indistinguishable from a soaps fan. Does that make me a soaps fan? I think it might. Of course I had to start defending soaps to this set of friends, but it was easy this time, the conversation quickly shifted to whether we were studying telenovellas, and what theories I could offer about why soaps are popular. I knew that by picking up that magazine, and commenting on it aloud, I was outing myself as a soaps viewer. I knew what social stigma could be attached to me for doing this. Oh, I could hide behind some academic pretense, I could say “I’m not a fan, I just study it”, but I don’t need to. I enjoy “As The World Turns”, and I am not ashamed of it. Let people judge me as they will. (Of course, I am a member of some stigmatized subcultures, and I don’t care very much how mainstream society judges me, so this is perhaps not a very significant statement coming from me.)

I was afraid this would happen. Before this class started, I warned my friends that I might come out of this class a soaps fan and keep watching ATWT. Mostly they made jokes, though my best friend confided that she feared she would be a soap addict if she is ever a stay-at-home mother. I knew that I was “at risk”, because soaps are full of things I love! I love melodrama and love triangles, I love “networks of relationships” and  “domestic concerns”, two of the conventions of daytime television identified by Harrington and Bielby as particularly feminine. To out myself further, this time as a huge geek, one could have predicted my potential predilection towards soaps from the live action roleplaying games I have written, which have featured, among many other things:

* Sham marriages to hide homosexuality
* Custody battles followed by parental kidnapping followed by the child being told one parent was dead, only to have them show up years later
* Love triangles
* Miserable marriages
* Murder that could perhaps be blamed on miserable marriages
* Severely dysfunctional homes
* Lies, Lies, Lies
* Adultery
* Seduction as part of complicated plots

Often my cowriters have been responsible for the “big plots”, the ones that involve saving/destroying/controlling the world, while I have been more focused on the “personal plots”, the “rich inner life”, the “interior world” as Harrington and Bielby quote Allen 1985. (Now you should quote me and cite everyone, it’ll be great.) I am well-known in my circles for writing complicated romantic and family angst.

I have been collecting ideas from ATWT  with the idea of  writing a parody LARP based off of soaps, but as I think about it, would it really be that different from what I already write? I would be doing what soaps already do, taking all the interesting things that happen in real life and just… upping the concentration.

I would love to get some of my friends hooked on ATWT, though it seems unlikely. I love gossip, and as one of our readings pointed out, gossiping about fictional characters allows one to indulge in the pleasures of gossip without the danger of hurting people’s feelings. I love ‘gossiping’ about fictional characters, about who Kate should be with on “Lost”, or the soaps-level-ridiculous angst on Battlestar Gallatica, or every delicious second of “Friday Night Lights”, and everything else that happens on the shows my friends watch. ATWT provides so much more content to obsess over, but I know it would be hard to get my friends into it. For one, it’s a lot of hours of television, and my friends and I are very busy. I suspect if I had taken this class in the fall, there is a good chance I would have fallen out of watching ATWT during the chaos of spring term. As it is, I probably will have time to spend watching it during the summer, and come fall term I suspect I will be addicted enough to make time during term. Damn you, Sam Ford! I have enough fandoms as it is!

To be accurate, I don’t think I will get heavily involved with ATWT fandom, just watching the show. This is not because I have anything against fandom: fandom was important part of my adolescence, and I love and respect fandom. The primary issue, I think, is time and effort. It is easier to just discuss shows with my friends who watch them than to seek out an online fandom– I know because I have done it. In the last few months, I actively sought out new livejournal friends who were fans of “Torchwood”, the BBC Doctor Who spin-off. My needs were not complex: I just wanted some fellow fangirls to swoon and squee and babble with. As it turns out, I got one of my housemates seriously addicted and started (mostly) weekly showings at my house, but I still added several personal livejournals and communities to my friends’ list, and have become a part of Torchwood fandom.

