Television scholar Jason Mittel has an interesting discussion of how scholars discussing complex narratives like Lost tend to leave out any mention of soap operas, although soap operas obviously have a great many formal similarities with Lost. In his post, Jason makes a comment about soap operas that might equally be said of blogs:

I believe, as Robert Allen has argued in his classic work Speaking of Soap Operas, that people who donít watch soaps with some regularity cannot really understand the form, as the whole point of the genre is the long-time accrual of meanings and experiences, not the individual narrative segments of episodes.

I think – and many others have said this in various ways – that blogs have that same emphasis on long-time accrual of meanings. There’s something about following a blog for a long time that’s really important to one’s understanding of a particular post. Maybe I should read about soap operas to see how Robert Allen describes this for that genre.

Jason Mittel also lists two crucial differences between soaps and complex narratives like Lost:

  • Soap operas are broadcast continuously, whereas Lost and its ilk are broadcast in 13-24 episode seasons, after which you have a long break before the next season.
  • Radio and television soaps assume an audience that may be distracted by other tasks (children, housework, phone calls) and might miss episodes, so there’s redundancy built in. Lost and others assume their audiences will be deeply concentrating and can access any missed episodes or watch sequences again. Sometimes you need to watch sequences with freeze frame – or see someone else who’s written this up on the web – in order to grasp a plot event.

So I’m thinking that blogs – (and web serials like Lonelygirl15?) – are closer to the audience and attention expectations of soaps than of complex television narratives like Lost. Is that a useful analogy, though? The content of blogs is generally far from that in soaps, and the narrative arc of blogs, when they have one, is completely different.

6 thoughts on ““the whole point of the genre is the long-time accrual of meanings and experiences”

  1. […] See jill/txt’s post, “the whole point of the genre is the long-time accrual of meanings and experiences.” Some good and smart points, Jill is borrowing from discussion about how shows like Lost are rarely thought of as being like a soap opera, even though that’s a show that certainly borrows from some of that form. […]

  2. Jason Mittell

    Jill – interesting parallel between TV genres and blogs. While I’ve not done any formal research on blogs, in my own wanderings it would seem that blogs can accommodate a broad range of narrative formats, depending on the mode & frequency of writing, group vs. single blogs, comments between blogs, etc. Perhaps because I mostly read & write academic research blogs, it seems quite possible for a blog to demand careful reading & attention on more occasional postings; I’m sure some more personal blogging has the slow accretion of experiences & relationships tied to soaps. So perhaps “blog” is more akin to a distinct medium than a genre?

    Thanks for the link!

  3. Jill Walker Rettberg

    Oh damn, caught me out – actually I’ve often argued that blogs are more like a medium (“books” for instance – books can be very different from each other) than like a genre. And you’re right that there are many different kinds of post. Hm. Yet there’s something to the following a blog for a long time that’s definitely similar to what you’re describing in soap operas. I wonder whether that’s common to all blogs or only to some kinds?

  4. Jason Mittell

    Good question – from my experience, soap-iness ties into how much personal & relationship info gets talked about in a blog, or maybe any developments over time. Like in a professional group blog like Grand Text Auto, I don’t see much of the long-term accrual of backstory, aside from maybe someone’s research project developing, or career transformations. But more personal blogs definitely fit the serialized pleasures of soaps. Maybe you could rate blogs on a serialized-to-episodic spectrum?

  5. Jill Walker Rettberg

    That’s a good point, Jason, although often even blogs with very little personal ifnromation can have some of that quality about them too.

    I was also thinking, though, that the point about having to follow soaps for a long time wouldn’t be just as descriptive of complex narratives like Lost. I remember hating Lost at first, when I only saw random episodes, but when I watched the whole first series I was mesmerised. If that’s so, then I was wrong to say that blogs are like soaps just because of that line about having to follow them over time to understand them – that would be descriptive of any serial narrative.

    Except I *could* watch the whole first season of Lost in a few days. Which perhaps wouldn’t really work for a soap. Or a blog? Hm.

  6. Sam Ford

    It’s an interesting question, and I’ve argued elsewhere about serial programming more broadly that there is a danger in equating its format with its genre. This is even a problem with soaps; people within the industry often mistake soaps as purely a genre, which has led to a soap about business intriguing borrowing storylines from a soap set more in the realm of fantasy or sci-fi, for instance. Often, I see scenes about a character that has premonitions that might work well on a soap with more of a fantasy setting but comes across as particularly horrible on a soap featuring a small town of core people, and so on.

    I think that the same danger happens in the blogosphere, when people confuse the format as a genre, and think that the way certain types of blogs are written are “the way it should be,” such as Jason’s point about frequency of updates, or about length of posts, or degree of formality…

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