Soap fans, and the larger soap community–from actors, to crew, to really anyone allied with the production and consumption of soaps– constitute a folk culture, and that is another argument for their preservation. One of the many important activities engaged in by anthropologists today is the recording and conservation of world cultures. This work is especially valuable at a time when globalization further erases distinct aspects of world cultures and homogenizes us all every day.
One type of endangered world culture is the folk one. The shared characteristics and behaviors of soap fans, whatever particular soap/s they ally themselves with, undeniably and indefatigably constitute a folk culture, defined by mass media analyst Trevor J. Blank as “the unifying expressive components of everyday life as enacted by localized, tradition-bound groups” (Blank 1), Members of folk cultures would not be who they are without membership in their folk culture, whether that may be, say what came about in the slave quarters of early American plantations or what formed around the secretly gay bars of the 1940’s and 50’s. Pioneering analyst of televisual culture, John Fiske, identifies four characteristics of folk culture, which Williams then attaches to soaps in her successful laying out of their worth: folk culture defines and identifies membership in a group; is transmitted informally (often orally), therefore eschews sharp distinctions between “transmitters and receivers;” “operates” apart from traditional cultural edifices, for example religious ones, but “can interact with and traverse them;” and has no standard version or template, as it is part of a process partaken in by members as they live out their lives. Williams quotes Fiske as saying “watching and talking about television” very often accomplish all four of these tasks (201).
Soap fandom, in particular, fulfills all these characteristics. Soap fans’ love of soaps makes them a distinct “other” in the larger cultures in which they live. Soap fandom passes on between generations and individual fans in a highly informal manner, often through viewing of soaps together without an explicit marking between viewers of the passing on. The distinction between “transmitters” and “receivers” of soap fandom is not of great consequence, in that when one has “received” a love of soaps via transmitting by a current fan, it matters little that the transmitter performed the transmitting as opposed to the receiver having performed it. Certainly soap fandom exists separately from other “cultural edifices”: there are soap magazines, websites, fan clubs, fan weekends at Hollywood studios, online forums, and on and on. These exist alongside many non-soap cultural phenomena, as do the fans who participate in them. And soap fandom has no precedent nor seeks to model any sort of cultural construction or participation: it simply occurs organically because of the circumstances of being a soap fan.
By Akbi Khan
Edited by Akbi Khan