Faculty Research & Creative Activity

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January 2010


In today’s cultural realm, everything exists within a hierarchy of sorts – fandom has not escaped this process of judgmental ranking and social stratification. Admitting to be a “fan” of something often earns people mixed responses depending on the subject of their devoted following. The more one’s object of choice strays from the mainstream, the lower one exists on the fan hierarchy. If the masses find the fan subject matter to exist on the cultural periphery, fans are often quite ridiculed. This has historically been the case for soap opera fans. What is often overlooked, however, is the utility of even the most “trivial” cultural artifact. While some do not see the point in analyzing mass-produced entertainment forms, others understand that much can be read beyond the surface of these products. The regular consumers of these items are doing a plethora of things with them and, as a result, they are affected not only by their interactions with these cultural products, but by the cultural status acquired in being associated with them. In analyzing this cyclical relationship among the soap opera, its diverse fan base, and the social-cultural setting it evolves within, this essay attempts a feminist culturalist television criticism, which addresses the issue of how ordinary people and subcultural groups resist hegemonic pressures and obtain pleasure from what the political, social and/or cultural system offers. This analysis of soap opera fandom does this but also notes the situations when fans cannot, or simultaneously do not, always resist the hegemonic pressures filtering in from outside ideological system(s). In order to study how soap opera fans both simultaneously reject and assimilate those hegemonic pressures on a daily basis, this chapter reviews existing fan research and studies the ways in which fans intermix with their chosen shows, social networks, program paraphernalia, and other outside depictions of what they cherish and who they are. The second part of this chapter deals with secondary products tangentially linked to the soap, products targeted at the traditional soap viewer: various fan websites and program paraphernalia. The overall argument throughout is that consumption is production and that although fans are not creating the actual texts themselves, they are “producing” in various ways through their active viewing.