How Soaps Altered the World
Sun, April 18, 2021

How Soaps Altered the World

Soaps are complicated dramas about extreme human relationships, with over-the-top characters and situations / Photo by: NBC Television via Wikimedia Commons

 

After routine household tasks are done, housewives will normally curl up in front of their TV sets, thankful for the break in their monotonous routine and thrilled at the prospect of seeing who slapped who, who got pregnant, who conned who in their favorite soap opera. Such engaging “dramas” on screen give housewives invigorating and at the same time numbing feelings that are like the effect of an addicting drug. And indeed, a lot of people have become addicted to soaps.

Soaps are complicated dramas about extreme human relationships, with over-the-top characters and situations. The plot and acting can be so out-of-this-world that many criticize and even make fun of them. But no matter the censure on their favorite TV show, housewives persist on watching, not to see real life but rather to escape the humdrum of their own lives. For at least an hour or two, they get to breathe and taste exhilarating quests! Soaps are without a doubt escapist entertainment.

Soaps Through the Years

Soaps can be traced back to the 1930s serial dramas on the radio with Procter and Gamble as their main sponsors. Other soap companies followed suit, hence the name soap operas.

“Painted Dreams” was the first real soap aired by WGN radio station in Chicago. Radio soaps transitioned to television in 1949 with “These Are My Children” as the first daytime TV soap. Since then, soaps have gained popularity and became an everyday routine in most American households. Soap companies continued to sponsor the shows, so the name soap operas stuck.

As more women entered the working economy, soaps suffered a downward trend. By the 1980s, talk shows and game shows dominated TV networks. By the early 2000s, most soaps were canceled. There were attempts to revive and reinvent soaps but the spurts of successes were not sustained. Today, soaps are struggling to survive and a lot of people wish that they continue to get aired.

Soaps can be traced back to the 1930s serial dramas on the radio with Procter and Gamble as their main sponsors. Other soap companies followed suit, hence the name soap operas / Photo by: R.P Piper via Wikimedia Commons

 

Effecting Change, the Good and the Bad

Soaps are celebrated for contributing to both the good and bad of society. Around the world, the genre has achieved the reputation of a blended melodrama and public service that irresistibly casts a spell over millions of viewers. Here are some of these worthwhile achievements:

- In 1951, the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with BBC radio created “The Archers,” a country-folk story that encouraged farmers to use new technologies to enhance productivity. This longest-running soap in the world subtly put across the message.

- In 1969, “Simplemente Maria,” a Peruvian telenovela about the rags-to-riches domestic worker who made her fortune through her sewing skills, inspired Latinos to enroll in sewing classes. It caused a spike in sewing machine sales. It was rumored that the soap spread to Mexico and got a viewing number exceeding the 1970 World Cup.

- In 1975, adult literacy was 50%. Government efforts to improve the status were futile. Inspired by “Simplemente Maria,” Mexican television writer Miguel Sabido created “Ven Conmigo,” a series on successes of adult literacy. After the first airing, a big turnout of people, 250,000 to be exact, came to receive literacy booklets from the government. Enrolment in the literacy program of the government increased nine-fold over the course of a year.

In 1951, the Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with BBC radio created “The Archers,” a country-folk story that encouraged farmers to use new technologies to enhance productivity / Photo by: Amanda Slater via Flickr

 

- In 1984, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi invited Sabido to work the same magic in India. He created “Hum Log,” serial tackling issues about caste harmony and the empowerment of women. The regular viewing drew more than 50 million audiences. The soap did away the idea of untouchables on India’s caste system. Over the 17-month run, the lead actor Ashok Kumar received 400,000 letters from young viewers, beseeching him to persuade their parents to let them marry the person of their choice.

- In 2002, most poor people in India did not own a television set so PCI Media Impact embarked on a radio drama called “Taru” to reach more people. The soap series challenged the superior treatment of boys over girls. The storyline was about a gutsy young girl who appealed and won over her family to give her a party. Listeners across the region followed the series avidly. A follow-up study by the University of Texas at El Paso showed birthday celebrations for girls unexpectedly appearing around the region.

- In 1989, the soap “Eastenders” televised the first gay kiss on Great Britain. In Vanuatu and Fiji where homosexuality is stigmatized, a gay character appeared in the soap series “Love Patrol.” Both series sparked gay rights discussions that led to better understanding and increased respect for the marginalized population.

- Between the years 2002 and 2006, a number of soaps on sexual health gained attention. East Africa challenged taboos by discussing sexual health issues. Sudan aired the agonies and problems on female genitalia mutilation that resulted in an increase in opposition to the practice. Ethiopia’s “Dhimbibba” soap boosted contraception demand in the 48 health centers of the country.

On the one hand, soaps show significant divergence from everyday realities on aspects related to divorce, crimes, relationships, illness, and others. Studies conducted by Rothfuss and Meyers as well as Babrow highlighted the case that soap images representing socially undesirable behaviors affect people to endure decades of personal problems. Viewing such soaps changes the perceptions of happy marriages, divorces, careers, and infidelity. Viewers start to include some of the behaviors into their own lives.

Life is a drama and soaps exist parallel to real life. Let them continue providing us with wisdom in living our everyday lives.