Structural affects of soap opera fan correspondence, 1970s–80s

  • Leah Steuer University of Wisconsin, Madison
Keywords: Broadcast history, Fandom history, Media archives, Media industries, 1970s television, 1980s television


Paper correspondence between fans and creators/producers is a sort of historiographic challenge to the imagined shift from so-called analog to digital fandom. It opens the possibility of applying digital methodologies to archival objects as researchers continue to historicize fan practices, identities, and cultures. Using the archival papers of soap opera showrunners Frank and Doris Hursley, and Bridget and Jerome Dobson as a case study for this structural-affective analysis, I draw data and metadata from approximately three hundred fan letters and responses. Trends of emotion across the letters figure prominently in an analysis of the affective strategies used by both fans and creators to create an intimately collaborative televisual experience. The letters contain layers of valuable metadata, including filing conventions, typography, and collage; these permit identification of negotiations of power over the televisual narrative, and they provide valuable insights into the affective textures of the soap fan's everyday life. Digital fan studies foregrounds the integration of fandom into one's online life, as well as the importance of social media in closing the gulf between fan and creator. This praxis expands on the value of analog tools—pen, paper, scissors, and typewriter—to the predigital television fan's virtual life. Material communication played and continues to play an important role in fomenting fannish identity, exercising industrial literacy, performing affective engagement, and navigating an enduring, affectionate tension between author and audience.

Author Biography

Leah Steuer, University of Wisconsin, Madison
PhD student in Media & Cultural Studies, Communications Department