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Adolescent Soap Opera Viewers

Apr 09, 2018



Cherian Mathews
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  • 8/7/2019 Adolescent Soap Opera Viewers


    Adolescent Soap Opera Viewers

    Louise Saffhill


    Aims of study

    My initial aim in undertaking this study was to investigate adolescents viewing ofsoap operas in terms of its effects upon their identity. However, I began to question

    the validity of this investigation upon determining my own reasons for viewingsoaps. I have watched soap operas since childhood and cannot think of a simpleexample of how my engagement with this genre may have affected my identity or

    personal development. My prime reason for watching is escapism, coupled withthe desire to be entertained. Herzogs study of soap opera viewers lists the threemain reasons for engagement in soap as "emotional release, fantasy fulfilment and

    desire for information and advice." (Brown, 1994: 68) Although this study wascarried out in 1944, its relevance remains today and was adapted by McQuail, in

    1987 (Brown, 1994: 69) who established four categories of reasons people use themedia. They include

    Information- in order to gain knowledge and information of the world. Personal identity - the acquisition of a sense of identity through the

    comprehension of individual values. Integration and social interaction the reinforcement of a sense of social

    belonging through learning about the lives of others.

    Entertainment an emotional escape, relaxation, to forget problems andworries.

    However, when studying soap opera it becomes apparent that whilst 1, 3 and 4 are

    connected to Herzogs findings and are indeed relevant to soaps, the personal

    identities category is not applicable. This claim is supported by the findings ofLemish (1985), who referred to gratification from soap deriving from the

    categories of information, entertainment and social functions, whilst the notion of

    personal identity is noticeably absent as it is in Rubins study of students use ofsoap. Viewers "do not" identify with characters in the way that other narrative and

    critical forms seem to expect." Mary Ellen Brown offers a suggestion as to thereason for this lack of identification; "The use of multiple characters seems to

    refuse a single or fixed subject identification."

    However, this is not to say that identification with the characters in some way,

    shape or form never occurs, in fact, Geraghty would offer that the wide range of

    characters only serves to allow several identification possibilities and "It is thismultiple identification with a number of characters which is a strong element in

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    soaps ability to engage us so powerfully." (Geraghty, 1991: 18) Indeedidentification to a certain degree must occur for the soap to appear realistic and

    three dimensional to the viewer. But as it appears not to be the most importantprime factor in soap viewing, I decided to expand the realms of this study to

    examine what, if not solely for reasons of identification, are the main reasons foradolescent girls to watch soap opera and to what extent do they engage with thenarrative? I am not pursuing a more definitive research question because I want to

    gain an overall impression of the way in which soap is viewed, how it is used, the

    pleasures gained from viewing, the beneficial or otherwise influence it mayexert and also how identity plays a role in the interpretation of the narrative.

    My decision to concentrate on adolescent girls and exclude boys is based on three

    factors. Firstly, in my experience of adolescent males and females, I have generallyfound that females are more willing to talk about a given issue; they are more open

    in discussions, less self-conscious and less worried about how their comments mayaffect their reputation. Secondly, it has been statistically proven that among

    adolescents the number of female soap viewers is higher than males. According tothe official viewing figures in the UK (published by the Broadcasters Audience

    Research Board, printed in Gunter and McAleer 1990), boys strongly favour actionand adventure programmes or sport, whilst girls named soap operas as their

    favourite programmes. Equally, Patricia Palmers study in 1986 (noted in Brown,1994) revealed that girls watch more television than boys and are more "devotedand enthusiastic" (Brown, 1994: 155) in their viewing than boys.

    My third reason is due to the fact that historically soap is the womans world and Iam interested to discover whether or not girls are attracted to soap for the samereasons as women, the initial target audience, or whether their enjoyment stemsfrom other areas.

    Therefore in the remainder of this section I am going to detail firstly, the factors

    that lead us to perceive soap as being a feminine genre, followed by the

    construction of the narrative in terms of the specific organisation and formal

    conventions of the genre, to indicate how these strategies work together with the

    range of women characters to create the relationship between the soap and theviewer and thirdly how the degree of interaction by the viewer can affect their

    enjoyment of the genre.

    The History of Soap as the Womans World

    Soap opera was born in America in the 1930s and initially it was devised as a radioprogramme. It targeted the housewife and aimed to include issues concerningwomens culture, so as the woman could tune in as she went about domestic

    chores. The original ideas for programme content may have come from womens

    magazines, as there are several similarities, also concerning the features such as theregularity and repetitiousness of each. Magazines contain regular features with

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    which the reader becomes familiar and expects, and the problem pages which are aparticularly feminine form pertaining to advicegiving and nurturing are

    reminiscent of the features that are replicated in soaps.

    "Soaps" became so called due to the advertisers who bought air space for theircommercials surrounding the programme, as the featured products tended towardsthose of a domestic nature, particularly Proctor and Gamble who, aiming for a

    female audience, not only advertised but sponsored to the programmes, lending itsname as a soap powder manufacturer to the entire genre. It became a genre that

    grew "in response to the perceived isolation of women in the home" (Brown, 1994:46) and in the 1950s branched out into television productions. Britains first

    televised soap was The Groves, which ran from 1954 to 1957 and was followed by

    the appearance ofCoronation Streetin 1960. Other well known British SoapsBrookside andEastEnders arrived in 1982 and 1986 respectively.

    Soap opera functions primarily by creating a relationship with the audience, not bya fast-paced sequence of dramatic events, rather the narrative progresses and

    satisfaction it gained through the appearance and resolution of daily problems,achieved through means of "gossip, confessions, speculations and exchanges of

    confidence" (Glaessner, 1990 printed by Goodwin & Whannel, 1990: 119).