I have been sitting here for awhile trying to organize my thoughts on my other reasons for not seeing myself as part of ATWT fandom, and I find myself full of doubt about what my real reasons are. To resolve this doubt, I am going to try an experiment: I am going to investigate ATWT fandom on livejournal, as best I can while trying to not spoil myself. (Yes, this would all be much easier if I didn’t mind spoilers, but I seem to have decided i don’t like spoilers for ATWT. I might try skipping the weekly showing and instead staying up to date by watching the show every day so I can stay current with discussion, if Sam is okay with that.) Hopefully,  this will help me see if my reasons are specific to the media domain community or not. I shall report back!  For reference, I am watching the following livejournal communities:  addictedtoatwt.livejournal.com, cbssoapfun.livejournal.com, van_daily.livejournal.com, and luke_noah.livejournal.com

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Where Do Your Loyalties Lie?

Posted by fourfourteenam on March 24, 2008


When Katie finally decided to reveal her true feelings for Jack, we all saw it coming, even the not-so-bright Brad did.  We saw Carly’s concern for Jack in the episode where he was shot and how she stayed by his bedside and cared for him.  We saw the scene when Carly asked Jack to spend the night with her after the Cowboy Jack scare.  We even gasped when Carly told the paramedic that Jack was her husband and he was taken in the ambulance.  We also knew that Katie still had feelings for Jack.  Even though the $100,000 and her help could have been to “help” Parker, most people believe there is another factor that is contributing to her motivation. 


But the whole situation did pose an interesting question.  Where do your loyalties lie?


In the reading about super couples, a super couple is a couple with undeniable chemistry that is only split up by outside forces.  So if the writers have not yet made the couples into super couples, each viewer has the ability to determine which characters have chemistry.


So what demonstrates chemistry and compatibility?  


Although this is starting to sound like a match.com ad, here are the rules that I think about when I try and picture couples together.  


1) My favorite House-ism: “Sevens marry sevens, nines marry nines and four marry fours.  Maybe there’s some wiggle room if there’s enough money or someone got pregnant.” 

2)  The more difficulties people have to go through to get together the better.  If their parents don’t approve… if the character’s sister also has a crush on the guy, or if the guy is just a bad boy that needs to be reformed… the better.  The harder is is for the couple to get together, the more viewers want the couple to stay together.  Whereas, if the couple hasn’t really faced any obstacles, it would be the viewers are generally less attached to them as a unit.

3) If the couple has gone through difficulties/ adventures together outside of their relationship, this makes the relationship more legitimate because more of that character is exposed to the other.

4) If the characters manage to complete each other and their character flaws tend to complement each other, I tend to be more receptive to them being a couple.  This tends to create good television if one of them “checks” the other.


According to these rules, I personally would prefer to see Carly and Jack together, especially after this whole helping Parker fiasco.  Plus, it would just be better television since Carly is such a schemer and Jack is such a straight-edged guy.  I might be a little biased because I started watching ATWT right as the Parker incident was unfolding and haven’t seen Katie and Jack interact much.  What do you think?

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Social Networks in Soaps.

Posted by fourfourteenam on March 22, 2008

IIn last week’s episode, after Katie had the surprisingly promising conversation with Jack, she seemed to have some trouble finding the support and comfort she needed.  Everyone was busy dealing with their own problems: Jack was busy dealing with Parker, Henry was too busy rekindling his love with Vienna, Brad was too busy “moving on” with Bonnie, and Margo had the whole Grey situation to deal with.  She just couldn’t find someone… anyone to talk to.  


This just reminded me of the Rittenhouse paper when he brings up an important aspect of soap operas.  He claims that soap operas seem to really emphasize the importance of immediate family, and how each family members are able to depend on each other.  Even though soap operas are intended to mirror social interactions in real life, most of the times these social interactions are exaggerated to provide a sense of “closeness” that binds all the characters together.


Now, in the whole soap opera universe, this is extremely weird.  When all the characters seem to know each other and share pasts, it seems like someone is always out to get you, but someone is also always there to listen, someone is always there to support and care for you too.  There might be rivalries and deep-rooted hatred, but for most characters, there is also usually a very strong support system in place.  So when is good, it’s a lot better than good by reality’s standards… and when its bad you get blown up in a car bomb or something to that effect.


From last minute kid-sitting like Will an Gwen taking the kids while Carly and Jack are at the hospital, or Lily arranging a private jet for Carly and Parker, or Brad and Katie helping Henry and Vienna work through their problems, everyone seems to support and care for one another.  Certainly, in reality friends and family are there support each other through difficult times, but soaps opera characters do seem to be there for each other and have closer relationships than people in reality.  


