Soap operas are a mainstay on daytime television in the United States. Their name derives from the type of advertisements, which were featured during commercial breaks—soap and household cleaning supplies used to be the majority of ads for soap operas.
Throughout popular culture soap operas have been the brunt of many jokes. When an actor is second rate at best they are suggested to try out for the soaps. Amnesia and long-lost evil twins seem to make their way into soap opera plotlines. In short, U.S. audiences view soap operas with derision.
Other countries, however, use soap operas in an entirely different manner. In other nations, the most popular soap operas are used as platforms for discussion.
The Turkish soap opera “Noor,” serves as an outlet and a forum for many people. Within the plotline of this soap opera, writers have found a creative outlet to talk about many controversial issues such as drinking alcohol, premarital sex, and abortion. Mohannad, the main character, faces tribulations involving love and faith, which has a large appeal in many Middle Eastern cultures, and the show attracts millions of viewers.
A similar situation exists in Africa with the show Isidingo. Isidingo follows the life and struggles of one of the shows most popular characters, a young woman named Nandipha. Nandipha is raped during her travels on the savannah and must struggle with contracting the AIDS virus.
Producers of the Isidingo created a plotline that breaks the silence on an issue that affects many Africans. Part of the problem is that certain governments in Africa have taken an aggressive stance against the distribution of anti-retroviral AIDS drugs. There are also educational and cultural barriers that hinder the use of condoms. With many people affected by AIDS in Africa and millions tuning in to watch Isidingo, it is undeniable that television can be used as a great platform for change.
The question becomes, “Why isn’t America doing the same?” I think that we could learn a thing or two from countries using television as a platform for discussion. Change could be on the horizon. Americans could be discussing hot button issues rather than following the lives of several well-to-do housewives. Wouldn’t a show focused on the trials of being impoverished in America be a better topic? How about soap operas with characters that are struggling with unemployment?