    Conventionally this manner of gossiping is perceived as the womens world;problem solving and discussions centred on relationships equally pertain

    traditionally to a female lifestyle. These features attract a female audience, the

    image of which is not complimentary. The female soap opera viewer, who istypically only interested in the trivial details of daily life, is seen as "inferior tomore prestigious audiences" (Brown, 1994: 48) and her life is assumed to be "so

    deprived as to need spurious enrichment." (Glaessner, 1990 printed in Goodwin &Whannel, 1990: 115) Yet these programmes, despite being regularly ridiculed andconsidered as trashy, are still frequently enjoyed by women even though viewing

    them is "not a socially valued act" (Brown, 1994: 18). But soap does provide the

    topic of many conversations; it is material that can be discussed with, shared with

    and dissected by groups of friends, thereby encouraging social activity.

    It could be said that soap operas "value, rather than put down, the fabric of

    womens lives." (Brown, 1994: 54) Soaps not only take womens concernsseriously, they also present a wide range of female characters in several different

    roles, making the genre "more accessible to womens culture than prime timetelevision" (Brown, 1994: 49). The women characters occupy several social

    positions and are often strong, powerful characters, giving the female audience the

    opportunity to engage with a whole range of characters. The fact that thisconvention holds appeal for the older female audience is undisputed; I aminterested to know whether the same pleasure is gained by the younger female

    audience, whether identity with a range of strong female characters is achieved ornot and if not how it affects their enjoyment of the genre.

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    The Roles and Conventions of the Genre

    The pleasure available through watching the soap is dependant upon the viewers

    knowledge of its specific conventions.

    The soap opera can be defined in terms of the series and the serial. The series has

    the same hero(ine) and circle of characters but each episode has an individual

    story, which is concluded by the end of the programme. The serial, however, has a

    continuous narrative, which is solved by the final episode. The episodes must bewatched in the designated order because the sequence creates a notion of thecontinuity of time. A soap opera is an indefinite serial no end is perceived for it,

    its multiple narratives continue, some for a short period of time, others for longer,interlocking and taking over from where the previous one ended. The finalresolution is continually postponed and the audience is led to believe, through the

    everyday quality of time and events and the inextricability of plots from eachother, that a future is never conceived of. An event offering a suitable narrativeending only serves as a starting point for future stories.

    The narrative functions through tension and how the tension will be resolved to

    provide us with a satisfactory ending. The audience is encouraged to seek thetemporary resolution, which only arrives after "delays, confusions and red

    herrings" (Geraghty, printed in Dyer). Ultimate narrative closure never occurs,therefore the audience involvement must be maintained. This is achieved through

    encouraging the audience to engage with both the future and the past of the serial.

    The cliff hanger is a device used to create suspense between episodes, cutting offthe action at a critical point, leaving the audience to ponder over unansweredquestions, to which there may be several answers. The direction of the narrative is

    unknown at this point, hence prompting speculation amongst the viewers. Thisdevice is used to involve the audience with the narrative and operates in two mainways depending on the type of knowledge that the audience is given. Either the

    audience is kept in the dark and is encouraged to try and solve the mystery or the

    audience is given specific knowledge and thus becomes involved with a certain

    character and his own personal battle or trauma. This device is not used at the end

    of every episode. Sometimes a lighter, more comical moment or a thoughtprovoking image is needed as a balance to the grittier drama.

    The serial operates primarily in the present moment, not referring too frequently to

    past events so as not to put off the casual viewer who is less committed to viewing.However a flexible approach is utilised and writers go to great lengths to ensure

    that references to the past are accurate, for the benefit of the longterm viewer.

    The workings of characterisation and plot are essential to a successful soap opera.

    They must interlock, providing familiarity but with regular surprises. The same

    plots and the same characters are used time and time again, but each time taking adifferent angle, providing a different outcome, using different responses, so as to

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    prevent staleness creeping in. The soap has a base of many characters so thatvariation is feasible. It is based upon a community with a wide range of ages,

    relationships and attitudes. This gives scope for writers to create diverse storylines.The central core characters provide familiarity for the viewer, whilst fresh faces

    will appear for only a few episodes to inject variety. The characters must becomprehensible even to the casual viewer so we are immediately given animpression of who he/she is, what they are like and the role they will play, through

    their clothes, their voice; characterisation is sharp and swift.

    Characters are usually classified according to three groups, which provides thebase for their use within the narrative. The groups are as follows (Geraghty, printed

    in Dyer). The "individuated character" has traits which are uniquely their own and

    which are often used for comic effect, for example, the loud repetitive, northernaccented style of speaking which belongs exclusively to Coronation Streets Fred

    Elliot. Longstanding characters may have a number of traits, which serves toemphasise the richness of the character. The "serial type" is a character within a

    serial who maintains a number of traits and furthermore other characters becomebased upon and defined by the serial type, for example, the "Elsie Tanner" type (of

    Coronation Street), emulated in later years by Bet and Rita. Holders of a "statusposition" are so defined according to their sex, age, marital position, class and

    work. The position is frequently emphasised when necessary in a certain storyline.Mike Baldwin is the classic holder of a status position, as his position as factoryowner and local entrepreneur raises him above the average working-class, manual-

    labouring Coronation Streetinhabitant.

    These categories are neither set in stone nor exclusive, but the use of andinteraction between the three allows the characters to be used in different ways. Itis this use of a wide range of characters which allows identification to occur in a

    decentred manner; viewers may identify with one characters specific turmoil, butmay find the character dislikeable. The viewer may be torn between two

    characters, identifying with aspects of each.

    The specific organisation of narrative, character and the passage of time work

    together to form a continuous serial. The soap occupies a regular slot in thetelevision schedule and maintains the same position every week of the year. The

    way in which the passing of time is organised can make the soap too repetitious, so

    to combat this the setting of the soap is arranged so that its familiarity iscomforting; we feel as though we are entering a specific geographical space,

    whether it is Albert Square, Coronation Street or Brookside Close. This isindicated by the use of aerial shots in the credits. Brookside in particular draws the

    audience into its specific location by opening with shots of the broader territory,

    being that of Liverpool, then shows shots of the suburbs, narrowing it down to thelocal shops and bar, finishing with shots of Brookside Close and its houses. This

    gives us a sense of the positioning of the houses in relation to each other, crucialfor the establishment of the fictional world in which the narrative unfolds.

