Soap Operas and the politics of everyday lives Essay
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Language is use for communication and to convey our ideas. It can also be used as a social marker. It creates meanings and it is also considered as a source of power (Larson, :180). Power relations are also embedded in the langauge of soap operas. Soap operas are said to be reflections of reality, it mirrors the class struggle between the rich and the poor. It demonstrates how those who are in power easily manipulate the poor but later in the story the poor will be vindicated.
This is the semantic dimension of language; solidarity and power assymetry of superior over inferior.
Identification with both the hero and the heroine does not entail a cognitive choice, but draws upon a repertoire of unconscious process. Both is not a random object, but rather a particular commoditized human, routed through a system of signs with exchange value (Friedberg, 1990:109). To look at an object may mean various things in the subconscious mind, one is to grow like it by forcibly trying to imitate it.
Working-class members are more inclined to identify with dramatic character, whereas people with higher cultural capital, including aesthetics, are more inclined to maintain a critical distance to the narrative.
The ideological problematic of soap opera – the frame or field in which meanings are made, in which significance is constructed narratively – is that of ‘personal life’. More particular, personal life in its everyday realization through personal relationships. This can be understood to be constituted primarily through the representations of romances, families and attendant rituals – birth, engagements, marriages, divorce, and deaths. In Marxist terms this is the sphere of the individual outside waged labor. In feminist terms it is the sphere of women’s ‘intimate oppression’ (Brunsdon, 1997:58).
The spectator is a person who experiences little, who feels that he [sic] is a “poor wretch to whom nothing of importance can happen,” who has long been obliged to damp down, or rather displace, his ambition to stand in his own at the hub of world affairs; he longs to feel and to act and to arrange things according to his desires… And the playwright and the actor enable him to do this by allowing him to identify himself with a hero… His enjoyment is based on an illusion. (Freud, 1990:89). By identifying with the person onscreen, the person is displacing oneself, which Freud suggests as “blowing off steam”.
Identification with the actor serves the audience to make this an outlet for unfulfilled desires, by identifying with the performer, one would create a venue where the actor serves as a tool for the satisfaction of the viewer. The viewer puts himself in the actor’s place and relates with all the ups and downs that the actor experiences in his life. The actor’s success is also the fan’s success. Soap operas are usually criticized by the stereotypical and unrealistic manner in which they portray women, which confirms them more in their subordination in the society.
According to Brunsdon, there was a feminist rejection of soaps which is in effect homologous with the traditional cultural contempt for soaps. This was followed by a certain reevaluation which coincides across the women’s movement of conventionally feminine skills such as embroidery and the admission of enjoyment in some of the pleasures of traditional femininity, like dressing up. ‘Heroine television’ is centrally about female characters living their lives, usually working both inside and outside the home, usually not in permanent relationships with men, sometimes with children, and trying to cope.
Soap opera is not quite ‘heroine television’ but it was mainly attractive to feminists as an object of analysis because it was perceived to be both for and about women. The ‘personal is political’ is the most resonant and evocative claim of the 1970s western feminism. If the personal is political, if it is in the home, in relationships, in families, that women’s intimate oppression – or the oppression of women as women – is most consensually secured, then the media construction and representation of personal life becomes fascinating and an urgent object of study.
If the traditional leftist critique of the media, with its structuring sense of class conflict, was drawn to the reporting of the public world – to industrial disputes, to the interactions of state and broadcasting institutions, to international patterns of ownership and control – emerging feminism scholarship had quite another focus. The theoretical impulse of feminism pushed scholars not to the exceptional but to the everyday.
So the theoretical conviction that there was politics to everyday life and that women’s hidden labor in the home was essential to capitalism coincides with the actual generic distribution of women on television (Brunsdon, 1997:57). Television is very important in the struggle for meaning and representation, especially in the construction of daily life common sense. Television can fortify the existing cultural domination by presenting inequality as normal or contribute, in special cases, to subversion by providing discourses which present it as oppressive and illegitimate, or offering possibilities for alternative reading (Vink, 1988:124).
In most soap operas, women are seen as commodities that are subordinate to men, yet women can kill in order to get the man she loves. The poor are manipulated to the rich man’s desires and are helpless to fight back. Women are subjected to physical violence or symbolic oppression. Thus, resonates male dominance in the society. Women as inferior entity while men are the superior ones (Larson, :185). In these lopsided relations, the poor are powerless against the people in power. This powerlessness further widens the gap between the rich and the poor.
