Writing Sample for SheKnows Media Application
August 12th, 2015The following three pages are taken from the 85-page written portion of my Master’s project, written this fall in completion of my MA in rhetoric and composition at Colorado State University Fort Collins. The other portion of the project was a website (whose URL I have provided above) whose created was informed by the research and analysis presented in the document this excerpt was taken from. I chose only three pages for the sake of brevity, but I hope those pages provide a glimpse of my writing abilities.
WHAT IS A SOAP OPERA?
In order to save something, I felt I and visitors to TTIF should have a handle on what a soap opera is. We should be aware of its genesis, its components, and what threatens it. This knowledge primes me to design exercises and activist tasks for TTIF that truly speak to what draws people to soaps and makes visitors to TTIF likely to be moved to carry them out. I will also include in posts to the blog connected to TTIF some of the very discussion that follows, in fact.
Characters living struggles common to many Americans and others bestowed with privileges accessible only to a few of the are part of the narrative foundation of what Ford calls the “immersive story worlds” (12) that are contemporary soap operas. Ford, DeKosnik, and Harrington identify six essential elements of these fictional landscapes: backstory sprawling in both length and breadth; ensemble casts of foregrounded and supporting characters; the linking of narrative to backstory and show history; stories envisioned and realized by teams of writers working together; serial stories that interlock and morph over time with and even because of each other; and the feeling elicited in consumers of them that the worlds they portray are eternal.
Ford, DeKosnik, and Harrington’s six elements of “immersive story worlds” serve as a beginning in understanding what a soap opera is and how I will use this understanding to save soaps via “thistimeitsforever.org.” Such a definition can lead us to understanding some of the changes in, broadly, American culture and, more specifically, the television industry that have led to the current state of the disappearance of soaps, one by one—a disappearance that the campaign this document will inform is set to halt, even reverse. So below I will expand on and add to Ford’s six essential soap characteristics.
Perhaps the most obvious characteristic of soaps is their longevity. When the situation comedy, “Friends,” was renewed for a tenth season, I remember being happily shocked. Normally, if a sitcom airs for eight seasons, as did The Golden Girls, say, its stories are wrapped up on the series finale and it is thought of as having had a good, respectable run. Last year, General Hospital celebrated its 50th year on the air. When it was canceled by CBS, and until I and others bring it back, Guiding Light had been on radio and television airwaves for a combined total of 64 years. And when All My Children went on what I call indefinite hiatus, Susan Lucci had played its iconic character of Erica Kane for its 41-year lifespan. A person could easily be born, live his/her entire life, and die during the lifespan of one soap!
When I have discussed this project with people of various backgrounds—male, female, gay, straight, highly formally educated, less formally educated, from large families, from smaller ones—one response nearly and quite literally inevitably comes up: “I used to watch [fill in soap name] with [fill in family member’s or friend’s name].” There is a multigenerational/pair/group viewing of soaps and its power.. Both the more casual viewer and the more dedicated fan very often are turned on to soaps by family members and friends. Frequently this person is a mother or grandmother, adding a maternal aspect to the comfort soaps often provide people, an aspect of soap viewership Spence writes of extensively (152). She writes of the psychological boon soaps often provide people with, particularly the soap fans she interviewed for the study she conducted and recounts in detail in her book, and comfort was a recurring theme in her interviews.
The consecutive (serial) airing and thus viewing of soaps also serves to create deep, if one-sided, bonds between fans and both characters and shows as a whole. Until recently, almost no other medium could boast being on the air five hours a week. Now various digital and online platforms—personal DVR’s, Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, and many other websites and viewing platforms, allow for the much more brief but still soap-style watching of any show they have to offer. Also, as soap scholar C. Lee Harrington points out (Ford et. al. 24) cable television channels, such as Lifetime, now devote regular segments of their viewing schedules to daily airings of shows, often ones not considered soaps. As one of many examples, the now-defunct channel SOAPnet, which had been devoted primarily to re-airing episodes of daytime serials both from years past and contemporary ones the same day they aired, included in its daily lineup the hybrid show (a term many in Ford, DeKosnik, and Harrington’s anthology use to identify non-soap shows that borrow heavily from soap storytelling and format.) Take for example, Veronica Mars.” This series originally aired once-a-week, detailing the crime-solving escapades of the title character and was never seen as a soap opera. But when SOAPnet aired it at the same time every day, five-days-a-week, it provided viewers a soap-y phenomena many are drawn to—the ritual and the habit of viewership.