Agnes Eckhardt Nixon Fergus M. Bordewich - Essay

Fergus M. Bordewich

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Although soap opera aficionados would seem to be a minority among college students, there are nonetheless thousands of young people around the country who daily put aside their Sartre, Machiavelli and Freud—not to mention such obsolete writers as Fanon and Debray—to watch the moiling passions of middle-class America as portrayed on daytime TV. What is it about these slow-moving melodramas with their elasticized emotions that today's college students find so engrossing?…

[In] recent years the subject matter of daytime TV has changed and become much more relevant to the interests of young viewers. Into the world of frazzled passions and leaden drama, which could grip chiefly the bored housewife …, contemporary issues have been injected. The "generation gap," abortion, obscenity, narcotics and political protest are now commonly discussed and dealt with on the soap operas of TV.

From its inception in January, 1970, "All My Children" has consistently employed topical material. "It was a kind of 'first,'" explains Lewis Antine, an American history graduate student at New York's City University. "It was a sense of your stuff being on TV for the first time, like 'Hey, they're talking about us on Mom's show! How will they handle it?'"…

Some students claim they watch the soaps for a dose of "realism," others for a taste of "unreality"; some say they find them thrilling and exotic, while still others see in the soap opera an emotional blueprint of their own home life….

[At] best, perhaps, the soaps manage to portray life in all its true banality rather than attempting to squeeze art from what is inherently a pretty bland affair.

Fergus M. Bordewich, "Why Are College Kids in a Lather over TV Soap Operas?" in The New York Times, Section II (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 20, 1974, p. 31.