Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What J. Bernard Jones Started (Part 2)

(Part 1 is here, Part 3 is here, and the source article that inspired this post is here. And thanks to Sound and Fury for the shoutout!).


Part 2. Anticipatory Socialization and Illusory Control.

In his excellent "Soap on a Rope" blog entry, J. Bernard Jones wonders:

Once a particular narrative has taken hold in the minds of fans it can be hell trying to ask folk to consider a slightly different view. Nonetheless, I think it's worth a try.

I am willing to admit that I could be completely wrong. However, I am reminded of something that my late mother used to say all the time: when you speak things into existence, they are liable to come true. Another way of saying it is "be careful what you wish for..."

Do the fans want Soap Opera do disappear? No, I do not believe we do. But there is something a little off in the incessant negativity in some quarters about the possibility/probability of it all, as if some fans are all but waiting for the final episode of General Hospital or the last fade out of Y&R to say, "See, we told you so! Nobody listened to us! If they had paid attention to the fans this genre would have been saved! We're the fans! We know everything there is to know about this genre and if the idiots in charge had only listened, we would still have love in the afternoon!"

This is powerful stuff. You need not look very far to see the incredible negativism in most quarters regarding soaps. Where does it come from?

I think there are two main sources (beyond group-think...which is really an important factor on internet message boards and has personally influenced me; when bright, articulate people make passionate and persuasive arguments, and there is widespread agreement...it is hard not to follow along): anticipatory socialization and illusory control.


Let's start with the definitions.

Per Wikipedia:
Anticipatory socialization: Anticipatory socialization refers to the processes of socialization in which a person "rehearses" for future positions, occupations, and social relationships.
A typical example cited here is that of an older married woman who experiences the death of many of her friends' husbands. Even though her husband is still living, she knows his time is likely to come too...and she, like her friends, will be an older single woman. So, in her mind, in small subtle ways, often unconsciously, she starts rehearsing for life without him. She makes sure she knows where the paperwork is. She makes sure she has a credit card in her own name. She even thinks, in her daydreams, sometimes, about how she will handle parties and responsibilities, etc, when he is gone.

This is the process, it is said, that often makes widowhood relatively easier for older women than for younger women. For younger women, it is a total shock...they didn't expect it! But for older women, while still sad and life-altering, the shock is blunted by expectation. (I'm not being sexist here. This is mostly a female phenomenon since, on average, men do not expect to outlive their wives. I'm also not being homophobic; this is pretty much a unique phenomenon of heterosexual marriages). There are other times when this kind of socialization occurs, as in when a loved one is passing from a long, protracted terminal illness. Or when a teenager practices, in their own mind, for adult roles.
Illusory control: the tendency for human beings to believe they can control, or at least influence, outcomes that they demonstrably have no influence over.
The same source has this nice illustration:
One simple form of this fallacy is found in casinos: when rolling dice in craps, it has been shown that people tend to throw harder for high numbers and softer for low numbers. Under some circumstances, experimental subjects have been induced to believe that they could affect the outcome of a purely random coin toss. Subjects who guessed a series of coin tosses more successfully began to believe that they were actually better guessers, and believed that their guessing performance would be less accurate if they were distracted.

An illusion of control over certain external events could be a basis for belief in psychokinesis.

Okay, I think you know where I am going here.

I do not think the animus that many of us have encountered about the soap genre is simply function-less, free form negativism. I think that what we are seeing are typical, normal, healthy emotional responses to a "terminal condition". It doesn't surprise us that both anticipatory socialization and illusory control are often discussed in the context of "dealing with death". It is all about going through grieving steps.

This anger is a "rage, rage against the dying of the light". We talk (and talk and talk) about the soap-less days to come, in part, because it will blunt the pain when that day (soon) comes. This is not being done with relish or pleasure. Instead, it is like bracing for a blow. Moreover, for lovers of the soap genre, we need to do it.

Take Another World for example. The people who were most hurt by that cancellation were those who felt it could be avoided. The protesters, the people who blamed the network and TPTB. When the show was cancelled, some even boycotted NBC. The anger was a roaring fire in them. That is because they had not, in advance, accepted the inevitability of the outcome.

I contrast this with the current fan animus about Guiding Light. The writing is so UTTERLY on the wall, it might as well be hieroglyphs. But, honestly, I think the fan-bashing of Ellen Wheeler and the show is ultimately a way of focusing a diffuse anger about the myriad factors that brought us to this point. In other words, Ellen is a convenient target. GL dropped to the near-bottom of the soap rankings in the EIGHTIES. Ellen was still playing Marley when that happened. Where GL is today is only, in SMALL measure, her fault.

So why all the rage? First, for mental preparation.

But second, to give the illusion of control.

I get my angriest comments and emails when I write about the idea that "no matter what, no matter who was creatively in charge, soaps would still be where they are today." I have written, on a soap board, that "Irna Phillips and Bill Bell and Douglas Marland could come back from the dead, and still the soaps would be in their current state". People HATE when I say that. Because it implies that broad a set of social forces is responsible for the state of daytime...not creative and corporate malfeasance.

The thing is, if you look at my last post, daytime really is going where all of US broadcast TV is going. This is NOT just about daytime.

But people--especially we Americans--have a very very hard time with concepts like "inevitability", "uncontrollable", etc. The "blame TIIC" theme that is across the board is a very American reaction to the current daytime situation. The must be someone to blame. There must be a way to fix it. There must be hope and optimism that if only a "savior" came along, daytime could be fixed.

I don't think so...I really don't. Zoot suits are gone, except as nostalgia items. So are genuine-article 1960s Thunderbirds. So are eight track cassettes. Each of these had their day. There is no one to blame...this is the march of time and the evolution of fashion, fad, and technology.

Who killed Cock Robin? (err...I mean daytime). All of us.

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