Electric                    Astral               Pre-historical
Universe              Catastrophism        Reconstruction


     Mikamar
           Publishing
 

Articles & Products Supporting the Pre-historical Reconstruction and Plasma Cosmology
 home       features       science/philosophy       wholesale store       used books        contact

Site Section Links

Introduction Material
Articles
The Third Story
Features

Cosmology, Origins
The Nature of Time
Nature of Time video
The Nature of Space
The Neutrino Aether
Nature of Force Fields
Relativity Theory

Geophysical Material
Origin of Modern Geology
Niagara Falls Issues
Climate Change Model
Climate Change Questions

Philosophy Material
Philosophy Links

Reconstruction &
Mythology Material
Modern Mythology Material
Language/Symbol Development
1994 Velikovsky Symposium
Horus Journals TOC
Kronos Journals TOC
Pensee Journals TOC
Velikovskian Journals TOC
Selected Velikovskian Article

Miscellaneous Material
Modern Mythology
State of Religious Diversity
PDF Download Files
Open letter to science editors

 

KRONOS Vol VII, No. 2

COLLECTIVE AMNESIA AND THE CATASTROPHIC BASIS OF SOAP OPERA

IRVING WOLFE

Copyright (C) 1981 by Irving Wolfe

* Editor's Note: This paper was first presented at the Princeton Seminar The Velikovsky Challenge In Science and History held on Sept. 6, 1981 and sponsored by KRONOS. Other papers from that seminar will be appearing in the pages of KRONOS as well. LMG

In a recent address,(1) the well-known critic Leslie Fiedler dismissed conventional academic literary values as inappropriate standards by which to approach popular or non-elitist narrative, and proposed instead the criteria of endurance, widespread popularity, and transferability to other media as more reliable touchstones of importance. He suggested that there is something in long-lasting non-elitist works which has an obvious power to attract, and therefore the popular narrative which persistently attracts, and which attracts across societal and even cultural levels, contains an archetypal dimension. On this basis, he argued that novels such as Uncle Tom's Cabin or Gone With The Wind, dismissed for the most part as diverting trivia by established criticism, are much more relevant and worthwhile than academic opinion will allow. Prof. Fiedler added that evidence for the presence of an archetypal dimension in a work is provided when the work continues to attract even when transposed to a different medium or culture. This seems to be quite true. We might think of an enduring formal popular narrative being retold informally in another language and culture and still managing to hold its audience spellbound, or of Romeo and Juliet making the leap successfully from very verbal drama to wholly non-verbal ballet. If the attraction persists, Fiedler maintains, an archetypal structure is present.

The consequences of such a view for the study of popular culture are enormous. First, Prof. Fiedler is in effect placing non-elitist literature into a separate category from so-called "great" art, making it an independent disciplinary field with its own standards. Instead of proposing aesthetic criteria by which to discern the artistic value of the genre, he is advocating archetypal ones by which we may discern its anthropological value. The implication of his ideas is that a successful popular narrative is not primarily a private creation, nor a blatantly commercial venture, nor blitheful ignorance of what is "better," but unwitting communal expression, a form of spontaneous folk art growing organically out of the hopes and fears of the tribe and acquiring its appeal thereby. This means that not only are there different kinds of literature, each with its own kind (not degree) of importance, but that different kinds of attention, all equally valid, can be paid to literature. If this be true, of course, then non-elitist literature becomes worthy of study, not aesthetically, but as a collective cultural phenomenon telling us something important about ourselves.

Second, one of the more important formal implications of this concept is that, in popular narrative at least, the purely literary elements of a work, such as plot, characterization, language, pace, point of view, imagery and so on, are quite secondary to the fable itself in achieving what might be called the archetypal effect, for it is only the fable which persists after transposition from one genre to another. If poetry, as Robert Frost said, is what gets lost in translation, then the archetypal element in successful popular narrative must be non-poetic, nonliterary. It must be the basic fable, stripped of all generic accoutrements.

This may explain the popularity of those films of the 1930's and 1940's which have become popular classics. They do not attract us because of the acting, which is often wooden and over-stylized, or the cinematography, which is mostly black-and-white and restricted to shots by stationary cameras, or the editing, which is crude and prosaic, or the sound, which may be simple and even fuzzy, or the dialogue, which is often anachronistic. Their cinematic virtues and faults are irrelevant, for they attract us via the fable, which totally overshadows any defects in genre.

