As a television watching American citizen, you must have heard of at least a couple of these ABC soap operas: All My Children, As the World Turns, The Bold and the Beautiful, Days of Our Lives, General Hospital, Guiding Light, One Life to Live, Passions and finally, The Young and the Restless. You might recall Joey’s occasional stint as Dr. Drake Ramoray on Days of Our Lives, or how Susan Lucci seemed doomed to suffer from the chronic inability to score an Emmy for her role as Erica Kane for at least 20 years. Soap operas, ABC soap operas in particular, have come to be a significant part of pop culture, and like other pop culture icons they are susceptible to the occasional parody or satire. Soap operas are often mocked for their over the top acting and their preposterous storylines. Most people consider soap operas to be a guilty pleasure—you’d never tell any of your friends that you watch it, yet you’d never miss an episode of it.
The love affair that we have with soap operas is a complex one. As much as we might disparage them, we’re not likely to break up with them anytime soon because even if soap operas are guilty pleasures, they bring us pleasure nevertheless. But what is it about ABC soap operas that seem to repel us, yet attract us all the same? Why do we scoff at a leading man who’s having an affair with the maid, who turns out to be the real mother of his son who’s embroiled in a love rectangle that stopped his wedding right when bride and groom had approached the altar when coming back to the leading man, whose become the target of blackmail due to his inability to pay back his debts…and yet we don’t stop watching.
One criticism of soap operas might be that they’re too unrealistic. What are the chances of a real life family being involved in that much scandal? And why are the characters moving and speaking so robotically despite all that they’re dealing with? In a nutshell, people watch soap operas because they like drama, but they like it when it’s not happening to them, and even if the drama is exaggerated, these are still somewhat real events that people do experience. As overblown as they are, soap opera portrayals of life are representative of our culture. They represent what we value and what we fear, but in a safe, detached form; we’re drawn in by the simultaneous reality and fantasy of this scripted world. That’s why ABC soap operas have been on the air for over 30 years, and probably will continue to be as long as the world turns.
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