A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through the archives at Snark Weighs In, and came across this very funny piece from March 2006 spoofing Soap Opera Weekly. Around the same time, MarkH sent me a note thanking me for an old SOW article I had posted. Mark went on to lament, "I sure miss the days when that magazine ran articles of that quality." So, while Snark's spoof made me laugh, Mark's words made sad, and more than a little nostalgic.
Because back in the day, Soap Opera Weekly quite simply reinvented the soap opera fan magazine. While sister publication, Soap Opera Digest, would publish the occasional serious article, SOW was the first to treat soaps as an industry, providing fans with real information about the people behind the camera and in the front offices, in addition to the de rigueur interviews with soap stars. Other SOW firsts: outspoken editorials by founding editor, Mimi Torchin, along with informed criticism by Marlena de Lacroix and other editors; there was even an opportunity for fans to weigh in with their opinions.
And, I was there, not quite at the beginning, but close. SOW debuted in November 1989; my first article was published in April 1990. I remember a fellow contributor telling me about seeing the magazine for the first time as she was walking through Grand Central Station. She recalled stopping dead in her tracks and saying to herself, "I have to be a part of this!" And while I published only a handful of articles in SOW, it was my first national publication, and where I honed my skills as a chronicler of soaps.
But that was the old Soap Opera Weekly; just before the turn of the century SOW and SOD were sold. The new owners took SOW in, shall we say, "a new direction," I used to refer to as "fashion and beauty tips from soap stars" Alas, these days, it's less than even that. Of course, it's not just soap publications that have devolved. One of my favorite quotes about soaps comes from a 1986 TV Guide article by from former Amherst University professor, William Prichard. I found it in footnote in Carol Traynor Williams', "It's Time for My Story" It's been a good long while since TV Guide published an article referenced in a scholarly text.
Except for the first ten or so years of Soap Opera Weekly, soaps have never had a mainstream publication that took both the shows, and the fans, seriously. Of course, there's been considerable academic interest in soaps over the past 30 years, which has produced too many scholarly books and articles to count. But for the intellectually curious soap fan, there's never been anything in-between, something along the lines of, say, Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy for popular music, or Premier for film.
That vacuum has long vexed those of us who take soaps seriously; of course, that vacuum's been filled by the Internet, where all fans now have a platform to express our views, each with our own perspective and expertise. Make that overfilled: Google "soap opera blog" and over 2.5 millions pages appear; not surprisingly, some are better than others. That's why I'm so grateful for the aforementioned "Snark Weighs In" and We Love Soaps, both of whom help cut through the clutter by informally vetting what's out there in the soap blogsophere. I'm delighted to have made the cut; this blog appears of both sites' lists of links.
But, I also depend on both of these sites to keep me informed about other blogs like Tom Casiello and Sara Bibel's Deep Soap, both are former soap writers and provide a perspective very different from mine, which helps shape my thinking. And when other quality blogs pop up, I know I'll be able to depend on Snark and "We Love Soaps" to keep me informed.
And then there are the boards. My oh my, the boards! What a free-for-all: flame wars, insults, questions about which actors have had work done, who's having an affair with whom, way more personal information about some posters than I really care to know. Of course, posters do discuss the shows, but many talk about the characters as though they're real people with free will. Some actually want to hold the characters accountable for their actions, rather than directing their anger at the writers.
But tucked among all the chatter, there are voices demonstrating real understanding, perception and sometimes even wisdom about soap opera. Some, I suspect, are insiders writing under catchy pseudonyms; most are simply observant, insightful, not to mention, devoted fans. I only wish TPTB understood the value of the information contained within the boards. One downside is that, unlike most blogs, few boards archive their material, which makes it difficult for scholars and other soap fans to access comments. I first realized this problem last year, when I was advising Sam Ford on his Masters thesis at MIT.
The lack of archives notwithstanding, if used properly, the boards can be a valuable tool to help TPTB understand the current state of soaps. TPTB are always pointing to their vaunted "research," yet the numbers continue to fall. So, maybe it's time to try something new. According to Sam, for what it costs to conduct a single focus group, each show could hire someone to scroll through the boards, separate the banal from the insightful, analyze and interpret what posters are saying, and perhaps, more important, what they're not saying, then provide TPTB with information they could use to actually improve the shows by giving viewers what they really want.
Of course to work, that someone would actually have to watch, like and understand soaps - in other words, a serious-minded fan - which leave out most of the marketing interns they'd likely hire for the job. So, I'm not holding my breath here.
UPDATE: Now, it's my turn to announce a new soap blog. I was just finishing up this piece, when I heard that Red Room member, Patrick Erwin, has launched his new blog, A Thousand Other Worlds, which he'll be cross-posting here at RR. Patrick was previously a regular contributor for Marlena de Lacroix, and brings great passion and enormous insight to soaps.
© 2008 Lynn Liccardo
Causes lynn liccardo Supports