Soap Opera: Realism, Spectatorship and the Female Audience
The soap opera is classed as a woman’s genre in which a fictional discourse of current affairs is discussed as speculated gossip. Charlotte Brunsdon (1995, 1997) has stated that the British soap opera has specific conventions, which make it a soap opera. Realism in a soap opera reflects the issues that are evident in society today and recognised by a female audience, allowing the viewer to connect with specific plots and characters. Brunsdon had become interested in the sudden intriguing criticisms of the feminist critics who argued about how the representations of the personal home life became an intriguing object of study. Brunsdon was interested in feminist ambivalence and was intrigued to find out why viewers lied about their viewing pleasure. Since EastEnders and Hollyoaks introduced the soap opera to a younger audience, the profile of the soap had improved with younger viewers and even men watching too. Also looked at in this study are the views of Tania Modleski (2003) who argued that the soap opera is important to the female viewer as it never ends, just as the continuous trial and tribulations in real life. She also explained that due to the soap leaving cliff hangers at the end of every episode the female viewer is encouraged to continue watching throughout the week to find out what happens next in the dramatic life of the soap opera. Annette Kuhn (1997) has continued that problems with gendered spectatorship make it difficult to determine the ‘female’ or ‘feminine’ spectator and that the feminine subject content of the soap opera transcended the patriarchal modes of subjectivity. Kuhn continued in explaining Brunsdon’s and Modleski’s views on how the ideological and moral framework of a woman’s home life can be constructed at an extra-textual level, which addresses both the female and feminine audience, showing how these constructs are central to the woman’s view and connections with the real world. Geraghty (1991) explained how the realism evident in the soap opera portrayed a credible dramatization of real events. Using Brunsdon’s study of realism and feminist ambivalence and Modleski’s proposal that the ‘feminine’ in soap should be investigated more thoroughly in terms of a female audience, Kuhn had suggested that soap opera made the female viewer feel like an ‘ideal mother’. This shows that a woman is benevolent to the issues raised in her own family due to the terrible situations outside the home in the community.
The hermeneutic speculation that arises from watching a soap opera increases the pleasure of a female audience. With the various plots being wrapped up, continued with more revelations or started as cliff-hangers, the female viewer is enticed to keep watching the serials. In Coronation Street the producers use an Advert break after more secrets have been revealed, encouraging the viewer to wait until “Coronation Street returns after the break” (ITV voiceover) revealing the aftermath of previous events. With the soap opera the “viewer had to juggle another sort of knowledge in the attempt to get the prediction right” (Brunsdon, 1997, page 21). Viewers would discuss the soaps and predict how the story lines could progress at work or school the next day. Will Stacey from EastEnders be arrested for Archie Mitchell’s murder, will she die, or will she flee safely? Leaving an opening for a possible return? This discourse gives the spectator a chance to speculate and creates a fictional discourse in which women engage. Charlotte Brunsdon (1997) affirmed that
It is surely the predictable familiarity of the life represented which pulls us in. Because all British soap operas have some relation to realist conventions, the problems and worries of characters are recognisable.
(Brunsdon, 1997, page 25)