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    Through the use of time, this fictional world appears to exist even when the vieweris not observing it. Time in soap passes in a parallel manner to actual time.

    Viewers tune intoEastEnders on a Monday night to see what happened in AlbertSquare on the same day. Significant days and events are referred to in soap as they

    actually happen in the real world, such as Christmas Day. It is as though the sameperiod of time passes as the audience is experiencing and the characters arepursuing an unrecorded existence, although the problem from the end of the

    previous episode remains.

    A final convention of soap, which I am going to briefly explain, is the role ofgossip. Gossip pertains to the soap opera in two ways, both inside and outside of

    the serial. Inside the serial it is used to give a day-to-day feel. It also provides a

    commentary on the viewed action and reveals different characters opinions,viewpoints and moral positions concerning what is happening. Also gossip can

    inform the audience of an event they have missed and provide new information andmore detail of the event. It is an important and integral part of the action and

    development of the stories as they are often centred on the question of knowledgeor ignorance. Information can be imparted, withheld, revealed accidentally or

    hinted at. Gossiping leads to speculation among the characters, which in turnencourages the audience to speculate about future events. The audience may also

    discuss soaps in terms of passing on and sharing information and opinions of thelatest episodes. Soap operas may also raise topical issues that the audience willthen discuss in a broader context, using the soap storyline as a starting point.

    Actively Interpreting the Genre

    Due to the wide range of characters that frequently participate in soaps, the genre

    "invites not an exclusive and passive identification but rather an active andparticipatory involvement" (Horton & Wohl, 1956 quoted by Livingstone, 1990:52). The idea of passively assimilating the information viewed on the television

    seems to be a natural assumption upon the initial contemplation of the manner of

    "sponging up the information emanating from the television set without analysis or

    any other conceptual process". (Peace, WWW document) This misconception

    could be due to the fact that in watching a television soap the viewer is physicallyinactive and their individual process of interpreting what they are seeing is

    subconscious, therefore it is assumed that no activity is taking place. However,

    "mentally processing television is a complex psychological task, even whenviewing is ritualistically to be relaxed or to be distracted. Viewers must keep track

    of plots, characters and motivations to understand even the most mindlessprogramme." (Shapiro, 1995 quoted in Alcock, WWW document)

    A specific process can be utilised to define the way in which an individual isinterpreting a programme, taking into consideration viewing methods, styles,

    habits and tastes. The place in which a programme is viewed and the people it iswatched with can affect the method of interpretation utilised. Emotions may

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    become heightened if a viewer is accompanied in their viewing, causing forexample, feelings of outrage or consolidation.

    The reason for watching the programme affects the subsequent interpretation, so if

    the choice to view is made by some one else, the viewer may be less receptive to apositive interpretation, whereas if the viewer has made a conscious decision towatch something, they may be less critical and more open to the subtleties of the

    plot and characterisation. Equally, the mood of the individual may add or subtractfrom the viewing experience.

    A further contributing factor to the method of interpretation is whether or not the

    viewer belongs to the target audience. If a viewer is watching a programme ofwhich they are not the intended audience, their comprehension and engagementwith the programme may be noticeably affected.

    My aim in highlighting how television programmes are actively interpreted is to

    point out that the soap viewer is consciously participating in the process of thesoap drama; even by doing nothing more than being in earshot of the television, the

    viewer will be interpreting what is being transmitted. I am curious to know,

    therefore, the extent to which teenage girls engage with and interpret the genre ofsoap opera. As stated by Geraghty, "It is the viewer who brings richness and

    density to material which on the surface can look thin and unrewarding."(Geraghty, 1990: 15) Yet teenagers are not traditionally the target audience for

    soap opera, so could it be the case more so that my subjects experience of viewing

    soaps will be, as stated by John Ellis, "typically a casual experience rather than anintensive one"? (Ellis, 1982 quoted by Geraghty, 1990: 23)

    Geraghty states, "considering soapsEllis seems to underestimate the way inwhich narrative works to encourage identification and engagement." I am aiming

    to discover whether or not the convention of gossip comes into play among youngfemale viewers of soap, indeed whether or not the subsequent conversations about

    soap are just as important in the meaning-making of the genre as the actual


    To conclude this section, a statement by Davies (1984) which I intend to eitherprove or dispute: "Soap opera audiences are not passive consumers of light

    entertainment, but active participants in negotiating complex role models."(Davies, 1984 quoted by Brown, 1994)


    Area of Research

    To summarise the previously mentioned areas that my research will cover, I intendto investigate the following questions: -

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    1. To what extent does the young female viewer engage with the genre?2. To what extent does identity play a role in the interpretation of the


    As a method of finding an answer to the first question, I am going to broach thefollowing subjects: the method of viewing, the reason for viewing, the conventionof gossip, knowledge of soap conventions and their limitations and suggested

    improvements of the genre.

    Concerning question 2, I want to gain an insight into the viewers favouritecharacters, whether or not they consider the storylines and characters to be

    realistic, if anything can be learned from soaps and if they are ever helpful in termsof problem solving.


    My research employs a data-gathering methodological approach, as I used bothquestionnaires and interviews as ways of obtaining the required information. The

    questionnaire is no more than a page in length, so that it keeps the attention of theperson filling it in. My initial idea was to employ the strategy of attitude scales, asthis could be an effective way of ascertaining peoples opinions. However, I

    rejected this method in favour of the traditional question and answer style, as for

    some questions I required a more in-depth answer. The danger of this is that people

    are rarely enthusiastic about completing questionnaires and perhaps tend not to

    expand their answers as fully as the researcher would like. Nevertheless, this is theapproach I took, as much of the information I require is personal and easily

    answered, so attitude scales do not seem the most appropriate method.

