Is this the final death knell for soaps? Or has the genre just gone international?

Flames of Desire -- Korean makjang Drama

With the recent cancellation of All My Children and One Live to Live, after Guiding Light and As the World Turns, many are calling the death of the American soap.

I think more than the end of these specific dramas, especially those that have watched the same drama with the generations before, people are saddened that the community aspects that soaps brought to the lives of many (especially women) will be gone. Many learned about the canon/fanon divide not from Star Wars / Star Trek, but from learning the histories of characters from older sisters, grandmothers, or family friends. Or were able to share the commonality of experiences, such as Megan’s week-long death scene on OLTL, with others. Sam Ford (friend of TLF) and others wrote about the commonality of fandom experiences of soap fans in the book, The Survival of Soap Operas (University of Mississippi 2010) .

He also has an article in Fast Company where he gets to the heart of how once soaps are gone — they are gone for good:

As opposed to the world of comic books, or pro wrestling, or sports franchises–where different media formats come and go, but the core narrative and the characters and the backstory lives on–soap operas are nothing without their network TV slot. With the network TV time goes the whole narrative. Decades of creative development. Thousands of characters. Lost and locked away from further storytelling.

Most of those that I know that at one point watched soaps have indeed given up on them. But not because of the reasons listed in many of the “death of soaps” articles — the lack of time, the inability to dedicate oneself to a long-running storyline, or Facebook games. Many of the one-time fans would

have continued, but the storylines became less relateable and less based in already established canon and character development — some of the super-ridiculous plots (even for a soap) included on All My Children having Erica’s thought-to-be-aborted fetus coming back as an adult and on One Live to Live having a rape victim and the rapist become co-grandparents. Or as one former soap fan said “I just couldn’t handle any more sexual assault storylines as plot devices. ”

But internationally, dramas that look very similar to American soaps are doing very well. Telenovas are very popular (though I admit I’m not very familiar with them).  Korean dramas have the potential to take over much of the same role than American soaps serve, but with time-shifting!

While there are many different subtypes of Korean dramas, there are definitely over-the-top romance dramas. And doesn’t this sound like a soap?

These dramas typically involve conflicts such as single and marital relationships, money bargaining, relationships between in-laws (usually between the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law), and often complicated love triangles while the female hero usually falls in love with the main character who may treat her badly since the beginning, instead of the one who always cares for her.

Unlike American soaps, Korean dramas range usually from a dozen to 200 episodes — and while there can be extensions, the overall plot is planned out beforehand. Melodramas, similar to American soaps, are a popular genre, called makjang.

According to Dramabeans, makjang is

a stylistic, tonal, or narrative element in dramas that chooses to play up outrageous storylines to keep viewers hooked despite how ridiculous the stories become (adultery, revenge, rape, birth secrets, fatal illnesses, and flirting with incest possibilities are some makjang favorites). Shows can be part of a makjang class of dramas (Wife’s Temptation is a makjang series), or they can have makjang tendencies (Mary Stayed Out All Night went makjang toward the end). Generally considered a negative thing (“Gah, how makjang can you get?”), unless a drama intentionally embraces the style (such as Baker King Kim Tak-gu or Flames of Desire).

In an upcoming post, I’ll write more about an overview of Korean dramas — and how there is likely a Korean drama for everyone, ranging from Flames of Desire for the melodrama/makjang fan (overview of first episode with spoilers) to Sign for the CSI fan to Coffee Prince for the romance-through-secret-cross-dressing fan!

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