As a matter of fact, recent studies suggest that even though people have been expanding their social networks, the number of people an individual is “close with” has been dwindling.  The statistic is that each person has only 1-2 people they are willing to share their most intimate problems with.  Now take that depressingly low number and compare that with the support system most characters have in soaps.  It’s quite a huge difference.


In soaps, most characters hide secrets from each other… from Emily’s past to Barbara’s cancer, to Henry’s true feelings for Vienn,a to Matt’s relationship with Grey.  The writers use this simple fact to make the situation take a turn for the worse when characters think that they can “handle” the situation and continue to hide their secrets and feelings from one another.  So imagine my shock when Katie was ready to “talk” and no one wanted to listen.  It seemed like for once a soap opera character was having a “normal” bad day: no murders, no threats, no huge love crisis, just a simple day when nothing was going her way.

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March Madness

Posted by jenn on March 22, 2008

This weekend kicks off the start of Spring Break here at MIT, and also coincides with Easter, which, if not celebrated by most out there, at least provides an excuse for people to gorge themselves with bunny-shaped chocolate. So while, for some, this weekend might be a busy time, with lots of things to do before vacation or family visits, I personally am enjoying the chance to relax for a week. Thus… I’m a bit disappointed that there aren’t a ton of ATWT episodes from this week for me to watch as I laze about.

Continue reading beyond link

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Camera Technique in selected scenes from ATWT: Part one

Posted by ernestalba on March 19, 2008

Henry and Brad drinkingbrad drinkinghenry drinking

Scene: Henry and Brad drinking at the bar

In this scene where Brad tries to convince Henry to not see Vienna at the church, we have three basic shots. The first shot (above left) is a mid-shot over Brad’s shoulder in which we see both men in turmoil over their lost loves. At the beginning, the focus of the dialogue is on Brad, as he tries to help Henry cope with his loss of Vienna. He feels as if he has a certain wisdom about women that Henry doesn’t have yet because he just went through a similar situation with Katie. The second shot (above middle), a close-up of Brad over Henry’s shoulder establishes this dynamic. As it turns out, all shots of Henry before the arrival of “Vienna’s” letter are the mid-shot over Brad’s shoulder. When the letter arrives, the focus of the conversation shifts more to Henry. Thus, we see a new third shot (above right) that is a close-up shot above Brad’s shoulder.

barbara and kimbarbara

Scene: Barbara and Kim talk over drinks

This scene is fairly simple, directorially. Two shots are used in this scene, in its entirety. The establishing shot (above left) includes both women . Because this entire scene is about Barbara’s cancer, the close-up shot (above right) is reserved for her. What is most interesting about this scene is the cinematography. One immediately notices the contrast between the green and the pink suits the women are wearing. The flower in the lower left corner and in the upper right corner add to the explosion of color on the screen, and the clear water and empty brown space on the upper left serve to balance out the otherwise almost obtrusive bright color of the other quadrants of the screen.

brad and katie news centerbrad katie and carly news centerstunning brad katie and carly

diane sawyersome dudegood morning america

Scene: Brad, Katie, and Carly put out another ad for catching Sam’s killer

As Timberg mentions, news programs have a set of camera conventions that is very different from the ones used by soaps. As is evidenced here, soaps infuse their “news” shots with soap conventions. The dress is not all that formal here. The postures are slouched or askew. Sentence structure is more conversational than formal. Certainly the rhythm of their voice does not have the rhythm of a news reporter (Brad’s drunk, so he can be forgiven). Certainly, emotion is visible in the characters, especially when Carly barges in on the scene. Finally, the camera maintains an intimacy not typical of television news shows. Compare the shots above to the shots below from Good Morning America. In the close ups for news programs, there is a lot of empty space around the character. In soaps, there isn’t. They fill the screen with their emotion. In the middle or long shots, news programs include the whole body. In ATWT, the long shot is as close as it can be without losing the long shot aspect.

On a final note, look at the color scheme for the final shot of each set of pictures. In the Good morning America picture, Diane and perhaps the middle person match with the background. The man on the far right doesn’t. However, Katie, Brad, and Carly all match perfectly with one another and with the scenery. That’s good costume design/cinematography right there.

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