    I issued the questionnaires to 30 pupils at the local secondary school, all femaleviewers of soap, being sex-specific for the reasons stated in Part 1. I decided to

    target 11 to 16 year olds. Eleven is the youngest I wanted to approach as this is the

    age at which children first start to show signs of maturity, coinciding with the startof secondary school and the questions I am asking will be too complex for younger

    viewers to really comprehend. Sixteen is my upper age limit, as I do not want to

    gauge adult responses, this is specifically aimed at younger female viewers.Although this is not a wide age range, I feel that young girls experience huge

    changes during this time and I think that their responses therefore could benoticeably different. Thus to further break down this period of change and

    maturity, I distributed the questionnaires at random to three groups of ten girls,

    aged 11-12, 13-14 and 15-16.

    I am aware that this is not a particularly large sample of people, however I am not

    aiming to produce definitive answers, rather to give an impression of different


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    I decided to interview six girls, in three groups of two, one group from each agerange. My interviewees volunteered themselves and each pair was friends. I

    decided to interview friends together instead of strangers or mere acquaintances soas to make them feel more relaxed and more able to speak freely and easily. Often

    when put in an enforced interview situation people, especially children mayrespond with the answers they think you are seeking. I aimed to create a naturalsetting in order to obtain truthful answers. For similar reasons, I interviewed in

    pairs rather than altogether, so that the youngest girls were not intimidated by their


    I constructed a semi-structured interview situation, as there were specific questions

    I wanted to hear responses to, but equally, I wanted the interview to resemble a

    conversation more so than a question and answer session so as to reveal some oftheir thoughts through the more natural process of digression in conversation.

    Whilst the questionnaires asked questions regarding soaps in general, theinterviews were based onEastEnders, as I wanted a starting point with which

    everyone was familiar, so my central questions related toEastEnders, but Iencourage digression to other soaps if the interviewees felt they could better

    emphasise their point in this way.

    I made brief notes of the interviews but also recorded the proceedings to remindme of the responses at a later date. As the interviewees were aware that they were

    being recorded this knowledge may have affected their responses. This is a factor

    to be considered when analysing the findings.

    Questionnaire Findings

    Having analysed the questionnaire responses I am going to report the mostinteresting findings in terms of the three individual age groups and also the most

    conclusive findings overall (bearing in mind that the whole sample is only 30 girls,so the term "conclusive" I use relatively). I will offer my interpretation of this data

    in this section, however the relevance and meanings of the responses I will address

    in Part 3.

    Of the 11-12 year age group (to be referred to as Group A), 7/10 watch more thanone soap opera on a regular basis, equally the same figure in the 13-14 year age

    group (Group B), with a small drop to 5/10 in the 15-16 year age group (Group C).This question was designed to establish whether or not the viewer is a more casual

    or committed viewer of soap. These figures would tend to suggest that the girls on

    the whole are regular, committed viewers.

    Of all the soaps available to the viewer, 50% of Groups A and B stated a

    preference forEastEnders over any other soap, whilst this figure rose to 60% for

    Group C, giving an overall figure of 2/3 of the girls preferringEastEnders. I amnot surprised by this figure as Coronation Streetseems to target an older audience

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    and whilst maybe the younger viewer could have stated a more general preferencefor a younger-style soap such asHollyOaks,EastEnders is a long-established soap

    opera, regularly attracting large audiences with its gritty storylines, as in the latest"Who shot Phil Mitchell" saga.

    Well over 50% of each group stated that they do not record soap operas if they aregoing to miss an episode, with as many as 9/10 of Group C stating that they do not

    record it. This is in accordance with my own viewing habits of soap opera,although I watch several soaps on a regular basis, I would never record an episode.

    This could indicate that the viewers are only watching for a lack of anything else todo, or it could equally be that due to the very nature of soap, it is possible to miss

    several consecutive episodes but still be able to follow the narrative when next


    50% of each group reported doing nothing else at all whilst watching soap, whilstthe other 50% either eat or do homework, or both simultaneously. Conventionallysoap opera does not require the viewers full attention in order to be grasped and

    understood, as originally it was targeting the busy housewife who did not have thetime to devote the full length of an episode to nothing but viewing. However, the

    domestic chores that the housewife was simultaneously undertaking are essentiallymindless, allowing the female to concentrate her mind on what she is hearing. Thesame can be said for the one activity mentioned by the girls; eating does not

    require concentration, thus leaving the viewer free to assimilate the programme.

    50% of the viewers either have nothing else to do or consciously set aside the time

    to watch the soaps, either way, they devote their full attention to the television. Theviewers who attempt to do homework at the same time are undertaking a mind-engaging activity (presumably) therefore they either comprehend the soap withminimum attention or a seemingly more likely option is that the homework is

    either not challenging enough or so dull that additional stimulation is required.

    Furthermore is the notion that the particular soap is so unmissable that it takes

    equal priority to something such as homework, which presumably sees punishment

    administered if it is incomplete, although the statistics of those who record missed

    episodes does not support the idea of a soap being "unmissable". It would beinteresting to talk to the viewer immediately after the particular soap that was

    watched whilst doing homework, to ascertain 1. How much of the soap has been

    absorbed compared to 2. The amount of homework completed correctly andunderstood. Equally, it would be interesting to pursue this investigation over a

    period of time to see whether or not students who persistently watch soaps whilstdoing homework suffer academically and achieve lower than expected grades.

    In terms of discussing soap storylines with either family and/or friends, over halfof each group do so, with 100% of Group A, 9/10 of Group B and 6/10 of Group

    C. This could suggest that either the younger the viewer, the more interested andinvolved in the soap, or the older the viewer, the less the soap is talked about as

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    more important issues come into play. Indeed 7/10 of Group Cs viewers reporteddiscussing other issues with fellow soap watchers whilst they were viewing. This

    figure was considerably lower for the other two groups who reported more so thatthey either do not talk at all or else they discuss the particular soap being watched.