The use of language of a particular group can de attributed to their class position in the society. Social class can be a combinationof wealth, power and prestige. Likewise, it is also attached to individuals or group of individual’s relationship to economic production. A person’s class position is determined by their economic power (Labov, 1997:45). Because soap operas are viewed on primetime, which means that the whole family is able to watch since the children are back from school and the husband is back from work, soap operas have a bigger audience.
They see on television acts rendered on the poor and females thus making the viewers docile and passive. Consequently, they refrain from doing things that are not supposed to be done by their class which is to assert their rights. Soap operas also justify violence and show that it is just part of normal occurrence. Thus it is accepted that women, poor and orphaned children may be maltreated, exploited or beaten up; men can beat up their wives and use alcohol as an excuse; and the “privileged” status of spoiled brats in convent uniforms give them a “right” to abuse household help.
The treatment an authority imposes on everyday life seems to be so strong that people project it onto the speech of the characters and refer to them while placing themselves in a subordinate position in this fictive relationship (Fachel, 1985:216). Television, as a dominant cultural industry, plays a central role in imposing a view of this type of social world. The understanding of the power relations in society and of the categories necessary for them is the basis of political struggle which the powerful appropriate to themselves.
Another effect of the television is that people can relate more to the celebrities than to their neighbors. Example of this is the death of Rico Yan which was given too much hype by the media. Most poor went out of their way to view his body as it lay in state. His death even surpassed that of National Artists who died almost the same week as the young actor. The people’s sympathy is even stronger for someone who they do not have ties with than with people form their own packages. Because a celebrity’s life is an open book, they know more about that person than their next-door-neighbors.
In the Philippines, a person, an actor, can be voted in the highest position in the land. Because of extensive media mileage a person can get elected. An important factor is identification with the personality. In urban poor areas, people usually identify with someone they see on television as “one of them”. If the actor portrays roles as the hero of the masses, then this will be what people will remember off screen. They are voted because the people think that since they have already portrayed the role therefore they are presumed to have the background and experience regarding governance.
Watching soap operas during prime time also contributes to the disintegration of families. These hours are the only time that members of the family are present in the households and should be the venue for family gathering during dinner. This should serve as the time to talk about what happen during the day, instead the members of the family are in front of the television watching soap operas. Instead of eating in the dining table, some members of the family eat in front of the television so that they would not miss a scene in the soap opera.
The only time where they could talk and bond as a family is robbed by the viewing of telenovelas. Though soap operas can also contribute to the topics that are discussed, the things that happened in the soaps would be discussed to friends during the afternoons and not with the family members. After watching soap operas during prime time, it would be late in the evening that there is no more time to interact with one another. People can relate to the events in soap operas because somehow it is also what they are experiencing in their daily lives thus art reflects life.
By watching telenovelas, they can pick up something that can somehow relieve the burden of their problems. But whether this can solve their problems is another story. Passivity and acceptance of their lot is the order of the day. It is precisely this confrontation between fiction and reality which can have a subversive effect: showing the viewer that reality can be different, that class and/or gender oppression are not natural but changeable. It is not only identification with telenovelas heroes or heroines, but also with the villains that can open the eyes of the viewers to the fact that life can be different.
This can produce a suspension of the immediate attachment to the existing social world and is, as such, a first step in the process of emancipation, a precondition of collective action, based on a common identity (Vink, 1988:169). Soap opera viewers should be able to distinguish between reel and reality. Even if there are some celebrities with good credentials who can be elected for a public position, being an actor and the role that one portrays should not be the only factor why they are voted. Instead of portraying reality, media in this case shapes the perspective and view of people according what they media want to represent.
Watching soap operas should also be limited because they create stereotypes and limit critical thinking among its viewers. Also, family disintegration would continue if members of the family would continue to ignore each other by watching television. The family is still the most important unit in a society. Instead of just identifying themselves with the actors and actresses in soap operas, the viewers should know that they can do better than just identify themselves with them. As individuals they also have the capacity to succeed on their own without just being satisfied by what their idol accomplishes because they can also do the same.