Dick­ens of a for­mula cleans up

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature - Graeme Blun­dell

THE US press coined the dis­dain­ful term soap opera in the 1930s to de­scribe the pop­u­lar se­ri­alised do­mes­tic ra­dio dra­mas dom­i­nat­ing day­time lis­ten­ing hours. Some con­de­scend­ing crit­ics even called ra­dio soaps ‘‘ se­ri­alised drool’’. Cre­ated as ad­ver­tis­ing ve­hi­cles, they were called soap be­cause they were spon­sored by house­hold clean­ing prod­ucts ( their char­ac­ters had dirty se­crets, af­ter all).

The soap opera is ar­guably the most sig­nif­i­cant art form cre­ated by ad­ver­tis­ing, as cul­tur­ally sin­gu­lar as the 30- sec­ond com­mer­cial.

The ironic word opera was tacked on be­cause do­mes­tic day­time se­ri­als were per­formed in an over- the- top, stilted style, seen as a par­ody of the se­ri­ous art of act­ing.

Th­ese days soap se­ri­als the world over are the most pop­u­lar and re­silient form of television sto­ry­telling. Their won­der­fully overblown, end­lessly talk­ing char­ac­ters still chase their hap­pily- ever- af­ters and ex­er­cise prodi­gious self- pos­ses­sion in the face of eter­nal calamity. ‘‘ They of­fer us worlds in which the un­think­ing de­ci­sion, the chance en­counter, the ac­ci­den­tal oc­cur­rence, the mean­ing­less tragedy all seem con­nected to some deeper but ob­scure pat­tern of sig­nif­i­cance, some moral or­der,’’ wrote me­dia critic Robert C. Allen, a soap spe­cial­ist.

The craft­ing of the uni­ver­sal soap se­rial in­volves com­pound cli­maxes and un­ex­pected cliffhang­ers, open- ended sto­ries and par­al­lel points of view.

All of them, re­gard­less of the coun­try in which they ap­pear, are linked by their dis­tinc­tive se­rial nar­ra­tive struc­ture and ex­hibit in­fin­itely greater sta­bil­ity than any prime- time genre.

Te­len­ov­e­las, for ex­am­ple, as Los An­ge­les correspondent Robert Lusetich makes clear, are soaps with a Latin scent, charged with de­sire and ten­sion, that have kicked up their heels for the past 40 years. The more re­cent new- wave nar­ra­tives have even cre­ated a space in Latin Amer­ica for crit­i­cal and re­al­ist dra­mas punch­ing away at is­sues such as po­lice cor­rup­tion, in­flu­ence- ped­dling and ur­ban vi­o­lence.

Se­ri­al­i­sa­tion is a de­vice that echoes the be­gin­nings of the mod­ern pub­lished novel in the mid 19th cen­tury. Soap ad­dicts are lit­tle dif­fer­ent from the read­ers of Charles Dick­ens’s early books, orig­i­nally pub­lished se­ri­ally in news­pa­pers.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.