Agnes Eckhardt Nixon - Essay

Agnes Eckhardt Nixon

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Time after tedious time, when critics suffer an aridity of fresh, inventive phrases with which to denigrate a film, play or book, they fall back on "soap opera"; it has become the classic cliché of derogation….

[The] syndrome persists that soap opera is a Never-Never Land where hack writers and inferior producers, directors and actors serve melodramatic pap to a lunatic fringe of female children who grow older but never grow up….

What is the appeal of the soap operas? What causes them to have millions upon millions of faithful viewers, or, if you will, "addicts"?

For a serial to be successful it must have a compelling story. That story, in turn, must concern interesting, believable characters. And the fact that it is a continuous story, allowing the development of these characters in episode after episode, permits the audience to become deeply involved with what is happening to them.

Our detractors say this becomes a vicarious experience bordering on sickness, but ask the lady who watches one and you'll find it is the very normal empathetic response that a good tale, well told, has held from time immemorial…. This is what the soap opera gives us. There is always tomorrow. A tomorrow fraught with problems, tragedies and traumas, to be sure, with hate mixed with love and sorrow with joy. But how does that differ from life itself? There are more of humanity's horrors to be found in any issue of the daily newspaper than abound in all of Sudsville.

Perhaps it is not mere coincidence that Charles Dickens, one of the greatest creators of immortal literary characters, started his career as a writer of serialized stories. He knew, and demonstrated with genius, that for a public to stay with a story they had to care about the characters in it….

Though no soap writer suffers the grandiose delusion of being a Charles Dickens, certainly we learned from him, perhaps by osmosis rather than scholarly scrutiny, that the development of characters in depth, the audience's ability to follow their lives, to love them and hate them, is an intrinsic part of the serial's appeal to its audience. Certainly it is by this very hold that the soap opera has been able to do stories which have performed a public service to the national community in a way which no other kind of television entertainment could achieve.

As an example,...

(The entire section is 1000 words.)