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Elana Levine Discusses How Soaps Changed TV in New Book, Her Stories

Luke and Laura

The 1980s changed the soap game forever, bringing super-couples to international superstardom, offering up global capers, and serving gorgeous glam on daytime and primetime alike. 

Now, soap fan Elana Levine, professor at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, has written an academic study of sudsers in this pivotal era. Called Her Stories, the book, out now from Duke University Press, discusses soaps as a women's genre and their rise and fall over the past four decades.

In an excerpt published on LitHub, Levine examined the shift from more socially-conscious storylines in previous decades to the fantasy of the '80s. She wrote:

Daytime soap opera had been long invested in realist drama, but in the 80s many of daytime’s highest-rated serials took a fantastical turn. Not only did action adventure and science fiction plots infiltrate the narratives, but the styles and sensibilities of comedy, music video, and the fairy tale also made appearances. The generic hybridization and broadened audiences of soaps across the 60s and 70s magnified and peaked in the early 80s. But instead of the social and political concerns that had defined so much of the network era soaps, the challenges faced by soap characters in the 80s tended to lack explicit connection to the issues of the day, promising instead a turn away from such matters.

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But images of these fantasy couples were often homogeneous, Levine noted. She described them as "Imaginings of young, heterosexual supercouples, nearly always white." And the "ultimately short-lived dominance" of the '80s soap craze served as a distraction for some viewers from the real-life "troubling realities that had yet to be addressed in American society" - or on screen.

And these fantasies proved lucrative, as Levine noted:

Thanks largely to soaps, in 1981 total daytime ad income was up 12 to 15 percent from the previous year, generating 25 percent of all network revenue. 

Read the whole essay at Lithub. For more of Levine's history of soaps, order the book at your favorite online retailer!