    Concerning whether or not the viewer perceived the storylines to present anaccurate representation of real life, I will tackle each group independently. 5/10 of

    Group A thought that yes, the storylines are accurate, 3/10 thought that theysometimes represent real life and 2/10 answered no, the stories are not like real

    life. Of Group B, 3/10 answered yes, 6/10 sometimes and 1/10 no. In Group C,3/10 said yes, 3/10 sometimes and 4/10 no. Overall it seems that the older the

    viewer, the less accurately she believes the soaps to represent actual life.

    Of all the groups, an above average percentage declared that they attempt to work

    out what will happen in the future on soaps, with 90% in Group A, 100% in GroupB and 60% in Group C. Again, the oldest group can be seen as being less involvedwith the narrative.

    One of the questions I posed in the questionnaire was whether or not soap

    characters are similar to real people. Of Group A, 8/10 gave a positive answer, thatyes, the characters are similar to real people. Of the ten girls in Group B, three

    gave the answer yes, while seven were more cautious with "sometimes". Howeverin Group C six out of ten girls thought that the characters are not similar to people

    in real life. Again this shows an easier acceptance of soaps characteristics by the

    younger viewer and a more sceptical approach by the older girls.

    A seemingly straightforward question I asked in the questionnaire was the main

    reason for watching soap. Yet I suspect that many people have never questionedtheir actual reasons for watching the genre, so I half-expected unrevealing answers.

    Yet the responses fell into two categories: - good or interesting (storylines) orboredom/something to do/entertainment. Of Group A, 6/10 listed the first category

    and 3/10 the second. In Group B, 5/10 stated category 1 and 3/10 the second. But

    in Group C, 2 people listed that they find soap interesting and 7 people said thattheir main reason for watching was due to boredom or wanting something else to

    do (other than homework). It seems as though the older viewers do not rate soaps

    as highly as the younger viewers and are interested in it rather as a means ofpassing time.

    As far as the question regarding intended audience is concerned, the majority of all

    three groups stated that soap opera is aimed at everyone, including men, womenand children.

    Interview Findings

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    In this section I intend to detail the responses and themes raised from theinterviews and in Part 3 I will review these findings in relation to the relevant

    literature and theories.

    As previously mentioned, I intended the interviews to be of a semi-structurednature to allow for tangents to be pursued, although due to the age of theinterviewees, I devised a set of questions to which I could loosely adhere if

    necessary. I thought that the girls were not old enough to chatter freely and in anuninhibited manner about their viewing experiences and were perhaps not old

    enough to form extensive opinions on the spot, hence the question list to which torefer. My questions fell into three sections:

    1. Viewing practices

    2. Engagement with genre

    3. Pleasures/judgements

    although the questions and sections invariably became mixed up. My aim is toindicate how committed the viewer is, the extent to which they are involved with

    the genre and its characteristics and how pleasure is gained through this


    My First interview group was the 11-12 year olds, to be called Interviewee 1 and

    Interviewee 2 (I1 & I2). I1 watches all of the English soap operas, although I2 isonly familiar withEastEnders. Possibly due to this (or possibly due to personalcharacteristics) it quickly became obvious that I1 was the conversation leader and

    to a certain extent I felt that I2 was agreeing with her friends responses rather thanchallenging them or offering her own ideas.

    I1 not only watches at least four soap operas on a regular basis, she also watchesthe omnibus editions and records an episode if she is going to miss it. She views

    alone in her room as her family does not watch soaps, however she then discusses

    the storylines with her friends at school. I2 is a less committed viewer as she

    watchesEastEnders "when I can", although normally about twice a week and shewould not record an episode and does not watch the omnibus edition. She toowatches alone and discusses the programme with school friends. Both say that

    during discussion they try and work out what is going to happen next, "like, whoshot Phil, and that."

    I had decided instead of showing the interviewees a video clip of a soap to discuss,

    I would ask them for their recollections of the previous episode, to ascertain the

    details they had absorbed, if it had stuck in their memory and if there were anydifferences in either the recollections of the three groups or their reactions to it.

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    When I asked the first group what had happened in the previous episode ofEastEnders, I1 at first could not remember so I prompted her that I thought it

    might have been centred on Janine, she began describing a situation in whichTerry, a middle-aged single man, had finally been led to realise that Janine, the

    young girl lodging with him, had been stealing money from his bank account andthat her latest scam had been to steal more money in order to bet it o a horse andthus try and win back the amount she had stolen.

    Although I2 had not seen this episode and could not contribute, I1 was more than

    happy to describe the events, although her description was vague and a little patchyin places, as though she may have been recalling things that she remembered

    viewing but that did not make much sense to her. She commented on the character

    of Janine, remarking that the final shot of the episode was of Janine smiling behindTerrys back, showing that she is lying and that she is sly, "like Charlotte!" (the

    sister of I1) I asked I1 if she thought that soap characters were like the people sheknew in real life and she said, "sometimes", then nodding and giggling, "Grant and

    Phil are like my Dad and Uncle". She said that she finds the characters and thestorylines realistic and that events from soap could happen in real life, "except

    Lance and Alana", referring to two characters from the Australian soapeighboursand a storyline which follows their belief in aliens, which I1 did not perceive as

    believable. I asked therefore if I1 ever found soap opera to be more amusing orfunny than realistic but she claimed that on the whole they are more true to lifethan comical. However she said that she finds Coronation Streetmore realistic

    thanEastEnders asEastEnders is too heavy going. She describedEastEnders as

    being, "part of its, like, really good, when its who shot Phil, but then somepartsthen it goes boring and then they have to bring something in to make it

    good again." She went on to explain that, "sometimes, youre, like, really caughton to it and then sometimes youre a bit, just, oh, flick over." At this point I2

    nodded her agreement.

    I asked the question, "Who is your favourite character?" to which both lookedblank for a moment before I1 replied that Lisa is her favourite because shes a

    good actress, her example being that when shes crying, she looks like shes really

    crying. I2 agreed with this point but in general said that she did not favour any onecharacter more than another. The interviewees did not expand on this line ofquestioning, so I asked them, given that they find the storylines realistic, could

    soaps ever help you in dealing with certain issues or solving problems? They bothconsidered this for a moment before I1 hesitantly replied that she supposed theycould and I2 interjected, "but not me", as she thinks that soaps deal with adult

    issues. I1 listed her reasons for watching soaps as being that they are interesting,

    the best thing on television, in fact and it is something to do, better than doing

    nothing. She also said that although it does not help her directly, she might be ableto learn things that she could tell to others in a situation where they would benefit

    from the information.

