Introduction to Popular Culture Studies

Growing Old Together

Posted by briannaembry on March 6, 2017

Normally, when I hear the term “soap operas,” I just think of the shows that hospitals turn on on the television in waiting rooms for background noise. The subject had never intrigued me. However, after reading Sam Ford’s essay, “Growing Old Together,” I feel like a different light has been shined on the subject of soaps and how they are set up to keep audiences intrigued, especially in regards to As the World Turns.

ATWT managed to run on the network from 1956-2010. Throughout this soap, the audience gets to see the birth of character Tom Hughes in 1961 to Lisa and Bob, who were basically the central characters within this soap. The birth of Tom was used basically to bring a new light to the marriage of Bob, the workaholic, and Lisa, who remain obsessed with social class. However, I found it interested how they made Tom’s character age very quickly, but in the continued reading, it is understandable. Tom’s character aged quickly in order to bring him into the plot more and deepen the engagement of the audience. To achieve this aging process, 13 different actors were used to portray Tom in ATWT. The audience got to see Tom’s character go through his own struggles and develop from them, keeping them intrigued. The use of Tom within a “Supercouple” with his lover Margo is an example of this soap giving the audience what they want between characters. The mix of love into the theme of soaps seems to be very common and heard about.

Audiences like the introduction of new drama into soap operas. The plot does not remain stagnant. ATWT seemed to fulfill this need through following the life of Tom and his struggles, the lives of Bob and Lisa, the surprise introduction of Tom’s grown daughter and the many events used to keep the audience on their toes. Although the plot of soap operas seem to be outrageously unrealistic in most ways, ATWT made their plot more relevant to viewers by including scenarios based on social issues of the time. Perhaps this added to the success of this soap for nearly half a century- this soap allowed viewer to watch these characters develop in a world like their own, that was constantly changing socially.



2 Responses to “Growing Old Together”

  1. kaufmansw said

    I initially thought of the same thing when I heard of soap operas because the only people I ever knew that watched them were very old. After watching one or two, I really liked the character to audience interaction.

  2. Sean Hull said

    Shine a light on ’em indeed, I never thought I’d see the day where soap opera became an interesting topic of study. From the sound of things I still wouldn’t want to watch them, but the concept of not only dynamic characters, but dynamic genre is fascinating, and it’s interesting to consider that the moral economy of soap opera viewers would allow for such radical changes. Sure, Soaps may change to accommodate new audiences, but the fact that they can retain older viewers outside of their target group shows a fair amount of acceptance of change.

    I wonder, is this indicative that producers play it too safe, and that the moral economies of TV audiences have more room for genre shifts than would be assumed, or is it instead a testament to the inertia of dedication possessed by Soap Opera viewers? Probably just the latter, as I can’t easily compare general TV audiences to a specific subset of that group.

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