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MIT Creates Class About Soap Operas

samzenpus posted more than 5 years ago | from the stranger-than-fiction dept.

Idle 57

An anonymous reader writes "Wikipedia apparently wasn't enough. There had to be a course on the much needed subject of soap operas at MIT. Here's the Course Description: "The television landscape has changed drastically in the past few years; nowhere is this more prevalent than in the American daytime serial drama, one of the oldest forms of television content. This class examines the history of these "soap operas" and their audiences by focusing on the production, consumption, and media texts of soaps. The class will include discussions of what makes soap operas a unique form, the history of the genre, current experimentation with transmedia storytelling, the online fan community, and comparisons between daytime dramas and primetime serials from 24 to Friday Night Lights, through a study of Procter & Gamble's As the World Turns."" All I really need to know I learned from my evil twin, who fathered my unborn child, who has a extremely rare disease that only one of my many CIA contacts, who is also sleeping with my wife, can cure.

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Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (5, Funny)

ObsessiveMathsFreak (773371) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610485)

Soap Operas are among the most damaging and destructive influences in our society today. I have witnessed first hand the pain and suffering they can wreak upon the people who watch them and those close to them. An unending visual diet of petty pickering, gross injustices, squabbling, two bit storylines and overblown melodrama can wear down the common sense of even the most stoic individual, turning them into a capricious, cantankerous, shrew with violent mood swings who starts flaming arguments at the slightest provocation.

I can say with surety that no child of mine will ever, ever be allowed to watch a soap opera of any kind. I would rather they were smoking crack. At least their are clinics for that.

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (1)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610591)

Would you go so far as to say it has affected your grammar just being around one of these addicts?

"At least their are clinics for that."

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26613867)

It's a spelling error; not a grammar error.

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26615883)

haha retard makes a fatal flaw during his correction. Good old slashdot.

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (1)

dragonard (261270) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610655)

"Remind me to write a piece declaring that 90% of all neuroses can be traced to the act of wallowing in other people's problems" -- Jubal Harshaw, _Stranger in a Strange Land_

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (2, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610871)

Or as I tell my wife, "Hey, if you wanted to listen to a disfunctional family with people arguing all the time, you could just have a conversation with me!"

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611033)

Are their also clinics for grammatical deficiency? ;-)

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26616031)

Yes, there is. Their called schools. He should of gone to one. He probly did, but didn't care less when he was their, so he didn't learn nothing.

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 5 years ago | (#26616103)

He probly did

Thats prolly, u unsensitive cloud.

Re:Soap Operas Will Destroy Our Society (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26615675)

You could make the same claims about the effect upon sports fans when they watch athletic competitions such as baseball, soccer, football, et al.

The only really healthy activity left where none of that occurs is on slashdot.

Nothing really new. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26610631)

Lo these many years ago, as wet behind the ears undergrad at Rice University (Go Owls!) I took a similar class - the Western Movie as a Genre. Western as in cowboys. Saw a lot of John Wayne movies.

Great stuff. Loads of fun. Annoyed the daylights out of me when my roommate did his end of semester paper at 2am before it was due at 9am, and got a better grade.

Really though, this kind of class is really a sort of literature. Lots of people watch soap operas, probably more than watch western movies on a daily basis. Seems to me any genre of literature bears study.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610799)

Really though, this kind of class is really a sort of literature. Lots of people watch soap operas, probably more than watch western movies on a daily basis. Seems to me any genre of literature bears study.

I'd agree that any genre of literature is as worth of study as any other genre of literature. But I never could figure out what the point of studying literature was in the first place. It's fiction, how do I learn from stuff that never happened?

Re:Nothing really new. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26611119)

But I never could figure out what the point of studying literature was in the first place. It's fiction, how do I learn from stuff that never happened?

Obviously, you've never read the tale of The Zebra Storyteller [archipelago.org] .

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26612547)

But you see, that Zebra storyteller could just as well have been thinking about a talking cat who is kind and generous to Zebras. It's not enough to just have stories, you have to have a reason to believe that the lessons in the stories have some application to the real world. I don't think there is any such reason. The fact that I can think up a story to illustrate a moral doesn't mean the moral is true.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#26613859)

The point is not to make lessons that apply to the real world.

The point is to make plausible bullshit, because a small percent of that bullshit will either later turn out to be true or inspires others to make real.

E.G. geosynchronous orbit, cell phones, flash mobs, the effect of having millimeter radar that counts the change in your pocket, etc.

None of that existed when written about, but having plausible bullshit written about it helped shape what we think about it now that it exists.