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    I asked what sort of things might you think about the soap whilst watching it, orcriticise and I 1 mentioned that she often thinks that, "Oh, Kat (a 30 year old single

    woman inEastEnders) looks a bit tarty today!" She also thinks sometimes "iftheyre crying, they could have done that a bit better or something."

    I asked for opinions of Sonia (a teenage character who has recently had hernewborn baby adopted, being unaware that she was pregnant) to see a. if the

    interviewees relate to a character of a similar age to themselves and b. if they mademoral judgements of the situation. I2 replied that she did not like her very much

    and I1 added her agreement but that she thinks she has a good part to play. Shejudged the situation with the baby as being sort of realistic "because thats what

    people do." She did not elaborate but went on to discuss the character of Kerry,

    saying that she does not like her as her character is not brilliant, she acts the samein every episode. I1 continued to explain that Kerry is not inEastEnders anymore

    and explained the storylines that led to her departure. She said that a further reasonfor liking soap is that the storylines are easy to follow. I asked if she would like to

    see more young people in soaps so that the issues would be more relevant to her,but she said that there are not many young people in the soaps at the moment and

    she does not really want that to change because it would be boring to be at schoolall day, then to watch programmes in the evening about school as "you would just

    be like, watching the day again." I1 likes the fact that soap opera is aboutsomething different to her life; it relaxes her to watch about other people.

    The second interview group consisted of two representatives of the 13-14 year old

    age group, to be known as I3 and I4. They instantly seemed more mature than thefirst pair and whilst still a bit giggly at the prospect of being recorded, they werenot fazed or worried by it. They were both chatty from the outset. Both watchevery episode ofEastEnders although neither would record it but I4 would watch

    the omnibus. She tends to watch the programme in her room, as being the youngestof the family her viewing preferences are rarely taken into consideration. Her

    mother watches the soap although apparently claims not to (as though to do sowould be socially unacceptable) and her sister also watches it, so if they are

    watching together they discuss the programme, such as what people are wearing.

    I3 (who watches in the living room with whichever family member is present)claims that her father talks about the programme while it is being aired but shefinds it annoying as she might be missing something.

    Both girls began to discuss theEastenders shooting storyline, claiming that they

    had guessed the identity of the hit man as Lisa, as all the other suspects were tooobvious. I3 claimed that she realised it was Lisa because all of the other suspects

    had been interviewed by the police, so the lack of attention focused on Lisa had led

    her to believe that she must be the culprit. I4 agreed with her, adding that its likeinHeartbeat, the guilty one is always the one they try and make you suspect least.

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    Both girls talk about soaps with both family and friends. I asked them if they couldtell me what had happened in the previous episode and I3 had not seen it so I4

    described the episode, focusing on the fact that Little Mo could not find her erranthusband Trevor, whilst I3 asked questions. Commenting on the cheating, wife

    beating character of Trevor, I3 declared, "I hate Trevor well I like his accentactually." Both girls decided that they did not like Trevor, I3 stating it is because ofthe fact that he beats Little Mo. Then she made the comment, "Why Little Mo?

    What a stupid name." I4 explained to her that the Grandmothers name is Mo, so

    the younger female in the family is known as "Little Mo." I4 then remembered"Little Mo and Trevor are going to be on GMTVtomorrow." Then she commented

    on the fact that Trevor is cheating on his wife and predicted, "Hell get caught!" I3was unaware of this and sounded incredulous to hear so. I4 explained the situation,

    adding her own observations and predictions.

    The main criticism they named ofEastenders is that it is "over the top", that in alittle street you would not find as much happening as in Albert Square. However

    they counter balanced the criticism with the fact that it is easy to catch up aftermissing an episode, which makes viewing easy.

    Along the theme of criticisms, I4 mentioned a particular character in CoronationStreetand classed her as a "bad actress" whilst simultaneously mimicking heraccent which "does my head in!" She then began a discussion concerning the

    storyline containing the "bad actress," telling us what was going to happen in

    future episodes, information which she had read in a television magazine. I3

    commented that she does not always read the magazines as it spoils her viewingexperience.

    I4 made a comment that she wishes she could pick what to watch and fast forwardthe boring bits, beginning a conversation of the aspects they find boring, such ascourt cases and police interviews and progressing to their least favourite

    characters. I4 listed severalEastEnders male characters as being "boring," she

    dislikes Mark Fowler as he "thinks he owns the square," Robbie because he "needs

    to get a better job and face. and haircut!!" I3 agreed mainly saying that

    storylines centred on Roy and the car lot bore her. I4 remarked thatEastEnders"picks bad male characters," although she likes Phil and Steve. I3 agreed, adding

    that they are "mysterious and hard," but saying that she prefers Dan, as hes "so

    big!" I4 laughed at this, saying that Dan is too old "and anyway, hes not always init, he comes and goes." She listed instead three other characters she prefers for

    their physical attributes.

    The conversation turned to how realistic the soaps seem and both girls felt thatEastEnders can be a bit "over the top", although some storylines are more likely tohappen than others. They decided that the shooting could happen but was a bit

    drastic although they liked the initial tension surrounding the drama. I4 remarkedthat the storyline became boring when it started to drag on; she wanted to discover

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    the identity of the hit man, although retrospectively she felt that the audience foundout too quickly. She commented on how sometimes soaps speed up events, so for

    example, pregnancies never last for nine months. The girls made the point that thesoaps seem to copy each other and compete for ratings by showing dramatic

    storylines at the same time. However, they think that the technique is notsuccessful, as "its boring the second time round."

