The soap opera that boldly goes into universal experiences

Watching soaps plays a significant role in the daily life of many people across the world, writes Veena Luthra

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News that the American soap opera, The Bold and the Beautiful (or B&B as it is widely known), is shooting some episodes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi has caused a lot of excitement among the show’s many fans.

The plot has Ridge (Thorsten Kaye) following his ex-wife Brooke (Katherine Kelly Lang) and Bill (Don Diamont) to the UAE, where rivalry between the two men flares up. This is the first time a US soap has been shot in the UAE, so the excitement is understandable.

This saga of the Forresters and Logans has built a large and loyal audience around the world. Television viewers have deep and lasting engagement with B&B that has occupied an important place in their daily lives for 27 years. B&B has emotionally stirred a worldwide audience in culturally diverse countries despite depicting beautiful and rich people in the fashion world of Beverly Hills.

Viewers identify so closely with the melodramatic content and larger-than-life characters that they experience the same events and feel the same emotions as the characters, laughing and crying along with them. This provides an emotional release to viewers, some of whom bond so deeply with the characters that they regard them as role models and even name their children after them.

Soaps fulfil the need to relax and be entertained; they provide escape from the grind of daily life; and, for many, they are a source of advice to help them solve their own problems.

Soaps are able to transcend cultural boundaries due to the underlying storytelling formula, which is universal and enduring. Multiple, interweaving plots and cliffhanger endings with unexpected twists keep the viewer guessing what will happen next and ensure that they will be back for the next episode.

In the modern world, where community does not mean as much as it once did, people hunger for stories with perennial themes or archetypes that reside in the collective consciousness of mankind and represent our deepest desires and yearnings; they spark a sense of recognition and meaning, and release deep emotions. Despite their glamorous settings, soaps reflect the audience’s collective fears and aspirations and transcend boundaries of social class, geography, time and culture. Viewers create meanings that are linked to their own subjective individual experiences and life context.

In the case of B&B, viewers identify with the trials and tribulations of the characters; they feel the loss and pain experience of a character such as the unlucky-in-love Taylor.

The show’s late matriarch, Stephanie, represented a loving and caring mother figure who was committed to the well-being of her family. Brooke is like Cinderella: beautiful and talented but of a low social standing. She marries an older, very wealthy man and gets transported to a jet set lifestyle. Eric Forrester, the patriarch, represents a caring and loving father despite his roving eye.

These archetype characters and themes such as good versus evil embody essential elements of universal human experiences. Some viewers in the UAE may be fearful of the influence of western norms of behaviour and ambivalent about the infiltration of Western culture. Some may disapprove of Brooke’s behaviour but they positively identify with her as a strong, independent woman.

Although stigmatised as mindless escapism, soaps play an important role in shaping societal values and bringing about social change. After an episode of B&B in which 4.5 million Americans watched the character Tony test positive for HIV, calls to the Centers for Disease Control’s Aids hotline jumped from fewer than 200 per hour to more than 1,800 per hour. Tony and his fiancé Kristen, who is HIV negative but accepts him, also adopted an orphan with Aids from Africa, and this story­line has helped lower the stigma related to the disease.

Watching soaps plays a significant role in the daily life of many people across the world. Fans identify closely with the characters who become part of their lives. The melodrama releases tensions, fears, desires and dreams that cannot be revealed in real life. Negative perceptions have led to viewers being condemned and stereotyped for their addiction. However, we should not forget the usefulness of soaps in bringing about social change through outreach to a vast global audience by embedding positive messages.

Dr Veena Luthra is a consultant ­psychiatrist working in Abu Dhabi