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Soap Opera

Pamela, Dynasty, Dallas, The Guiding Light, East Enders, A Country Practice, Twin Peaks, Peyton Place

a form of popular television entertainment that has its origins in the 1930s' serialized radio dramas. It was initially aimed at women audiences who were targeted as potential buyers of the advertised products. Some scholars can see predecessors of the soap opera in eighteenth-century sentimental novels like Pamela (1740) by Samuel Richardson, which were also aimed at female audiences and employed similar narrative techniques. The soap opera came to fruition with the rise of post-war consumerism and developed, in terms of both content and form, into a distinct mode of popular entertainment. It was mainly concerned with ‘women's themes’ and always upheld traditional and conservative values. Formally, it relied on old and well-tested narrative devices like the never-ending story, slow pace, and constant repetition. As in the oral tradition of story-telling, most of the story-line progressed through narration rather than action. Its mode of production differed from that of other television programmes as well; usually filmed on a daily basis and transmitted almost immediately, speed, cost efficiency, and its potential to shape viewers' consuming habits were seen as its main guidelines. As a consequence, it lacked artistic merit and attracted very little serious criticism.

The situation has changed since the late 1970s. With the rise of cultural studies and feminism, the study of soap operas as a form of mass communication becomes more prevalent. The soap operas themselves seem to have given rise to many and varied forms of television entertainment programmes. Traditionally, soaps were broadcast during the day and aimed at women's audiences; during the 1970s and particularly the 1980s, new forms of soaps appeared which were no longer aimed solely at women. Instead of daytime, they made up what came to be called prime-time viewing (early evening). Soap operas like Dynasty or Dallas were concerned with power and money, but still remained within the traditional context of the family saga. At the same time, daytime soaps continued to flourish. Soap operas like The Guiding Light (USA) have managed to survive three generations of the genre; originally broadcast on radio in 1937, it was the only serialized radio drama to transfer successfully to television (in 1952). The various off-shoots of the soap opera all partake in the deep-bred traditionalism and conservatism that is characteristic of the genre. However, this, too, has been contested lately. Programmes like the BBC's East Enders seem to share qualities of both television drama and soap opera: while applying some of the narrative devices of the soap opera, it lacks its conservative and consolidating content. Indeed, programmes like East Enders or the Australian A Country Practice have come to be known as quality soaps. More recently, there have been attempts to upgrade soap operas artistically; David Lynch's Twin Peaks (1990) was a post-modern reworking of the 1950s and 1960s style soaps (particularly Peyton Place, 19649, USA), in a style that consciously celebrates the soap opera as an artistic mode in its own right.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Lemn Sissay Biography to Southwold Suffolk