    In terms of whether or not the soaps can be helpful in any way, they thought thatcontroversial events could show you how to deal with such issues, such as physical

    abuse. However, they condemned Coronation Streetas being irresponsible in theirportrayal of the teenage pregnancy because now they feel it is being shown as a

    positive thing which "could be a bad influence on kids".

    I4 thinks that teenagers are represented badly on soaps, listing teenage characters

    and their storylines involving pregnancy, drugs and alcohol abuse, saying, "Nowonder old people think badly of us!" They would like to see more teenagers in thesoaps, but represented in a positive light with less dramatic problems, more

    relevant to their own lifestyles. They mentionedHollyoaks as being more suited totheir age group and also more interesting as the narrative unfolds in a variety of

    locations, where as inEastEnders the characters can always be found at the pub,even at lunch time, even when they have no money.

    Their main reasons for watching soap are that "you always want to know whats

    going to happen next", that although it can be a bit unrealistic it would be boring if

    it were too lifelike. As it is, its more exciting than your own life, which keeps youwatching.

    The third interview group (I5 and I6) was the 15-16 year age group. Again, theywere a little nervous at the prospect of being recorded but not excessively. Both

    watch every episode ofEastEnders, although do not record it and do notparticularly make a habit of watching the omnibus, rather they would catch up on a

    missed episode by talking to friends, something they regularly indulge in,

    especially when dramatic storylines are involved such as "that Lisa thing",whereby their friendship group placed bets on the outcome of the story.

    We began discussing the most recent episode as a starting point and both girls

    contributed equally to the discussion, briefly outlining the main themes of theepisode and I6 concluded by adding her predictions and assumptions of what

    would follow. Both girls admit that if they view together they discuss what they

    think will happen next. If their predictions are correct, they feel pleased with theirability to be thinking along the same lines as the writers. This constant game offoreseeing the future keeps these viewers returning to the programme, as they are

    interested in how temporary narrative closure will occur.

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    We began discussing characters and while the girls were unable to name anyparticular favourites, I5 mentioned Emily, a teenager fromBrookside who she

    finds annoying, who apparently "you can sometimes see, shes like some people atschool." FromEastEnders, Kat was named as an annoying character, as she "loves

    herself", whilst Janine was hated by I6 but I5 thought she had grown up a bit andwas

    "getting better" as a character.

    When the conversation turned to the character of Jamie, the decision wasunanimous that he is "lovely, nice-looking", and older characters were seen as

    boring or nags (such as Pauline or Dot).

    Storylines such as Sonias pregnancy were viewed cynically, as being "unrealistic"

    and "so obvious"; also they were quite cynical about the way in which each suspectof the shooting was linked to the scene both logistically and in motive. The way in

    which daily events are exaggerated and blown out of proportion in soaps both addto and subtract from the enjoyment of these viewers, as they are curious to know

    what will happen next, so consequently keep viewing, but somehow feel cheated if

    an event breaks the realms of reality.

    Both viewers classed the older characters as boring and said that they pay less

    attention when a story is centred on such characters, as they do not find this

    relevant to their lives. Soap opera in general would interest these viewers more if it

    focused on their worries and concerns and therefore featured younger characters. I6mentioned how "they have them going to school and then coming back and they

    never say anything about whats happened at school." I5 and I6 would prefer

    storylines based upon adolescent issues to which they could relate. They think thatthe reason for the exemption of these issues is that soap is aimed primarily at older

    viewers, although they believe that the addition of younger characters would adddiversity and make the programme more interesting. A suggestion for the lack of

    young characters was that it probably would not work to centre too many storylines

    around them, as they seem to leave the soap to pursue other career avenues. Alsothe set is not designed particularly to incorporate young people and their social

    activities. I6 remarked that in most soaps, much communal activity takes place in a

    pub, although Coronation Streethas recently created a doctors surgery to its setand now stories will be based around medical issues or the lives of the characters

    working there. I6 and I5 were unimpressed by this, as it does not promise toprovide any material more relevant to them.

    A further comment relating to the set was connected to the surprise created when aset is decorated or changed, such as in the Australian soap,Home & Away. "I was

    like, ooohh, theyve changed the diner!" Also they acknowledged that should soap

    introduce a school-based set for the interest of their age group, it would be costlyin terms of the extras required to play the roles of pupils and teachers. Although I5

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    and I6 felt that the narrative would be more interesting if it unfolded over aspatially larger area (such as inHollyoaks), they acknowledged that it would then

    possibly become confusing and lose some of the intimacy of "Coronation Street" or"Albert Square".


    Engagement with the Genre

    From the information gathered in both the questionnaires and the interviews it

    would appear that when watching soap opera, girls tend to concentrate solely onwhat they are viewing, paying their full attention to the screen in front of them.Although video recorders are not often used as a means of ensuring that an episode

    of a favourite soap is not missed, and the omnibus is not frequently watched, the

    girls surveyed classed themselves as "regular viewers", that is, watching at leasttwo episodes a week of any particular soap. Whether they watch alone or with their

    family, a resounding majority then discuss the storylines and soap events with theirfriends and/or family, passing on missed information, sharing details and

    speculating as to future events.

    The manner in which they devote themselves to the viewing of the soap suggests

    that they are fully involved with the programme; they have consciously made the

    decision to watch the programme and are actively involved with the genre. It is

    clear from their systematic retelling of recent events inEastEnders that they are

    mentally processing the information transmitted, keeping track of plots andcharacters in order to make sense of the narrative. I would argue that the reasons

    for watching a soap may affect the individuals interpretation of events, as thosewho stated that they watched because they find it "good" or "interesting" (namelythe younger viewers) were more open to the subscribed meaning of the text,

    interpreting events in a positive light. The older girls who stated reasons ofboredom for viewing, tended to be more cynical about the whole genre in terms of

    plot and characterisation.

    Yet the fact that soap opera is clearly so widely talked about indicates that girls

    from 11 16 are participating in the process of the soap drama (even mimickingspecific accents to heighten their involvement in the retelling of a storyline),

    bringing "richness and density" (Geraghty, 1990: 15) to the text, applying theirown meaning and relevance. They are actively involved in the genre in terms of

    predicting the future, using their acquired knowledge of storylines and the

    conventions of the genre in order to foresee future episodes and turns of events.

