It’s not very often that I get to watch ‘normal’ TV. I don’t spend a huge amount of time glued to the goggle box at the best of times – in fact, I don’t possess a television – so the bulk of my viewing tends to be streamed over the Internet and of the catch up variety. As a result, I pick and choose what I want to watch, rather than have it dictated to me by schedules and other people’s preferences.
The exception is when I’m working away and I find myself tucked away in an anonymous hotel room, with little else to do other than brew tea and catch up with what everyone else is watching on the telly. On these occasions, a transformation occurs… I recline on my bed, slack-jawed and vacant-eyed, tea showing cooling at my side, as I’m spoon-fed visual pap until I’m super-saturated and completely beyond redemption.
Any element of my psyche that might hint at a discerning nature goes out of the window – I drink it all in, no matter how crap or intellectually offensive, seemingly incapable of tearing my attention away from the screen, no matter how unappealing the content. I absorb everything… Uninspiring adverts for car insurance; ‘reality’ shows about everything from pawnbroking to tattoo cover-ups; quizzes that barely raise the bar higher than basic high school general knowledge; and, of course, soap operas.
Call me a snob, if you must, but I’ve never considered myself suited to the soap audience. Frankly, I shudder at the mere thought of ever succumbing to the lure of these staples of the TV schedules. Originally targeted at stay-at-home housewives, and sponsored by washing powder companies – hence the ‘soap’ – it seems to me that ever since, they’ve never seen fit to raise their game, despite which, the huge following these programmes have puts me firmly into the minority – the viewing public love their soaps. Everyday stories of ordinary people, it seems, are exactly the sort of thing that people will tune in to, week after week and follow avidly to the point where to miss a single episode is unthinkable.
To me, it’s a mystery why soaps have such a strong following. The storylines that I’ve managed to picked up, or been told about, strike me as being incredibly banal, often ridiculously contrived, and not exactly what most people – in any other circumstances – would consider to be high drama. Characters are usually depressingly ordinary, rarely have much in the way of attractive qualities, and seem to go about their lives in often dubious and highly irregular circumstances – at least that’s the case in UK soaps; elsewhere in the world the complete opposite seems true – what does that tell you about the Brits? However this, apparently, is a recipe for ratings success, and it certainly seems to work. People, it seems, have a fascination for the voyeuristic nature of soaps – perhaps seeing the fictitious struggles of characters coping with the rigours of everyday life acts as a tonic for our own daily grind? Or maybe it’s a recognition that real life isn’t all car chases and Hollywood scripts – drama is unfolding around us on daily basis, and soaps are a way of acknowledging that fact?
Then again, perhaps it’s the case that our lives really aren’t that exciting after all, and immersing ourselves in the fictitious, and marginally more interesting, lives of those in soaps allows us to experience that missing element vicariously, somehow fulfilling our need for excitement and adventure, without the associated risk that the real thing would involve. It strikes me that this last point could equally well apply to SL – in many ways the inworld experience has many of the elements that traditional soap opera relies on.
Relationships figure heavily in SL, along with the drama that accompanies them. Avatars fall for each other, cheat and fall out of love… Friendships are forged and lost… Acrimony, duplicity, revenge and manipulation are rife within the SL community… We have stalkers, bunny-boilers, revelations and scandals, all staples of the soap opera genre. Then, weaving their way between the drama, we have the everyday people, simply trying to make their way in a confusing world: They experience the good times and the bad, the mundane and the moments of high drama; there’s laughter and tears, quite contemplation and raucous gatherings.
We have families and groups of friends – those who stand by and support each other inworld and give strength in their numbers. But we’re also all individuals too, each with our own SLives, challenges and opportunities and each of us pursuing our own goals and visions. It’s a cast of thousands and a million different storylines, all contained in one small community for whom the world in general doesn’t even seem to exist. SL may not be real life and the scenarios with which it presents may, in many ways, seem preposterous in a real world setting, but no more so than those we avidly follow on our TV screens… The only difference is that we’re playing a part in the story too.
It’s like another world, being here with you,
It’s quite a trip for me, so this is reality.
I’m studying every movement, I’m trying to learn the part,
Now I want you to be natural, just relax and be as you are,
‘Cos it’s all for art, I want to observe the ordinary people
The Kinks – Ordinary People