Book: Women and Soap Opera

Geraghty, Christine. Women and Soap Opera: A Study of Prime Time Soaps. Cambridge: Polity, 1991. Print. ISBN 0745604897

Frankly I was disappointed with this book. It was clearly someone’s thesis published (you can almost hear their committee telling them to add this or that) with very little attempt to rewrite it to make it more book like aka more readable. It does cover a wide range of sources, but mostly focuses on Dallas and Dynasty in the United States and Eastenders, Coronation Street, Brookside, and Crossroads in the United Kingdom. Daytime soaps in both countries are ignored. Comparisons are made to women’s studies, romance books, romance movies, woman’s fiction, psychological and sociological theories, etc. but not to daytime soaps in either country.

The best part of the book is its examination of how soap operas tend to be ruled by maternal viewpoints, that the community is brought to function on family type dynamics by extended the family to the community. Even in more male focus soaps, like Dallas, have this strong matriarch figure who calls the tune. (Nobody goes up against Miss Ellie Ewing.) Soaps often lose focus and risk cancellation when they are co-opted into the male viewpoint.

I really like the emphasis on community which I think is truly the most important part of soaps for the viewer, being brought into that community and functioning as a part of it. This is important part of both storylines, how people can stay in town (oh, that’s just Alan Spaulding being Alan, never mind his near genecide of the planet with the Dreaming Death or his shooting his son Phillip – twice), and the fanbase who in quality soaps with longerm viewing makes fans feel like they too are part of the community, that they also live part time in Springfield. Geraghty reached the same conclusion I had that the reason romance novels aren’t substitutes for soaps is that romance novels focus too firmly on just one couple without any kind of community around them (except for shout references to the hero and heroine of previous books in the series – if there is one).

The tension between the need for being a haven of familiarity and needing different stories to tell encouraging change was nicely examined and thought provoking.

What I disliked most was the limit of its view and the constant name dropping. If this had been properly edited to become a book, it would have included things like a series of descriptions of each soap mentioned with years of production, general set up, brief descriptions of major characters who would be mentioned in the book, etc. Instead you’re just supposed to know who Alexis was, what role she played on Dynasty, and associate her with Joan Collins none of which is spelled out in the text. I don’t think they even said for sure what Alexis’s last name was. It was just a constant barrage of name dropping and you’d have to watch every soap mentioned to truly follow all of the text. They assume background knowledge of all the soaps mentioned down to character histories and major plots over the years. As I haven’t ever seen British soaps from that time period I missed full implications. For example, I don’t know who in heavens name Kevin Barlowe is from Coronation Street, but the book is written as if I knew his life story forward and backward, so references of that sort were totally lost on me. The same holds through of a lot of the theories Geraghty is applying, but not spelling out, assuming her audience has had the same background she had. Both these things severely limit the benefit and enjoyment of reading the book.

There is one Guiding Light reference, a single sentence in a paraphrase from another soap book. You can find that on page 132. As a plus there is a very nicely done notes section if you find something you want to read more about. There is also a fairly nice if not overly deep index where among other things character references are indexed. Character names are indexed First Name Last Name (Soap Opera Name).

So I wouldn’t get this one for your collection even if you find a copy unless you have a focus on British soaps or an interest in what is kind of like, but not exactly a gender study analysis of certain night time soap operas.

Robansuefarm is the handle of one of Manny and Guiding Light‘s biggest fans following in her family’s footsteps of Guiding Light fandom since 1939. This blog is an effort to make it easy to find Guiding Light and especially Manny online. Check back here for her blog, find fanfic previews and fake WSPR newscasts on her YouTube, find podcasts that look back to old shows and audios of her fanfics on Blog Talk Radio, and finally follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

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