Soap operas, love them or hate them, are an important part of the lives of millions, if not billions of people. Every country has at least one or two to call their own. America has Days Of Our Lives, New Zealand has Shortland Street, Afghanistan has the popular radio show, ‘New Home, New Life.’
A journalist for Canadian newspaper, The Globe And Mail, wrote a piece describing Coronation Street as “common or garden escapism”, saying “there is nothing there.” But, having said that, perhaps there is not much there when you think about the value of watching football, or a movie?
Imagine a movie that continues, week after week – you can watch the same characters time and time again, in new material. That sounds pretty good, am I right? At least that would be good if the original movie was good in the first place.
I think what the Canadian journalist, John Doyle, was missing was that it takes a few days to begin to appreciate a soap opera. You can’t just watch for five minutes and expect it to be anything other than confusing. It does take a certain amount of dedication to enjoy a soap opera.
It is hard to overstate just how much of people’s expectations of normality derive from watching soap operas – if something happens on the soap opera, it makes us feel that it should be happening in real life too. This can be comforting, when we are reassured that our own problems happen to the characters on TV too (and by extension, to many normal people); and it can even be worrying, in a keeping-up-with-the-Jones sort of way.
Of course, television is a one-way transmission, so the people onscreen are most certainly not actually our friends. But it is carefully planned so that all of the viewers’ questions are answered, and all of their indignant demands for justice are met with retribution for the guilty party so that when we hate a character for whatever crime, he will inevitably get punished. In this way, there is no need for us to have any input into the show, because exactly what we want to happen will happen anyway. It’s like the most perfect family member or friend, who is so impossibly perfect that you never need to say a single word to him, he does exactly what you want at all times.
So do soap operas have no value? They soothe our souls and makes us happy. They keep us in touch with (what the writers think is) reality. Life is not all about working and making money.