But to get that, we also had to have thousands of plausible but still false stories about planet sized computers as powerful as my phone, faster than light travel in a Newtonian/Non-Einstein universe, and Heinlein perving on his opposite sex clones.

It's a trade-off.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614513)

But I never could figure out what the point of studying literature was in the first place. It's fiction, how do I learn from stuff that never happened?

Are you being serious?

The study of literature illuminates the society and culture that produced it. Take the soap operas - there is a reason those are made. Understanding them deepens our understanding of the world we live in.

Also, very little fiction is completely fictional. Almost all of it is based on real-world facts in some way. Look at Shakespeare. His fiction engages many political and historical topics, such as the War of the Roses and the fall of Julius Caesar. not only do you get an education of those matters, you also gain a better understanding of human nature and emotions.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614703)

Take the soap operas - there is a reason those are made. Understanding them deepens our understanding of the world we live in.

I'm not sure why I'd want to know anything a Soap Opera has to tell me about this culture. There are too many gossipy housewives who need something better to do? I got it. I'm not clear what a deeper analysis would tell me.

Also, very little fiction is completely fictional. Almost all of it is based on real-world facts in some way. Look at Shakespeare. His fiction engages many political and historical topics, such as the War of the Roses and the fall of Julius Caesar.

That's what history books are for. I read MacBeth, and I'm quite sure I didn't learn anything about Scotland. I couldn't tell you which, if any, of the characters were historical figures. If I wanted to know, I'd have to check a history book. But at that point, why bother with the fiction?

not only do you get an education of those matters, you also gain a better understanding of human nature and emotions.

I just don't see how reading Shakespeare gives me any real understanding of human nature and emotions. Those aren't real people in the plays, they don't have real motivations, or real goals. They have imagined motivations, and imagined goals. So at best, reading Shakespeare gives me an understanding of what Shakespeare thought about human nature. And if that's all I'm getting, Shakespeare would have done better to write an essay titled "My Understanding of Human Nature". It would save me a lot of effort interpreting this shit if authors would come out and say what they mean in the first place.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 5 years ago | (#26615161)

Oh well. Clearly you are intellectually incurious. There's not much I can do about that.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26616331)

Oh, not at all. I just prefer to be stimulated by fact instead of fiction. I am curious about things that actually happen, not things made up by some guy.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 5 years ago | (#26617185)

Right. So you're intellectually incurious. otherwise you wouldn't dismiss entire swathes of human experience and expression.

I can't imagine what your days must be like - how are your conversations and personal relationships - do you ever have a discussion that includes opinion rather than simply fact? Do you ever speculate? Do you ever discuss a movie or book with someone?

This whole "oh, it's just something made up by some guy" attitude of yours is kind of weird and scary.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#26627357)

Of course I do. Fun is fun, and I like fun just like anyone. I can see the value of literature as entertainment. I just don't see the point of studying it academically.

Re:Nothing really new. (1)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 5 years ago | (#26635769)

My freshman English seminar at Dartmouth was about Soap Operas. 1991.

(no, I didn't have a choice in the matter)

It turns out Soap Operas are about women as victims and men who treat them badly. That's what I learned in the class.

My final paper was on this analysis. I got "well reasoned, excellent writing, wrong, C-".

Turns out the prof was a feminist and a soap opera fan. (God, I hate completely subjective grading.)

Sounds like Fun (2, Interesting)

Detritus (11846) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610659)

I'd be interested in how the American soap operas compare to their counterparts in other countries. From what I've read, telenovelas are very popular in Latin America. When I lived in Hawaii, a local TV station used to play a Samurai soap opera series from Japan.

Re:Sounds like Fun (1)

eleuthero (812560) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611451)

Telenovelas tend to be "more" or "less" than American soap operas--more sex, more color, less clothes, less plot... that is a fairly biased opinion, but I have seen some and do speak Spanish.

Re:Sounds like Fun (1)

Lookin4Trouble (1112649) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611585)

Could be worse, at least they're not watching soaps from the Philippines. Do yourself a favor and subscribe to any Pinoy channel on cable/dish networks, it's nothing but 24/7 soap operas (and as a bonus, usually in English instead of Tagalog!)

Re:Sounds like Fun (1)

nintendo_is_a_cereal (891137) | more than 5 years ago | (#26612273)

They seem to be available on Youtube. When I was working IT in college my last supervisor would watch these soaps on youtube between calls.

Space Operas (3, Interesting)

Aladrin (926209) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610669)

Will they include Space Operas like Firefly, too? As much as I love that show, I have to admit there's a ton of drama there.

And how about Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog?

Kyle XY?

