Saturday, October 31, 2009


While I'm far from a soap opera fan and have never gotten through a full episode, a friend of mine had a recurring role on a recently cancelled series. As a result, I know a few things about the genre, more than I ever would have imagined.

The form is highly dramatized, frequently focusing on one central family, and then branching out from there. With new episodes daily almost every weekday of the year, the rule of thumb is generally quantity over quality, and dialogue is sometimes paraphrased (both due to the difficulty of memorizing so much in a limited time span, and that the writing generally isn't high quality--the actors know their characters better than some writers and can change words to fit respective speech patterns). Soaps frequently feature musical underscoring, which can heighten the tension or shape a specific mood.

The genre is losing popularity, largely thanks to the rise of Tivo and the DVR. As soaps are on daytime TV, much of the viewership stemmed from housewives or other women who were at home during the day. When it became easier to view the previous night's shows the next day, ratings dropped. Even though the VCR had been around decades prior, it never had as much of an impact as the digital revolution.

Also worth noting is that some people (especially Southern women) refer to soap operas as "stories." As in: "not now--my stories are on!"

I'd like to point out the similarities between conventions of traditional soaps and the more recent scripted reality for the MTV generation (i.e. Laguna Beach and The Hills, as mentioned in the FLOWTV article), as there are definite overlaps between the two. When Lauren Conrad is deemed a celebrity for doing very little more than allowing the public to view her life (or a fictionalized version of it), that speaks to the strength of the "feminine popular culture" described in the reading by Rogers. In both forms, music is a crucial element, and dictates the emotional impact of the scene. The main difference is that the "reality" shows frequently feature contemporary or distinguishable soundtracks, some of which have lyrics that comment on the action. Soaps just feature instrumentals, and the music is rarely if ever heard out of context of the show.

A major difference between the two genres is the power of women--for the most part, the various jobs and internships being offered to the characters on The Hills are from female employers or authority figures. As far as I know, and based on a quick internet search, (straight) men are only really featured as boyfriends or pieces of the puzzle that is the interactions between the principal female cast, a similar dynamic to that seen in "Sex and the City," as discussed in Arthurs' chapter. This is supposed to be empowering for women, however, the lack of mental prowess of many main characters sets them back even further. Rogers said that men treat soap women like children, as do the women in these scripted reality shows. However, in the case of the latter, it's appropriate...but for the ability to drink legally, engage in adult-level relationships, and worry about employment, these women essentially are children anyway, and it's fair for them to be treated as such.

It's great that girls and young women are being exposed to stories featuring powerful women and giving them something to emulate, but that raises the question--are these the kind of people that the next generation should really be emulating?


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  2. I just wanted to add that the men featured on The Hills are not only featured as "simply boyfriends or pieces of the puzzle" but I feel like almost every piece of drama that occurs on this show is related to a guy. For example, Lauren would have never ended her friendship with Heidi if it wasn't for Spencer and Audrina would not be upset with Kristin if she had never dated Justin Bobby. So, I really think the guys are much more powerful than we give them credit for considering they are the root of all this drama and without the drama it seems like the show's ratings would drop even lower than they already are :-\

  3. The Hills is an unrealistic lifestyle for many, yet young girls see this and strive for a life like LC's or Heidi's. But I think we have to be careful with the distinction between what is reality and what is not for our younger generations when it comes to who they should and should not emulate.

  4. I feel like that these reality shows glamourize the lives of these "real" characters. It is quite unhealthy, I think, for young girls to watch it and believe it as true. Furthermore, I think the boys on the shows are simply used as props to drive "drama" into the show. I don't think these shows should give out the message that friendships should be ended over boys.