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What’s the long-lasting obsession with soap operas?

My Sentiments Exactly

As I was watching “General Hospital” the other day, I had to wonder why soap operas have such a stronghold on the American public – and why they have for so long.

According to an article titled “What has kept fans watching ‘the soaps’ for so many decades?” by Lynn Zubernis, Ph.D., soap operas have long been an American obsession for good reason.

It begins with the fact that our brains are hard-wired to attach to familiar faces.

It seems fans feel intimacy with soap opera characters.

Not that I think I know Laura Spencer personally or anything, to be clear.

It went on to say that at one time, numerous serial programs were airing in the daytime; the earliest ones started in the 1930s and were sponsored by companies who made cleaning products — hence, their nickname, “soap operas.”

Soap operas have been criticized for having unrealistic and over-the-top storylines that might distort the perception of reality.

Either way, soaps like “General Hospital” remain highly popular. So, why do viewers become so attached to these long-running serial programs?

That same article explained that the fact that soaps tend to be long-running is part of their appeal. The shows draw a multigenerational audience, with many viewers first watching with a parent. Fans’ long histories with the characters contribute to their emotional attachment.

Watching the same cast of characters over many decades is an emotional anchor, especially in times of uncertainty and change. The familiar faces and voices can feel like “company” in a world that’s increasingly disconnected and in the midst of what has been called an epidemic of loneliness.

Sigh.

The longevity of soap operas also means that viewers have extensive knowledge of the characters’ histories and evolution, and being able to draw on those memories is pleasurable. There’s a sense of being an “insider” because there’s no way a new viewer could be caught up on two or three or even more decades of history, so those who have “been there” feel a sense of ownership over the characters and share an intimacy with them.

Over time, the multigenerational nature of both audience members and the fictional families whose narratives play out onscreen contribute to interconnections between the viewer and the stories.

Obviously, spending an hour in Port Charles, the main city in “General Hospital,” is a break from whatever stresses are happening in life, and can be a welcome temporary escape allowing viewers a chance to focus on the stresses of someone else’s life instead of their own.

The strong sense of familiarity viewers feel for their favorite characters can lead to strong emotions. The genre is also famous for constantly shaking up romantic pairings, ensuring that some subsets of viewers are always going to be angry (while some other subset is going to be cheering).

Another criticism of soaps is that strong emotion can result in a temporary blurring of the lines of fantasy and reality, and actors who just happen to be playing villainous characters indeed draw a lot of irate comments on social media. However, most fans are aware that the actor is not, in fact, the character.

At least, let’s hope.

Whatever the case, here’s to the next 60 years of “General Hospital” and keep watching unapologetically, y’all!

Kimerer is a columnist and soap opera enthusiast. Share your favorite character with her at pkimerer@zoominternet.net.

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