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“Soap operas were very early invested with a social dimension”

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In Soap and tears. The soap opera, a female subculture (Amsterdam, 250 pages, 18 euros), media historian Delphine Chedaleux, a specialist in female media cultures, invites readers to take this depreciated genre seriously by presenting a synthesis of works published on the subject.

What exactly does the expression “soap opera” mean? And what productions does it designate?

The term imposed itself in the American press in 1939 in place of daytime dramatic serials. The formula is ironic: the fact of associating an industrial product – soap refers to the cosmetic companies that sponsor soap operas – with the most legitimate of the dramatic arts creates an oxymoron which immediately signifies the triviality of these radio stories intended for women. home. Although the format has evolved, it is still used to designate a particular type of endless (or almost endless) soap operas, which feature a large community of characters evolving mainly within the domestic sphere, and develop plots revolving almost exclusively around sentimental, family and interpersonal relationships.

How was the genre formed? What were his primary goals?

When they appeared at the turn of the 1930s, these radio soap operas were designed as publicity instruments. Sponsored by manufacturers of hygiene and cleaning products, such as Procter & Gamble, they intend to transform the listener into a consumer, while entertaining her. The first soap operas feature a Mother Courage, often a widow, who gives her entourage wise moral and practical advice, with the help of manufactured products, the merits of which are praised to the listeners.

You speak of the soap as a “feminine subculture”. What makes it specific in relation to male subcultures?

Originally, this notion applied to the “shop-girl” culture, dear to adolescent girls. We owe it to the academics Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber, who intend to make girls visible within a field of British sociology – the cultural studies – where the concept of subculture is used to designate the urban cultures of young British working-class men, seen as forms of aesthetic and moral resistance to social domination. Seemingly less creative and more directly shaped by cultural industries, female subcultures allow women and girls to create spaces of freedom and expressiveness which, because they are confined to the domestic sphere, are compatible with assignments that weigh specifically on them. Surveys conducted among female spectators in the 1980s showed that the oral culture and feminine sociability to which the soap gave rise could constitute a source of cultural and affective autonomy. Even a lever of self-awareness beyond the reach of male gaze and control.

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