Soap operas and the history of fan discussion

  • Sam Ford Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Keywords: Archiving, As the World Turns, Community, Discussion boards, Fan clubs, Fan communities, Fan proselytizers, Fandom, General Hospital, Guiding Light, Overcoded texts, Passions, Soap opera, Soap Opera Digest, Soap Opera Weekly, Social networking

Abstract

For decades, fans of U.S. soap operas have formed social networks surrounding their shows, and they did so even before the concept entered the vernacular. Soap fans, who started on a geographically local scale and built their communities through grassroots efforts, have found a variety of venues to connect with one another over the past several decades. This study looks at the pre-Internet development of these social networks to show how that trajectory relates to the current online community of soap opera fans. Although several scholars have studied soap opera fandom, few have taken an historical approach at understanding the trajectory of soap fandom, a view especially necessary in an era where online social networks are at the center of audience studies and where cornerstone U.S. soap operas are struggling to retain relevance and audience. To fill this gap, I argue that understanding fan networks today requires looking back to previous methods of fan networking. Soaps' longevity (the youngest U.S. soap is more than 20 years old) and frequency (all U.S. daytime soaps are daily) make them crucial texts in demonstrating how the roots of fan social networks in a pre-Internet era helped shape that fandom's transition onto the Internet, and they also illustrate the continued evolution of these networks as fans move online.

Author Biography

Sam Ford, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sam Ford is research affiliate with the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium and Director of Customer Insights at Peppercom, a PR agency in Manhattan.
Published
2008-08-08
Section
Praxis