I suggest that Fiedler's description of popular literature as an organic folk art may be correct, that his recognition of the existence of an archetypal power in such literature may also be correct, and that the power lies in the fable or narrative pattern. I further suggest that successful popular literature is created in response to an unconscious need for people to experience narratives in which this pattern is embodied. That is why Gone With The Wind has remained consistently popular as a novel since its publication, why it was successfully transposed into a film which is itself still popular, and why, I imagine, it could be equally successfully made into a musical, opera or ballet. The element in it which appeals most strongly and universally is neither literary nor cinematic nor operatic nor balletic; it lies outside these, in the tale's pattern of events. The story's inherent power as a narrative structure independent of genre or form makes its appeal infinitely transferable from medium to medium.

Because such literature is continuously successful in the marketplace, it may be said to form part of a larger category which we might call popular entertainment, or perhaps popular narrative entertainment. Items of successful popular literature would then be ranked along with other examples of successful narrative entertainment such as enduring films and plays and radio and television serials and comic strips. Although these may differ in surface genre, so long as they successfully purvey an integrated series of imaginative events to a large section of the populace, and continue to do so across decades and social change, they are all part of the same group of objects. They are innate products of our culture, supplying a communal demand for a certain kind of aesthetic experience.

The successful soap opera may share the same sort of enduring, popular, communal appeal. All over the United States in particular, people compulsively watch soap operas. The actors who appear in the shows have become virtual household names among a certain segment of the population, and the devotees are fanatically faithful. They avidly consume weekly magazines on the subject, as well as newsletters and newspaper summaries for those who miss a show, while the ultimate in vox populi approval was gained recently when the soap-opera phenomenon made the front cover of Time magazine.(2) Even "cool" American university students gather regularly in groups to follow their favorite programs, perhaps in conjunction with courses which are now being given on the topic.

Indeed, the soap operas have become so appealing that they have broken out of their traditional afternoon enclave and invaded prime time television overtly, not to mention their covert influence on the content of other prime-time shows which are ostensibly not soap operatic. For example, certain previously-innocuous situation comedies have recently felt forced to introduce into their content such melodramatic soap-opera sensationalism as incest, unwed motherhood, violence and brutality, separation and death.

The intense response which the soap operas evoke, and their influence on other kinds of television programs, suggests that they are not mere passive entertainment, but compelling and addictive patterns of action, and that a strong need for what they offer exists. I think this need can be at least partly explained as a longing for a structured and meaningful universe. There is little sense of nationwide community in the U.S.A., and so there is little shared belief. The country is an agglomeration of regions and subcultures, many hostile towards and ignorant of each other. The general culture, therefore, cannot speak to all men as it might have, say, in the Athens of Pericles. As a result, television has become perhaps the major collective force in the shaping of the American consciousness. T.V., however, does not necessarily provide the viewer with reality. Rather, it serves most often as a potent mythmaker, and one of the most well-defined and powerfully attractive mythical domains it creates, equal to the sitcom universe or the stylized world of professional sport, is the soap opera.

Bold analysts of the genre like to call the soaps "the people's Iliad ' a reference to the gloomy outcome of every story. Characters suffer fates that would challenge a classical god.(3)

Because it is essentially mythical, the soap-opera world is able to offer to a disjointed nation a locus of identity, continuity, and meaning not easily obtainable in actual American life.

Soap operas . . . are folk tales that tug at the soul of a nation of strangers for whom television itself is a bond.(4)

Not simply a bond, but in many cases the only bond. The soap opera, therefore, like the long-running sitcom or sport season or detective series, seems to pull disparate people together by furnishing them what they need together. Like an ancient bard, it creates a community by expressing its deepest thoughts in narrative. It is the collective meaning of these thoughts, of the soap-opera mythos, that we shall pursue.

The burgeoning popular power of the soap opera has attracted increasing attention from academics, but most such studies have concentrated on the conscious and on the present. I shall use Fiedler's theory of the archetypal basis of popular culture as a starting point to seek in the unconscious and in the past the source for soap opera's power. Specifically, I propose that the most fundamental cause may be racial, ancestral, and catastrophic that the production of soap opera and our response to it is a consequence of our inherited collective memory of ancestral cataclysmic experience as described by Immanuel Velikovsky.

I am of course aware that Velikovsky's theories have been the subject of intense controversy since they appeared some 30 years ago. It would serve no purpose for us to enter that battlefield here. Instead, I ask the reader to assume strictly for the sake of argument that Velikovsky is correct. What effect would this have on our understanding of popular culture? What would be the result if we undertook a reading of the soap opera in the light of catastrophic theory?

