The Funhouse Mirror: U.S. Soap Opera Images Abroad

By Marilyn J. Matelski.

Published by The Humanities Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

American soap operas are attractive to many overseas networks because the format appeals to both programmers and audiences. First of all, the cost to air these shows is relatively minimal (especially for satellite distributors, who send their signal to millions of people at one time). Second, the number of series episodes is large (and unending, unlike the “closed serial” novela form) and can be used either once a week for a long time or several times during that same week. Correspondingly, viewers, seem to love to nourish their apparently insatiable appetite for American popular culture through its serial dramas’ rich fictional tapestry—filled with daily (or weekly) doses of lust, opulence and adventure, Hollywood-style. Unfortunately, however, the American images transmitted via US soaps often reinforce foreign stereotypes of a materialistic, aggressive, amoral American culture, despite attempts to make these shows more socially relevant.

This essay explores the predominantly unintended cultural portrait of the United States through soap opera exportation, using the frameworks of cultivation theory and selectivity. It argues that, despite American producers’ concerted efforts to broaden their programs’ cultural and political spectra through careful character development and plotlines, previously established images of America prevail and are, in fact, reinforced by both media and real world experience. The Young and the Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful serve as particularly helpful examples, due to their vast popularity worldwide.

Keywords: American Soap Operas, International Syndication, Cultivation Theory, Selectivity

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp.1-8. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.142MB).

Dr. Marilyn J. Matelski

Professor, Communication Department, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA, USA

Marilyn J. Matelski, a Professor of Communication at Boston College, has studied the social/cultural influence of serial drama for more than twenty years. In addition to her first book, The Soap Opera Evolution (1988), Matelski published Soap Operas Worldwide in 1999. She has been an invited guest on BBC Radio from time to time to discuss daytime drama in both America and the U.K.; and continues to be interested in daytime drama’s influence in different cultures, viewing soaps around the world whenever she gets the opportunity.

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