Monday, February 20, 2012

The Idiocies of Criticism Continued or Soap Opera as Demonic...

The forces of critical ahistoricism and criticism as theodicy, as good versus evil, are at it again thanks to "Downton Abbey". On the World Wide Web and on Facebook sites like PBS and Salon the everyone is a critic brigade have been criticising "Downton Abbey", which just finished its second series on PBS, for being a "soap opera", for being, in other words, unrealistic, for being, in still other other words, bad. Unfortunately many of these posters who criticise "Downton" for its soapiness and lack of realism know nothing or next to nothing of either soap opera history or film or telvision realism.

Soap opera, of course, as historical analysis of the "genre" has long made clear, has a longer history than television or radio. Soap operas are twentieth century versions of nineteenth century serial melodramas like Charles Dickens "Little Dorritt". Soap opera is simply drama, melodrama, supported commercially on commercial radio and television by corporations like Proctor and Gamble, hence the name soap opera, as the excellent article on Soap at the BFI's Screenonline site ( makes clear.

Most posters, unfortunately, don't use the term soap opera historically. Rather they use the term "soap" normatively much like newspapers and fearmongers use the term cult, namely as a term of demonisation as though issues of genre were issues of theodicy, of good and evil. They use the term "soap", in other words, in order to bash soaps over the head for their supposed lack of realism. These ahistorical and aesthetically problematic uses of the term, however, avoid the issue not only of soaps historical pedigree but also the issue of what constitutes valid criticism and symbolise, as a result, how pathetic "criticism", and I hate to classify some of this discourse as such, and historical analysis, again I hate to use this term for this type of analysis, is today in so many quarters thanks to the World Wide Web turning everyman and everywoman, regardless of education, background, or compentency, into a potential "critic".

I suspect that many of those who criticise soaps for their lack of realism are the same people who don't criticise the real unreal films and TV shows out there in juvenile lala land, namely, action adventure and science fiction, for their total lack of realism. The difference between melodramas like "Downton Abbey" and stuff like the latest Rock action adventure crap Hollywood is whoring to us is that misdiagnosis of spinal injuries and flim flam men trying to take advantage of a situation for personal gain may not be probable but they are certainly possible whereas most of the things that happen in an action adventure film and in television or science fiction film and television are neither probable nor possible and hence not realistic at all. About the only thing that can be real in such film and television action adventure and science fiction film and television is emotion but emotional realism in action adventure and science fiction is a very rare thing indeed. But when it happens, as it did in Joss Whedon's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "Angel", and "Firefly" it is one of those wonderful rare occurrences that makes, at least for me, American television still worth watching.

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