    Within the discussion groups, evidence of both involvement and detachment was

    present. When discussing certain characters, the interviewees made remarks

    concerning the characters habits, behaviour, dress sense indicating that they are

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    treating the character as a person in their own right, showing audience involvementthrough the overlap between fiction and reality.

    However, comments were also made to prove their detachment from the same

    characters, such as the comment, "Little Mo and Trevor are going to be on GMTV".The interviewee indicated her detachment from the characters by bringing theminto the real world but by using their character names. Also, references were made

    to "they" do this, that or the other, "they" referring to the production team orwriters of the soap, indicating that the girls are aware that the genre is fictional and

    created by unseen bodies, that what they see on the screen before them is not infact continuing when our backs are turned, but that it is conventions which lead us

    to think so.

    Interview Group 3, when discussing how they would like to see more characters of

    their own age, also made reference to the fact that another set would be required toshow children at school and that this, along with the other actors required would

    prove costly. Regardless of their undisputed involvement with the genre, they are

    aware that the programme is cleverly constructed and is in fact merely arepresentation of real life.

    Group 2 talked about "bad actresses" and wanting to fast forward over the boring

    bits, showing that someone is in control of this fictional world. Even the youngestgroup was able to point out that when Lisas crying, "it looks like shes really



    My aim in mentioning favourite characters was to see whether or not the same

    names were ever mentioned and whether or not patterns emerged as to the reasonswhy the girls liked a certain character, so were they, whether they realised it or not,

    identifying with particular characters, or even a whole range of characters. But this

    section proved to be very vague. Far from indicating an affinity for the strongwomen characters on the soaps, the girls found it easier to name the characters they

    disliked or found tedious, of which there were many. The questionnaire responses

    did not produce any thing conclusive at all; more often than not the section was leftblank. Group 1 of the interview groups expressed a preference for Lisa, although

    watching their reactions I gained the impression that they felt under pressure toproduce a name as they were being recorded, and having already mentioned Lisa

    they opted for that name. Group 2 listed several of the male characters as their

    favourites for reasons of physical attraction, while Group 3 responded the mostpositively to Jamie, who they declared is "lovely". Yet even when asked directlytheir opinions of the female characters, responses were not positive. The older

    women characters were seen as boring, uninteresting, too much like authority

    figures from which these girls are trying to escape. The younger female characterswere described, as "annoying" and I could not find a response that led me to

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    believe that some sort of positive identification was taking place. However, on twooccasions during the interviews, character names were mentioned as reminding the

    interviewee of some one they knew, so in this way, the girls were able to seefamiliar people represented in the soap, thus identifying with a character on a non-

    personal basis.

    Group 3 would prefer to see more characters of their own age, Group 2 would like

    to see a more positive representation of teenage characters where as the youngestgroup did not express an interest in seeing characters of her own age, explaining

    that after a whole day at school, she did not want to see a rerun of her day in theevening. Her enjoyment seemed to stem from the fact that she could gain an insight

    into an adults world through watching the soaps (as mentioned by David

    Buckingham in his study of youngsters andEastenders in 1987).

    Relating also to Buckinghams study ofEastenders and his category of"characterisation and identification", he stated that the more complex the character,the more likely it is that identity will occur, whilst simpler characters are more

    likely to be ignored or ridiculed. It is true to say that the more complex charactersof Steve, Dan and Phil were mentioned in a positive way, where as Robbie and

    Kerry, simpler characters, were ridiculed.

    It seems to me that the fact that identification does not seem to occur may beattributable to the fact that these adolescent girls are probably just outside the

    intended age of the audience, therefore they may not be engaging with the genre in

    the way in which the producers intend. However, having made this point at thevery start of this study, I reiterate now that I would find it very difficult to name asoap character with which I could identify, despite being a member of the target

    audience. The questions then remains, from where does the main pleasure inviewing soap opera stem?

    It seems that the older the adolescent female viewer becomes, the more cynical

    they become in their viewing and their interpretation of reality. The younger girls

    surveyed found the characters and the storylines to be realistic in theirrepresentation of daily life, but as the groups became older, their attitude became

    more negative towards the representation of reality and they described storylines as

    "unrealistic" and "so obvious". It must be considered that maybe the older girls donot want to be seen as being involved in soap opera; they are well aware of the

    negative connotations attached to the genre and there is the possibility that they areattempting to protect their image by radiating a negative attitude towards the genre.

    They perhaps do not want to be seen as the typically mindless female who

    regularly tunes into soap in order to be entertained, as this is not an image thatwould portray them in a flattering light in the ultra-cool youth culture set. Also, bythe determination of age alone, at 16 years old very little actually seems to enthuse

    the adolescent, thereby soap opera is just another aspect of life that is bearable but

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    not to be raved over. Certainly it could not be described as "the best thing ontelevision" by this age group, even if at 11 or 12 this may be the case.

    Therefore, it could be true that behind the cynical and negative exterior, there is no

    reason to believe that 15-16 year olds gain any less pleasure from the genre of soapthan the younger (or indeed older) viewer. Yes, it can be said that the main reasonfor viewing could be due to boredom; this could be true for any viewer of any

    genre. That factor does not have to detract from the pleasure experienced once theindividual is seated and watching the latest episode of a soap. I would hazard an

    explanation that one of the main pleasures of viewing soap opera stems from itsconventions; the way in which the audience is engaged with the narrative (a factor

    I have indicated, even in the case of the least enthusiastic) is a strong and

    compelling factor in the reason for viewing. Curiosity gets the better of us and wecannot help but tune in to see the outcomes of the diverse and multiple storylines.

    The way in which the audience is kept guessing and never granted a conclusiveresolution is a powerful method of keeping even the most cynical of viewer

    returning to their regular seat in front of the parallel universe of soap.