Edited By Flocel Sabaté
Talking the talk? Language and Identity in the European Soap Opera: Hugh O’Donnell
Glasgow Caledonian University
Soap operas – and their close cousin the telenovela – are among the most widely viewed and avidly consumed cultural products in Europe. Though the form itself first emerged in the depression-hit United States of the nineteen-thirties – the world’s first ever soap opera, Painted Dreams, went out on radio there between 1930 and 1941 – following the recent demise of a number of the longest-running American offerings their heartland has now shifted to western Europe where, with relatively few exceptions, they are currently among the highest rating television programmes in virtually every country.1 The world’s currently longest-running television soap is the British production Coronation Street, launched in 1960 and still in production fifty-three years later.2 It regularly leads the ratings in the United Kingdom along with its great rival EastEnders.
Soap operas have from the outset been a genre dominated by talk rather than action. As early as 1948 the American journalist James Thorburn defined them as follows in the New Yorker, highlighting their simultaneously dramatic and commercial function:
A soap opera is a kind of sandwich whose recipe is simple enough although it took years to compound. Between thick slices of advertising spread twelve minutes of ← 433 | 434 → dialogue, add predicament, villainy and female suffering in equal measure, throw in a dash of nobility, sprinkle with tears, season with organ music, cover with a rich announcer sauce and serve five times a week.
Action is by no...
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