Other Worlds: Society Seen Through Soap Operas


171 pages
Contains Bibliography
ISBN 1-55111-103-9
DDC 791.45'6





Reviewed by Sarah Robertson

Sarah Robertson is editor of the Canadian Book Review Annual.


The much-disparaged television soap opera has attracted considerable
academic attention in recent years. Dorothy Anger, who teaches
anthropology at Memorial University, adopts the perspective of the
“scholarly fan” in this thoughtful study of American soaps and
British serials. Individual chapters are devoted to the history and
development of soaps, technical aspects of production, acting in soap
operas, the messages conveyed by soaps, and, finally, fans and why they

Much of Anger’s analysis concerns the striking differences between
American and British soaps. Whereas the former are plot-driven and
rooted in melodrama, the latter are character-driven and rooted in
social realism. The outlandish plots featured on certain American soaps
(Days of Our Lives’ demonic possession storyline being a prime
example) would be unthinkable on such bastions of kitchen-sink realism
as Coronation Street (CS). Most Canadian soaps try to straddle both
worlds, and most fall short. Of Riverdale, Anger observes, “It is
‘too American’ for viewers of CS, too ‘boring’ for those who
watch the US soaps ... Unintentionally, such programmes mirror the
Canadian identity of uncertainty.” Anger would like to see in Canada a
geographically rooted soap that is clearly more reflective of the
British model.

If Anger the scholar is keenly aware of soaps’ flaws, Anger the fan
is fully cognizant of their attractions. Soaps have been described as
“‘cuddle literature’ for grown-ups,” a concept that perhaps only
regular viewers can appreciate. But these televised bedtime stories have
more to offer than solitary pleasures. For many fans, soaps inform the
discourse that occurs within their given communities. The proliferation
of soap-related Internet user groups and chat rooms testifies to the
ability of soaps not just to inform communities, but also to create
them. Anger draws on feminist criticism in discussing the sense of
empowerment that can result from soap-watching. At the same time, she
effectively debunks “the stereotype of soap fans as women with shallow
minds and narrow lives.”

Although much of Anger’s study is concerned with broad cultural
themes—in particular, the symbiotic relationship between soaps and
society— it does not neglect the nuts and bolts of the industry. We
learn about the logistics of casting and recasting, about the challenges
soap writers face in balancing the competing needs for change and
continuity, and about the damage inflicted on American soaps by
ratings-obsessed network executives who have little or no understanding
of the genre.

Other Worlds includes extensive notes and a bibliography, but
regrettably no index. The book will be of particular interest to soap
fans and/or readers interested in cultural theory.


Anger, Dorothy C., “Other Worlds: Society Seen Through Soap Operas,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/421.