Because KRONOS readers are presumably familiar with Velikovsky's theories, we need not review them here but can move to a consideration of what his theories entail, particularly with regard to imaginative narrative. Velikovsky warned that the cosmic catastrophes of the historical past exercise a continued influence upon our collective behaviour. This occurs because everyone possesses an unconscious ancestral memory of these events, for "We are descendants of survivors, themselves descendants of survivors."(5) Responses to these ancestral traumas may therefore occur in any area of our culture. For instance, Velikovsky maintained that records of these events are preserved in religion, myth, and folklore, which are therefore not as fanciful as science would have us believe. Consciously, however, man cannot tolerate a knowledge of such events, and as a result we suffer from a collective amnesia which is less an inability to remember what happened than an innate unwillingness to recognize the truth buried overtly or covertly in myth and religion and ancient history.(6) To counterbalance this self-imposed blindness, we develop alternative structures of belief to which we rationally adhere as a flight from our unconscious irrational knowledge of catastrophe. Velikovsky thus argued that certain portions of accepted science are incorrect because they have been unconsciously constructed to ignore the undesirable truth about the Earth's geophysical past. Conversely, he held that many portions of myth and ancient history are true.

With these things set forth, we can now describe our task a little more precisely. We begin as I said with the question What if Velikovsky is right? Suppose our planet has indeed been devastated by celestial disorder several times within human memory? How could we cope with this knowledge, that the cosmos is unstable, that the instability may recur, that our world is not safe? We next pose a more focused question What effect would this have on creative art? Turning specifically to the soap opera, we then ask Is there any indication that memories of the Velikovskian catastrophes underlie this popular entertainment form? Does it show any signs of a racial basis? Of an ancestral impulse? An appeal to the subconscious as well as to the conscious? To answer these questions, we shall perform a short experiment on soap opera. We shall test it for a catastrophic content in an attempt to derive both a grammar and a poetics of the genre, and we begin with a formal exposition of certain relevant narrative theories.

The most important for our purpose is my own theory about the nature and function of literary art. Velikovsky's ideas on racial trauma have led to a number of subsequent concepts; and the catastrophist approach to narrative is one of these. Because, like science, it seeks only to describe and explain, its aim is not to distinguish between so-called "good" and "bad" narrative, but to discover some of narrative's essential bases, structures, and functions. In brief, it argues that, if man has been repeatedly traumatized by vast and horrible worldwide natural catastrophes, as recently as -1450 and -700, then his most representative collective activities must be studied as possible consequences of this cumulative trauma. This is especially true with regard to creative art, where our unconscious fears and desires can find freest conscious expression. This approach seeks the answers to a set of fundamental questions about the nature and purpose of narrative What is narrative art's deepest function? Does the artist speak primarily for his community or for himself? For the past or the present? What are the roots of his creativity? Is he in conscious control of all he creates?

The catastrophist approach to narrative, as I have developed it elsewhere,(7) argues that, because we are prisoners of our catastrophic past, both the form and function of much enduring narrative may be determined by our collective need to escape the pressure of the catastrophic trauma, to be repeatedly reassured of world stability in the face of unconscious memories we cannot fully repress. This is accomplished by a layered configuration in which a comforting fable overlies a catastrophic substructure. As we experience the combination, we unconsciously recognize to what actual unhappy events of the past the substructure refers, but we respond consciously to the fable's happy ending. The process provides us simultaneously with both a symbolic re-enactment of the actual terror at an unconscious level and yet with a feeling of satisfaction at the conscious level that safety and order are restored; and this constitutes the basis of enduring narrative's collective archetypal appeal. If true, this would mean that the narrative artist's most universal function is to provide, by means of his art, collective release for a collectively traumatized society. He creates for all men, and for the past, and he is less a speaker than an agent spoken through. It is to be understood, of course, that the entire process occurs subliminally. Neither the creative artist nor those whom his creations racially affect are consciously aware of what happens.

It should be noted that the abstract form of this concept resembles the psychoanalytic theory of literature. Both strongly suggest that the deepest motives for the creation of literature are more psychological than aesthetic. Where they differ is in scope psychoanalytic criticism takes the single person as its unit of motivation and expression and therefore produces a psychopoetics of the individual, whereas catastrophism takes all of traumatized mankind as a whole as its unit and therefore produces a psychopoetics of collective man. One approach is atomistic, the other gestalt. One sees each person as an individual defined mostly by chronological experience, while, to the other, the basic individual is the whole of mankind, holistically defined by its collective past more than by its local present.