I guess the question is: Where do you draw the line? Is it only about ridiculous shows that are on around 2pm? Or does it include all shows that are heavy on drama, especially far-fetched drama.

Before anyone defends Firefly from the 'soap opera' label: River. Seriously, what is up with her 'abilities'? The gun scene where she closes her eyes and shoots 2 people dead at once... Seriously!

Re:Space Operas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26611077)

Three.

Re:Space Operas (1)

grasshoppa (657393) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611541)

What is science fiction but the study of humanity? In that regard, good science fiction can't help but be dramatic. Does that make it a soap opera? Hardly. Soap operas are their own special, campy, beast.

Oh, and she killed them with math, what's wrong with that?

Re:Space Operas (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26630561)

Actually, you probably wouldn't include Firefly in this course.

Soap Operas, as a genre, are composed of episodic stories: They are told in a linear fashion, plot elements are presented end-to-end and there is a strong cause-effect relationship. Aside from the occasional flash-back, the story's events are presented in chronological order.

Firefly, on the other hand, would be classified as situational drama. After each "episode" (don't confuse the terms) the situation the characters find themselves in is unchanged. There's a beginning, middle, and ending and a climax and all that, but at the end of each show the character's situation remains unchanged. It's still the same bunch of guys in a space ship scrounging out a living for themselves.

Finally! (3, Funny)

Locke2005 (849178) | more than 5 years ago | (#26610807)

An MIT class that my wife could actually get a passing grade in!

Re:Finally! (1)

D Ninja (825055) | more than 5 years ago | (#26613539)

Your wife might get the passing grad, but my ex-girlfriend wrote the freaken book.

Corrie/EE fan here (UK soaps) (1)

mgkimsal2 (200677) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611165)

I never *got* American soaps. They're far too escapist for me - basically just watching the rich and powerful play around and get in to trouble. Corrie and EastEnders (UK soaps) sure have their share of that a bit, but they're basically showing "working class" people most of the time. And the people tend to look more "average". Not everyone in UK soaps is a model - many look like 'regular' folk. I do say they all have perfect teeth tho. :/ All American soaps I've taken a look at (admittedly few in recent years) seemed to be all fabulously good looking supermodels.

UK soaps tend to be on in the evening, when the whole family can watch. American soaps are all on the daytime when only the person doing the housework (usually a woman/wife) would be watching.

I've never seen the US get all excited about a soap as a country, but they've done it a lot in the UK ("free the weatherfield 1!", etc.)

Re:Corrie/EE fan here (UK soaps) (1)

Zerth (26112) | more than 5 years ago | (#26613595)

And the people tend to look more "average". Not everyone in UK soaps is a model - many look like 'regular' folk.

.

For the same reason video game characters tend to be skewed towards looking like models(or pornstar/weightlifter). If you are going to be staring at someone's ass for a few hours a day, every day, wouldn't you rather they be attractive? Continue that thought until it is ridiculous.

Brit soaps are more like... US ensemble cast/not single family sitcoms than soaps.

I wouldn't be suprised if, say, Friends was originally pitched as "let's do a british soap, except funny". ('funny' meaning 'not having to explain the jokes to the producers')

Class? (2, Interesting)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 5 years ago | (#26611611)

Will they publish the list of methods and public properties?

Good memory (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#26612081)

One of the best professors I had a MIT was Thorburn, who taught a class in narrative. Some of the homework was going into his office and watching episodes of Harry O on a big new BetaMax (this was in 76-77). We spent a lot of time talking about TV and how the artist makes art within the boundaries of the medium, be it stage, movie, small screen, flat oil painting, sculpture, etc. I wrote a long paper about the differences between the musical scores of the movies Jaws and The Horror of Party Beach.

Too bad that... (1)

lejflo (1384329) | more than 5 years ago | (#26612621)

the soap opera medium is slowly dying [msn.com] .

It was a good class... (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26612709)

I was actually one of the six or so students taking the class. This class probably won't be offered again, and actually happened this time last year - it's only just got round to being put on OpenCourseWare.

You should check out our class blog at http://mitsoaps.wordpress.com/ - it's not active anymore, but it'll give you a better feel for what we're doing. To answer the question about where you draw the line - the answer is you don't. Obviously we have the US 'soaps', but something like Friday Night Lights is as much as soap as As The World Turns. Furthermore, the US may only show daily soaps during daytime, but plenty of countries (such as the UK) have soaps in prime-time and bringing in top 5 ratings.

