Hooked on Soaps by Paula Todd is an article that attempts to explain the allure of daytime television dramas. Soaps, as most people call them, are chock-full of unrealistic situations, most being too sensational to entertain any thoughts of being remotely real. That doesn’t stop tens of millions of Americans and Canadians from tuning in religiously each day. You will never witness someone using a washroom, blowing their nose, or doing anything that a real person would do; that would be boring television. Instead, these mundane but necessary parts of life are left out and storylines are centered around the most unbelievable circumstances imaginable.
What makes these fantasies so appealing to the general public? Todd believes it may have something to do with the impossibility of stories that involve the most beautiful people with the best wardrobes. Not everyone has the time to watch every day but it’s possible to catch up on the happenings once a month. Some people never miss a show and border on obsessive. These people tend to insist they’re not addicted but in fact, are no different from the faithful sitcom watcher. Todd says that it’s possible that the loyalty of millions could be exploited easily when storylines include the network management’s positions on volatile political subjects.
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One woman from Toronto actually named her two children after soap stars and would have imaginary conversations with others, hoping for a character to talk with her. There are about a dozen soaps that occupy the airwaves from noon to five and a few at night as well. VCR s are the weapon of choice among career people who can t be home during soap hours but will watch hours of them at night. Apparently, the once hallowed territory of the busy housewife is now shared with all kinds of people, including men. It is reported that about one-third of viewers are men. That figure would be difficult to prove, as most men would rather keep it under their hat for fear of being ostracized.
One such guy is a corporate lawyer in Toronto who explains what attracts him to the lunacy; some of the scheming done on the show is more devious than some big corporate takeovers I’ve seen. One veteran soap writer confided that there are only 13 original plots that are reworked over and over, and that touchy subjects like AIDS and abortion are frequently used to boost ratings. Soaps share the subjects of love, lust, hate, ambition, and betrayal with romance novels but are different, as Todd notes, in where novels always end in love and soaps adopt a more surprising denouement. A Toronto secretary, who was about to abandon her routine of daily immersion in these programs, suddenly had a change of heart when a character renowned for her malicious ways had finally gotten what was coming to her.
Todd theorizes that the catharsis enjoyed by viewers when they tune in can be compared to the way ancient Romans felt when watching gladiators battle for their lives in the Coliseum. Says a Winnipeg nursing supervisor, When I watch some of the horrendous tangles these people get into I think, Hey, I didn’t have such a bad day after all. Psychologists’ opinions, of what began as a radio show in the 30 s, vary from necessary to disdain. Dr. Daniel Cappon, a therapist and professor at York University says, people, get hooked on soaps because they live on the razor s edge of an artificial present. While Dr. Bram Goldwater, a psychology professor at UVIC says, People are interested in other people, in what happens in their lives, and how they handle it.
Todd writes that soaps are testing grounds for ordinary folk to gauge their responses to difficult situations, 99 percent of which will never happen. Teachers in elementary schools and universities alike report widespread interest among their students as well. Historian Pat Staton is still watching and studying the fascination people have with soaps after she first tuned in two years ago. She believes that soaps are worse than good role models in that they portray women in submissive, and dependent roles. But she adds that as long as they reviewed discriminately and in the right context they are harmless. Some people admit to watching soaps as a means of escape from the grind of everyday life. Says Terri Marques, a Toronto social worker, I can explore relationships without having to get involved in them.
Most people, though, are so entrenched in the stories that some will go see their favorite stars make an appearance at a mall or consumer fair and fail to realize that they’re just actors. These actors get inundated with letters, gifts, praise, and attention from their fans. Jeanne Cooper, an actress on The Young and the Restless explains, Soaps can be very dangerous if you are addicted to someone else s personality because that means you are lacking something in yourself. Soap stars realize that having such an immense audience brings responsibilities that wouldn’t accompany most jobs but it doesn’t mean the viewers are immune to exhibiting common sense either.
Actors themselves have a peripheral code of conduct while taping scenes that, for the most part, are followed respectively. Open-mouth kissing is not generally practiced unless a male actor tries to slip one by. Issues such as abortion and AIDS are storylines that writers tend to stay away from for fear of public backlash. William Bell, head writer of two soaps, states that We just aren’t interested in preaching-that turns people off. Soaps, like any form of media, have taken a more unabashed approach toward topics widely recognized as taboo. One soap that is to be premiered soon will attempt to tackle racial prejudice. Are soaps a problem facing society or are they part of a solution? As Todd points out-we can always turn them off, can t we?