Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

The “UGH” Factor

Posted by fourfourteenam on March 2, 2008

At the risk of never ever having someone to watch a movie with again, I have a confession to make. I talk. I talk during commercials. I shriek when the murderer jumps out. And I definitely, most definitely say, “awww” when the couple that should get together does get together. So it was a really weird experience when every time I watched a soap and the sound, “UGH,” emerged from my mouth several times in a row. When Carly makes a ridiculously bad decision, when Casey decides to house a bunkmate from prison, or when Sophie makes a bad decision kidnapping the baby, the response is the same. It’s UGH! Forgive me for saying, but this rarely ever happens when I’m watching other television shows like “House” or “The X-files” and it doesn’t even happen when I watch unrealistic shows like “Walker Texas Ranger.” Okay, THAT might be because I’m from Texas…. But, why is it that the “UGH” factor is so high in soaps? So after some thought, I came up a couple of possibilities.


One of them is that in the soap opera universe, there are characters that are intelligent… but that is unfortunately something most of the characters in the soap they aren’t blessed with… and there are certain characters that always seem to be in sticky situations and always manage to make the situation worse. So this could be the reason I have to bury my head and restrain myself from watching once or twice every episode.


Another possibility is that the foreshadowing in soap operas is done in a way that the audience knows what should be done and shouldn’t be done, which can also add considerable frustration. Since the audience is able to access all the character’s and their thoughts, we’re always ahead of the game. The constant use of dramatic irony can really promote the “UGH” factor more.


The other possibility I could think of was the fact the fact that soap operas to attempt to act things out in real-time. So when characters do proceed to make a dumb mistakes, they tend to drag this mistake out. In other television shows, a lapse in judgement happens fairly quickly, whereas in soaps, you are able to see the character pondering, planning, talking to others about their problems and then carrying out their plans. This can last up to several episodes long making you impatient and increasing the “UGH” factor.


The only possible reason I can think of writers doing this is that they are pulling a romantic comedy card, where you know what and who will get together, but continue to watch just to see the steps in between. I realize that the soap opera audience is also the same audience that would enjoy soap operas, but is this the only possibility? What do you think? Is this a logical explanation for the “UGH” factor?


4 Responses to “The “UGH” Factor”

  1. Nick S. said

    I’d add that in a film, we’re not as familiar with the characters as we are with soap opera characters. The same is true of some prime-time shows. Of the shows you cite, I’m familiar with House and The X-Files – certainly the protagonists in both shows have a degree of mystery around them that soap opera protagonists don’t. We ‘ugh’ because we’ve seen what happens to these characters before – versus a film, where we’re far less familiar or attached (in terms of time, rather than emotion).

    Just a thought…I tried fleshing this theory out, and it fell apart, but I figured I’m chime in.

  2. jenn said

    As Nick somewhat mentions, in a soap opera, we viewers are more attached to the characters. Becoming more attached, we not only start to predict what is happening next, but we also have hopes for what is going to happen next with the characters we most identify with. So, while we might be trying to like Lily, we can’t help but exclaim “ugh!” when she does something stupid, like agree to let Carly use her jet, or not going to the police when Lucinda was held hostage.

    Because we’re not seeing every part of characters’ lives in primetime or in movies, we don’t necessarily have to see those “ugh” moments, as you mention, because we don’t see the decisions being made – we just see the after affect. We wouldn’t have seen Carly planning on getting on a plane and getting out of the country – we would have just seen her when she got on the plane itself. When she almost gets away with it, we can’t help but “ugh” at the stupidity of it all.

    Because there are so many characters, it’s okay for us to think that some of them are stupid or annoying. We can choose other characters to like or to root for. But in primetime/movies, there are just a few characters that you need to identify with, and writers generally don’t want those characters to be seen as “stupid” because then they wont be liked as much.

  3. ernestalba said

    It seems like, in soaps, what is important is the relationship of characters to one another. So, even though a scene may be cringe-inducingly illogical, it is still made in order to establish or remind us that a certain relationship between two people exists. In the current iteration of ATWT, for example, Carly doesn’t like Katie, so no matter how irrational it is for her to blame Katie for calling Jack, we are still really only left with the great understanding that, okay, Carly still doesn’t like Katie.

  4. samford said

    I am assuming that you mean that the soap opera audience is likely also an audience that would enjoy romantic comedy? Regardless, Katharine, I think soaps have also had a high degree of this “ugh” factor, and I think a lot of it does have to do with the positioning of the viewer. First, because soaps do not primarily follow a central character, we usually have the chance of seeing events develop from all sides, which means we stand the greatest chance in this genre of being aware when other events are taking place to conspire against a character’s plans. Because we are not framed through a central character, we are equally privy to the thoughts and emotional states of a variety of characters and thus stand a greater chance of knowing when something will be a failure, whether it is Brad’s attempt to woo Katie or Carly’s belef that Sam isn’t dangerous.

    This isn’t quite the same reaction one gets during a slasher film, though, primarily because you come to know these characters and, while you have little emotional investment when Jason or Michael kills their victim, you often do cringe when you see particularly self-destructive characters like Carly make decisions that you know will blow up in their face.

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