Legitimizing the Soap Opera
Posted by fourfourteenam on April 11, 2008
I’ve been working on the following post for a while, trying to approach the subject in such a way that 1) wouldn’t ruffle too many feathers and 2) wouldn’t trivialize some of the readings we’ve done so far in the school year.
During class on Wednesday, I realized that a great portion of the reading in the class has been dedicated to try and rationalize soap opera watching habits. Many reasons have been given, from “soap opera watching is completely addictive,” to soap operas are more socially advanced, to soap operas put focus on strong family structures…
This reminded me of the Rapping paper on “Daytime Utopias” where she mentions using soap operas to teach her children important moral lessons and the right way to react in certain social situations. The example that was given was the situation where Philip in Guiding Light tried to use violence to solve his problems when he discovered that his girlfriend Lillian’s stepfather was sexually abusing her. She says that this was a really important lesson that she wanted her children to learn.
I understand that much can be learned from this situation, however, I cannot quite understand the constant need for people who watch soap operas to try and legitimize their soap opera watching habit. The readings have included interviews from Professors from leading universities and people from what the average person would consider a “smart” profession (doctors, lawyers, etc.) to try and rationalize watching soap operas. While, yes, soap operas at one point in time were politically ahead of their time… and lessons can potentially be taken away from the story lines… many of these articles seem to be overcompensating.
I probably can’t speak for soap operas in the past, but from my limited experience watching ATWT, I’m having a little trouble seeing “progressiveness” of the soap opera. Sure, the Noah and Luke story line is controversial, but progressive does not equal controversial. If I watched soap operas for the sake of “progressiveness” I would be extremely disappointed. And controversial? Anyone can do controversial. Take a look at SVU that comes on 24 hours a day on USA. Every episode has a rape and every episode has details that would make anyone’s skin crawl. Take a look at every single crime drama. I cannot even think of one that hasn’t used a terrorist story line. Maybe it’s taking a lot more to be truly controversial in media today… and by controversial I mean disgusting. I guess it takes planting fake bomb packages all over Boston or filming Two Girls One Cup to get buzz. But I digress.
So what exactly do we learn from soap operas that we cannot possibly learn from anything else. As we mentioned before, from watching ATWT, no character is perfect. There isn’t a character in the show that is truly morally unquestionable or a character that is always the “good guy.” There are certainly no Chuck Norrises or Jack Bauers in ATWT. There are shows out there that have these morally straight and narrow characters, who always do the right thing in the most complicated and desperate of situations or family sitcoms where families endure and go through difficulties together… and I’m almost certain more morally upright lessons can be learned from those than soap operas.
Furthermore, if soap operas truly are addictive and there is a stigma that exists, then why do we put so much weight in what these writers say? Wouldn’t it be similar to asking a drug addict to try and rationalize his addiction? Maybe for soap opera fanatics that really and truly immerse themselves in the soap opera culture and fandom, they feel a need to justify why they are so into soap operas beyond the fact that they’re fun to watch. For the soap opera fans that define themselves solely by the soap operas they watch or the characters they love, it is only natural for them to try and find deeper meanings in soap operas.
I’m not saying that there is not deeper and complex themes in soap operas; I’m just suggesting that the fact that most of the authors are so focused in legitimatizing soap operas or trying to explain soap fans they disregard the most obvious fact. Soaps are REALLY fun to watch. They satisfy your voyeuristic desires; they make you laugh; they make you cry. And no matter how many people try to spin it, people watch soaps because it’s entertaining… not because there are valuable lessons to be learned and not because of strong family ties or because of the progressive nature of soaps.
I personally believe that the books I read and the television shows that I watch are a very limited aspect of who I am. I would be hard-pressed if I had to explain my choice in television shows. I enjoy watching roadrunner cartoons before I go to bed… I don’t think that is has anything to do with the fact that there are deep moral issues that are addressed… even if you could potentially say that you’re being taught not to eat others or else you’ll fall down a cliff. I wouldn’t want for others to think that I have some vendetta against coyotes either. I realize that there is a soap opera stigma out there. I realize that most people aren’t shy about expressing their opinions about them either… but do we REALLY have to try so hard legitimize soap operas and do we really have to have all of these reasons to find soap operas enjoyable? At what point are we overcompensating and at what point do we just say, “I don’t believe I have to legitimize or rationalize my personal preference to you.”