Sharon Mitchell

The Cambridge dictionary defines a soap opera as ‘ a series of television or radio programmes about the lives and problems of a particular group of characters’. Soap operas originated from American radio and have been revolutionised of the last half century to become one of the worlds leading television genres. Thirty years ago, the normative view on soaps was that they were merely ‘chewing gum for the eyes’ (Kilborn), however today, people are allured to their TV sets like Sir John Benjamin who openly stated ‘Mondays and Wednesdays, I live for then. Thank god, half past seven tonight and I will be in paradise.

Today, the most common soap operas in Britain are Eastenders, Coronation Street and Emmerdale farm. It is these soaps that posses characteristics that have revolutionised viewing habits of media consumers and it is my objective during this assignment to identify the cause of their appeal. All soaps have codes and conventions which give them their identity, such as their regularity, interwoven narratives, concern with every day activities and famously their cliff hangers. These are some of the basic reasons why soaps are so popular, never the less there are many more.

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The predominant factor that makes soaps so popular in my opinion is their use of verisimilitude. This is evident from the issues for which they represent . The three most popular British soaps(identified earlier) base their stories on the issues associated with the lives of working class people who make up a large proportion of the UK population. By doing this they are appealing to a wide audience who can associate with the issues for which they are representing. The types of storylines used by soaps can be segmented into three, in order to highlight the issues dealt with within them.

Firstly producers use ‘rites de passage’ issues such as birth , death, marriage and coming of age. Secondly ‘issues’ which include age problems, poverty, young parenthood etc, and thirdly ‘Dramatic Short Term issues’ such as court cases , murders and sieges. The above are soap variables which can be manipulated accordingly to change the direction of soap narrative. Brown believes that soap operas use time, segmentation and lack of closure to give its audience a sense of continuous pleasure. Soaps commonly associate with the day on which they are broadcasting e. g.

on Wednesday they say its Wednesday , hence creating a sense of reality for the viewers who perceive the events as being realistic when they watch them. One of the main techniques used by soap producers is their use of interwoven narratives. They often during one episode focus on several issues that allow the viewer to make judgements and predications on what will happen next? For example, Last nights broadcast of coronation street focused on the disappearance of Linda, the dev and Gina engagement, the problems faced with Janice and Lez’s marriage, the break-up of Tyrone and his girlfriend, Maxine and her affair with the doctor …

and much more. Many would say that this is too much to take in in one episode however on the contrary , when watching the programme I was totally entranced by the happenings and was constantly playing ‘ mental gymnastics’ (Buckingham) in my head. The above which I have mentioned is achieved by soaps by using three techniques: Retention, Pretension and Lateral Reference. Retention is the process whereby viewers are given clues, which invite them to recall inter diagetic events – issues that have been touched on in past episodes such as the long running feud between mike Baldwin and Ken Barlow.

Pretension is the process whereby viewers are invited to look into the future and speculate about coming events. These techniques emphasis the openness of the textual narrative and is a predominant factor of soap appeal. The issue of soap narrative can be extended to analyse who they are predominately targeted at. In a non sexist way, it is evident that soaps are made for women. They are set around domesticity, family life and gossip which is generally associated with female roles.

Helen Robertson believes that the undemanding nature and emphasis on talk not action, means that a busy women e. g. a mother can still catch the gist of what is going on just by comprehending what the characters are saying. Research carried out by Modleski also supports this view. Carrying on from this view that soaps are predominantly female orientated brings up the issue of escapism. It is in my view that soaps for a vast number of viewers is a way of entering a second life, where they are free from the hassles for which they have been hindered with all day.

I assume that women when they watch soap become part of the character that they see themselves similar to. This is because the majority of women characters in Soaps are represented as strong and unified. Examples of this are Linda Baldwin, the ‘rich bitch’ who has hurdled the theory of a merit based society, Sharon Mitchell, the east end hard girl and Charity dingle the dales version of Linda Baldwin. Brown believes that the use of these characters ‘help women test the waters to see how far they can go in challenging social norms’.

Here, it is fair to say that the Hypodermic syringe model of media effects can come into play – the representation of powerful women on soaps is making reality women more confident and unwilling to accept social laws. Never the less, soaps do not just represent ‘new age’ women’s lib. They also reinforce the status quo regarding the position of women in society. The use of characters such as Maxine and Janice still demonstrate how women but there husbands first and by doing this – soap broaden their span of control over viewers.

In order to re -enforce the escapism theme, many women see soaps as a means of escape even after the soap has finished. Studies have proven that women equally enjoy discussing the events of past episodes with their work colleagues and friends the next day, as much if not more than watching the soap itself. I conform to this view, as it is impossible to go through a day without hearing a phrase similar to ‘….. did you watch ….. last night? The soap genre has become a part of British culture and is also a means of socialising. The use of melodramatic aesthetic in soap is also a contributing factor to their appeal.