Soap opera really boils down to episodic character based story. This means the genre really encompasses an awful lot of TV. It's basically any show which you watch for character development across time rather than a formulaic drama. A good test of whether a TV program is 'soap opera' or not is the syndication rule - if you can present episodes in a random order and the audience will still understand the majority of your program, it's leaning away from soaps.

Once you actually *watch* daytime soaps (and until I took this class, I hadn't), you realise there's actually not much difference at all between soaps and their prime-time counterparts. The fans are much the same, the shows elicit the same reactions and emotions - the only real difference is the sheer volume, suspect acting, and low-budgets.

Theory of RelativeTV (2, Interesting)

NetSettler (460623) | more than 5 years ago | (#26613183)

Hmmm. Maybe they'll have me come lecture about my not-terribly-famous Theory of RelativeTV [anotherwayout.com] .

...And? (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614399)

Pretty much every film and literature department in the country has rotating classes about different genres. Why is this significant?

Oh! Sorry! I forgot, MIT isn't allowed to do anything but build robots and win Nobel prizes. If anyone at MIT attempts to do something humanities-related, it's hilarious.

Re:...And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26615259)

It's not because it's humanities-related, it's because it's about freakin' no good soap operas!

Re:...And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26615433)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"The mission of MIT is to advance knowledge and educate students in science, technology, and other areas of scholarship that will best serve the nation and the world in the 21st century." - http://web.mit.edu/facts/mission.html

Re:...And? (2, Informative)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26616087)

Read a little more of the website, and you'll discover that MIT students are required to take 8 humanities classes while they're there, and that the humanities faculty includes Pulitzer Prize-winners and other notables. Strangely, even MIT doesn't think that giving someone only science or engineering classes will serve them well in the long run.

Re:...And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26616205)

True.

Just don't offer them crap.

Re:...And? (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26633071)

Oh! I didn't realize that you've taken this class and could comment on its quality.

Or are you saying that just because you're not interested in analyzing a particular genre, no one should be? Or perhaps that "mass-market" or "pop" genres aren't worth analyzing? Personally, I think that the more people there are consuming a given genre, the more worthy of analysis that makes it, because even if it's complete shit we should try especially hard to understand what kind of shit is going into people's heads.

Re:...And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26636765)

Tell that to the Chinese.

It's this kind of crap that's slowly degrading scientific education.

People have free time for this kind of "endeavor" you know? If you are paying for a science education, that's what you should get. If they think that they are creating Frankensteins by not including humanities-relative courses in the curriculum, fine, stick some relevant (literature, social, psychology) subjects in there and people will endure them.

Now, please don't try to make me believe that an engineer/scientist needs to "analyze" the mind-numbing crap most soaps give to people to be able to graduate.

I'll give you that if this was a liberal arts college, maybe it made sense to study this kind of subject.

And by the way, I'm not commenting on the quality of the course, I'm commenting on the quality of its subject.

If you want to know what's going on in people's head, I suggest you take psychology or sociology and not analyze it trough the distorted lens of the soap opera writers.

Re:...And? (1)

porcupine8 (816071) | more than 5 years ago | (#26649325)

Wow, you didn't understand a word of my comment, did you? Good job.

Re:...And? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26676563)

If there is a misunderstanding, it's mutual

Re:...And? (1)

paiute (550198) | more than 5 years ago | (#26615871)

If you are majoring in science or engineering at MIT, you must declare and finish what they call a humanities "concentration". Not quite a minor, but close.

Fuck you, Idle. (1)

dangitman (862676) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614593)

So, I see it's all going as planned to plunge slashdot to its intellectual nadir in order to satisfy the corporate overlords.

Sweet mercy, what is the fucking problem? Oh noes!! Elite academic institution offers a film/tv/media studies course! How can this be happening??? Oh wait, this sort of thing has been perfectly normal for decades? Who knew? Apparently not the geniuses at slashdot.

Re:Fuck you, Idle. (1)

vorenus (1319377) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614777)

Not I, not I

Soaps (1)

visible.frylock (965768) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614929)

Am I late for the funeral?

<Gasp!!> Calculon!!

Zoidberg (1)

vorenus (1319377) | more than 5 years ago | (#26614981)

I'm a doctor, she's dead

Soap operas can have drastic economic consequences (2, Interesting)

HungWeiLo (250320) | more than 5 years ago | (#26615049)

In 1992, a Hong Kong soap opera The Greed of Man [wikipedia.org] caused a 10+% drop in the Hang Seng Index. Ever since, the stock market there drops whenever the star of that soap is in anything on TV, completing that probably self-fulfilling prophecy.

Waay back in 1999... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#26676615)

Another World [thedailyshow.com]

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