British soap Operas

 

 

From this it is clear that the ideal community only functions if women are in control as they are the ones that bring “isolated and disparate individuals in to the community or family; they organise its rituals; they transmit its values and spin the web of gossip through which is continually renewed. “(51) It is this constant sense of community that British soaps evoke that justify their popularity. However, according to Christine Geraghty the sense of community is not simply present internally in soaps but is also experienced “in the interaction between the programmes and their audience.

“(52) Both British soaps develop the concept of the power of gossip in this sense between all the viewers which is pleasurable as it functions to “unite disparate audiences” (53) and allow the pleasure of a “common participation”(54) for the audience in the problems that are being portrayed by the soap and the variety of solutions on offer to discuss among their friends in a variety of different places for when not viewing the soap in their own homes. Therefore, the notion of “voyeurism”(55) is crucial in identifying a soaps continuing popularity.

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The definition of a soap opera in terms of its narrative structure is one of the aspects of the genre that also explains the continuing popularity of soaps. As Verina Glassener states, “Soap opera is an indefinate serial that in theory can continue forever. Commonly soap opera feature multiple interlocking narratives, some of which may be short lived, while others go on for months and years. Ultimate narrative closure is indefinitely postponed, in this sense soap opera is open-ended. ” (56)

If one of the pleasures of soap watching derives from a strong sense of involvement, a further source of enjoyment is the endless speculation. It is this unresolved resolution and the postponement of closure at the end of an episode that sustains an audience’s attention and derives from Barthes work on narrative serials. It is stated: ” Barthes work in s/z has alerted us to the way in which narratives work by posing enigma’s and questions which draw the reader through the text in search for an answer. The reader is kept involved through this pursuit which is in fact a pursuit of resolution.

” (57) The audience are typically left with a “cliffhanger”(58) at the end of the episode which is classified as the traditional hallmark of the serial as it conforms to Barthes code of working through an enigma in order to sustain the viewers’ engagement. It enforces a dramatic effect in terms of initiating suspense for the viewer as the tension arises form the sudden break in the narrative so that the “different directions which the story could take are frozen until the next episode and the viewer is cut of from the created world of the serial.

” (59)The notions of “restricted knowledge”(60) and “unrestricted knowledge” (61) are also significant components in determining the degree of suspense and engagement evoked by the cliffhanger. The continuing popularity of a soap opera in terms of engagement is therefore, marked by its appeal of creating “a sense of future. “(62) The promise that next week’s episode will go some way towards resolving these uncertainties is “part of the contract between the product and the audience. ” (63) With soap opera the “teasing component”(64) is quite often pronounced.

It offers the viewer the enjoyment of the opportunity of participating in an elaborate guessing game as to which of the several available routes the narrative will take. The twist in the narrative sustains viewer’s engagement as the element of surprise is increased when the “opposite transpires”(65) in terms of what the viewer is led to predict during the episode. It is through these conventions that the audience is rewarded with an entertaining experience. The closing of the serial is also impossible as there are “multiple narrative strands”(66) that cannot be tied up altogether as they are at different times in their narrative.

The viewer inherits a viewing commitment to the “unchronicled growth”(67) of narrative strands, which the viewer is determined to find the resolution to. The “awareness of the history of the characters”(68) through this constant viewing is also a major source of pleasure as it offers the viewer the a sense of predictability, in terms of both sharing and exchanging information about the past and on the basis of this knowledge, to “anticipate the future, to read ahead of the narrative.

” (69) “Gossip”(70) in the serial itself performs this function as it “constitutes a commentary on the action. ” (71) And therefore acts a device for engaging the audience by giving them new information and detail about their enigmas. Gossip becomes then not just a running commentary but an “important part of driving forward the narrative action”, (72) which sustains the popularity of the soap. The “very slow pace of soap operas. ” (73) also maintains audience engagement.

Because the soaps were traditionally developed for women at home, some have argued that the slow pace evolved to suit the needs of these women and focused more on dialogue and gossip or the “paucity of action” (74)so that women viewers were able to concentrate on their traditional role housework. As now social conditions have changed for women, the narrative slowness in prime time soaps therefore ensures that everyone in the audience understands the plot and many fans are able to be occasional viewers and still understand what is happening even after several weeks away from their television sets.

