Since the 1930’s, the soap opera has been the most popular genre on TV. No other form of television fiction has attracted more viewers in more countries over a longer period of time. (1)
In spite of the fact that in some countries, there has been a decline in viewership or a rise in apparently competing genres, such as talk shows and reality shows, on a global scale, the dominance of TV airtime by the soap opera remains. (2)
The average person in the UK spends almost a year of their life watching soap operas, with the majority of these being women. (3)
Nearly 33.9 million people watch at least one soap opera episode a week, and on average spend 143 minutes catching up with their favourite shows. This ostensibly moderate viewing activity equates to 336 days spent in front of the television over a single lifetime. (3)
So what is the enduring attraction of the soap opera genre? What is it that keeps us watching them and holds us in the enthrall, compelling us to keep tuning into every episode for a whole year of our own lives?
Let’s explore the heady mix of ingredients in soap operas that hook us and keep us coming back for more:
There are the high dramatic peaks of traditionalopera, applied to real life situations, taking us on an emotional roller coaster worthy of any theme park ride.
There are also the various characters, with whom we can identify, aspire to or feel repulsed by.
There is the addictive tension as we view real-life themes played out in a variety of social contexts (i.e. high-society, suburban life, historical time periods, prisons, Australian beaches). This allows us to observe the emotional themes of our own lives, from a distance, removed from our own personal environment.
There is the satisfaction of working out how a plot is going to unfold, as we invest in whether or not the main characters will get their just desserts or live happily ever after.
Perhaps it is not surprising that these very compelling ingredients form a firm foundation for our global addiction to the soap opera genre.
Curiously, we then label this heady-mix as entertainment. Is it possible that by labeling it in this way, we convince ourselves that watching soap operas is something pleasantly relaxing to be doing - a welcome relief from the stresses of life?
Who amongst us has not had picture perfect moments of snuggling up and nestling in on the couch, with the biscuits/wine/cheese/chocolate to watch the latest episode of our favourite soapie?
We typically proclaim this is well deserved ‘me’ time, our way to unwind, de-stress and be entertained, all under the belief that the dramas that we view switch off, when we switch off the TV. Is this really true though? And do our bodies instantly switch off, at the same time as the TV?
It is without question that many of us seek some kind of relief at the end of a busy and or stressful day, and as mentioned, it has been a typical, if not culturally widespread, trend in many countries to do so through the means of entertainment on TV … but at what cost do we engage with this “entertainment” package?
Have we ever considered the possibility that the stresses we live daily are identically reflected back to us through the soap operas we view? Quite possibly, if not obviously, yes - and what makes them so appealing and relatable?
And so, if this is the case, could we further consider the possibility that we may be actually adding to our stresses by viewing and escaping into the same dilemmas on the TV screen, as opposed to finding a more true and supportive means of dealing with our daily tensions?
Whether it be a one-off episode or a deep-dive into a series, the posing question here is not on the seeming right or wrong of liking a soap opera, but whether or not we are indeed following an unhealthy trend of “coping” at the end of a busy/stressful day with one such particular vice, rather than seeking a healthy means of dealing with our unresolved emotions, anxiety and daily intensities.
This trend has recently intensified into the fashionable pastime of binge-watching, whereby there are many of us who become so hooked on our favourite shows that in spite of our best intention to watch ‘only one episode’, we get so caught up that we end up reemerging hours and episodeslater, wondering where the time went. For others among us, one marathon viewing session is a regular weekly occurrence. Even our national broadcaster, the ABC, now encourages binge-watching. (4)
Looking back in history, TV’s were only invented in 1938, and widespread TV viewing only really took off in the late 1950’s. So our daily or weekly access to these intense spikes of highly charged drama is relatively recent.
Would this type of emotional roller coaster not have a profound effect on the delicate physiology of the human body? Research shows how sensitive our bodies are to even one single, internal upsurge of our own emotions and excessive and / or constant emotionality is one of the known causes of adrenal exhaustion.(5)
So what are the emotions and dominating energies we engage with, bathe in and soak up as we dive in to view our favourite soapies? As the saying goes, what’s your poison?
The consequences on our health and well-being are exacerbated by what usually follows what is the effect of this whole viewing cycle on our delicate womanly bodies, considering the manner in which it self-evidently undermines our ability to come home and truly wind down from our day? Having an essential oil fragrant bath, eating a nourishing meal (pre-prepared if super busy), enjoying loving conversations with family and friends, or a gentle stroll, are some of the ways we can support ourselves to unwind.
This would be truly nurturing ourselves in preparation for natures rejuvenator, sleep, in order to rest deeply and wake refreshed and vitalised for our next day.
If our bodies could talk in words, do you think they would say ‘just one more episode?’ Or would they welcome a return to our more natural cycles that support and nourish our well-being?
By Coleen Hensey and Sarah Flenley
1. Museum of Broadcast Communications, [online], available at: http://www.museum.tv/eotv/soapopera.htm(accessed 05 November 2017).
2. Soap Operas and Fertility: Evidence from Brazil, Eliana La Ferrara, Alberto Chong, Suzanne Duryea [research] http://www.iadb.org/res/files/WP-633updated.pdf(accessed 05 November 2017).
3. HuffPost UK, Average Briton spends one year watching soap, [online] http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2011/12/07/average-briton-spends-one-year-watching-soap_n_1133490.html(accessed 05 November 2017)
4. ABC iView, Bring on the Best, [online] http://iview.abc.net.au/collection/binge-on-the-best-australian-drama(accessed 05 November 2017)
5. What are the Causes of Adrenal Fatigue? https://adrenalfatiguesolution.com/causes-of-adrenal-fatigue/( accessed 18.12.2017)