The notion of “real-time”(75) in British soaps, also both enforces both this and a sense of reality. Soaps run “parallel to real time. “(76) For example, soaps continue from the cliffhanger left in the previous episode until the next day and give indication of leaving a “literal”(77) time between episodes. Significant days in the outside world, such as Bank Holidays, special anniversaries are refereed to and celebrated on the correct day. For example, this Christmas what marked the popularity of Eastenders, was the episode of Kat Slaters and Alfie Moon’s wedding on Christmas day.

Events are discussed in the programme as they are occurring in the outside world. Serial form plays on the audiences’ desire and engagement of what happened in the “past. ” (78) The use of the past such as someone coming back from the dead, for example, one of the popular characters “dirty” Den in Eastenders, was appealing to its viewers as there was a sudden twist in the narrative as they thought he was dead. Therefore, evoking this sense of surprise could also be an element, and was an element in Eastenders that enhanced its continuing popularity immediately.

The marketing device of pre-printing this information in magazines also performed this function. In terms of narrative and social issues, soaps offer pleasure as they illustrate a “heightened reality”(79) in soap for entertainment. For example, although soap elements are realistic, the frequency of the crisis in one’s life is not, as this does not usually happen in real-life. If soaps were presented as purely real, the soap world would be uninteresting. More crisis therefore results is a soap’s popularity increasing, in terms of audience engagement.

Therefore Eastenders and Coronation Street are both a,”blend of entertainment and public service. “(80) While audiences consist of both men and women, some writers have argued that the soap opera genre speaks specifically to women as a way of continuing their popularity with the audience it was traditionally catered for. Soaps offer both “escapist”(81) and “utopian” (82) possibilities for the women. For example, the female viewer is presented with a certain type of character at offers her with a “position of mastery” (83)and an opportunity for expressing her “repressed fantasies.

” (84) According to Tania Modleski, the female “villainess” (85)character is able to subvert “feminine weakness”(86) which normally consists of aspects of her life which she is most helpless, and tries to turn them into “sources of her strength”(87) by “turning them into weapons for manipulating other characters. ” (88) For example, the “villainous” (89)character will be good at “manipulating pregnancy” (90)for her own benefit. She will subvert the female image and take advantage of the man when he is feeling vulnerable and seduce him.

If the “hoped-for pregnancy”(91) is not achieved, she will lie about being pregnant in order for it to suit her needs. This initiates pleasure for the female viewer as she is offered the spectacle of the woman gaining power over the man. For example both the characters Laura Beale and Tracy Barlow illustrate this in Eastenders and Coronation Street to a certain extent. Laura lies to Gary that it his baby and uses this to her advantage as he begins to support her. Tracy on the other hand manipulates her pregnancy in order to get money from Roy Cropper.

The popularity of the “villainess”(92) would seem to be explained in part by the theory of “repetition compulsion, which Freud saw as resulting from the individuals attempt to become an active manipulator of her own powerlessness. “(93) This marks the continuing popularity of soaps amongst women, as they continually tune into soap operas to watch the villainess as “she tries to gain control over her feminine passivity, thereby acting out the spectator’s fantasies of power.

” (94) Therefore, the appeal is further reinforced as the female villainess character does not illustrate the traditional notion of the “gaze” (95)for the male observer as being passive or nude. The body is presented therefore, quite different from the “bourgeois ego. “(96) According to Mary Ellen Brown, “the power of talk in and about soaps as uttererance”(97) also provides pleasure for the women viewers. For example, if a female character does not talk traditionally, this will too subvert the image of a woman and offer pleasure to the female viewer.

Gossiping about this amongst other female viewers will too offer them a sense of power in terms of female “solidarity. “(98) However, it has been argued that the continuing popularity of the soaps is not due to this but due in Ien Ang words, “the patriarchal status quo remaining intact. ” (99)Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual pleasure and narrative cinema’, supports this and argues that still, “a system of visual pleasure is set up according to a particular masculine point of view.

” (100)Women therefore “receive similar kinds of punishment for their transgressions. “(101) For example, Laura in Eastenders is thrown out by her husband Ian. It is this appeal that can be used to explain British soaps continuing popularity with both male and female audiences. In conclusion, the concept of accessibility is vital in explaining the continuing popularity of British soaps such as Eastenders and Coronation Street, in terms of providing the audience with a wide range of characters that they are able to identify with.

Also the concept of voyeurism is also a another crucial element in marking the continuing popularity as the audience are able to gain the pleasure of looking into other people’s lives without being condemned for it. They also gain the pleasure of observing a heightened version of reality that the soap world offers. The notion of “escapism” (102)and “realism” (103)and the preservation of the “status quo”(104) are also crucial in illustrating a British soaps continuing popularity.

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