Catastrophist poetics therefore defines narrative art (and indeed all art) as a form of imaginative human expression containing truth which is at once physical, historical, psychological, and numinous. (We must remember, of course, that the concept of universal truth in creative art is both very old and very new.(8) Every known society East and West, with the occasional exception of ours, has believed it.) This means that the narrative artist is and always has been a shaman, an interlocutor between our racial past and our temporal selves. It also means that every society, even one as self-professedly rational and technologically-oriented as ours, needs its prophets and shamans to put it in touch with collective wisdom imperceptible by the reason alone.

Such is the general catastrophist theory of literature. Narrative is an attempt to impose order on chaos as a neurotic response to the pressure of unconscious racial memories of catastrophe. The production of narrative by Western man therefore becomes a compulsive racial activity.

I should add here, as an aside, that modern science does much the same thing for man in its own appointed sphere. The description of the universe offered by quantum mechanics is a picture of chaos, with nothing able to be ultimately pinpointed or determined or explained. Man, however, cannot tolerate a concept of reality which is wholly uncertain. As a consequence, if the universe is undetectable and therefore unpredictable at a quantum level, the scientist seeks an observable and predictable universe at another level. Such is the case, for example, with the phenomenon of radioactive decay. No scientist can tell you the specific instant when a specific photon of radiation is emitted. He can, however, design instruments which will measure radiation at a grosser level, and these measurements can be fed to a computer (the scientist's best friend), to produce curves describing gross radioactive emission per unit of time. Armed with the results, the relieved scientist can tell you how many photons he thinks will be emitted over a specific period. What has happened is quite clear in defense against the intuition of disorder in the physical realm, science has developed a realm of statistical order which it imposes on the quantum chaos. It is an escape from the bonds of uncertainty and thus unpredictability. Demographic studies do the same. They cannot predict when a certain individual will marry or change his job or buy a house, but the demographer can predict in gross terms how many people in that individual's category are likely to do any of those things in a given year. Individual chaos, but gross order.

I suggest that my theory applies to all narrative, from the novel and play and epic poem on the one hand, to the mystery, the adventure, the Western and even children's T.V. cartoons on the other. Elsewhere, as I said, I have used it as the basis for an approach to Shakespeare.(9) In this paper, I will turn to the other end of the traditional critical spectrum, to less "serious" kinds of literature. I will ask if the popular soap opera, like the "great" play or novel, is one among many alternate forms of narrative developed by Western culture as unconscious collective reactions to terrifying ancestral experiences. We should expect, however, that, if this is indeed so, the process by which the soap opera achieves this goal will be found to be different from the process engendered by great art different in form, that is, but not in function.

A useful insight into the possible workings of the process may be found in the analysis of myth offered by Alfred de Grazia, who explains them as the consequence of our need to repeatedly recall the Velikovskian planetary disorders in disguise so that we can repeatedly re-forget them. In "The Palaetiology of Fear and Memory,"(10) de Grazia argues, after Velikovsky, that the disturbed survivors of the devastating holocausts which occurred thirty-five and twenty-seven centuries ago would have intuitively formalized their terrible collective experience into myths whose events would retell the disasters in masked, sublimated form. This would have provided the survivors with a means of control over the memory of those events and thus a way to live with the unconscious knowledge of what happened, a knowledge whose product is a suppressed but ineradicable terror which de Grazia calls our D-Fear. Because we have all inherited this D-Fear, which is continuously disquieting, the experience of these myths acts as a form of collective safety valve. Each time we unconsciously experience, or rather re-experience, catastrophic patterns of action sublimated in a myth, we are comforted by displacement. We vicariously endure what in reality was unendurable. This assuages for the moment our ineradicable catastrophic terror and allows us to cope with everyday existence. The most important point de Grazia establishes in his article is that, by means of the myths, we remember in disguise the more securely to reforget. He also uses this approach in a lengthy analysis of the catastrophic meaning of certain parts of Homer's Odyssey (11)

If the function of the soap opera is studied from this point of view, it will be seen that the televised myth may do for modern man today what Velikovsky and de Grazia say Greek myth did for the peoples of the Aegean 2600 years ago. That is to say, it may embody archetypal patterns of action to which we respond racially. The main reason it can achieve this effect is because it has become a stark reduction to the most basic elements of melodrama, a condition made possible, ironically enough, because it has been honed to the finest level of sheer commercial practicality. Only those soap operas survive which can consistently appeal, and, with an instantaneous feedback mechanism available in the form of measurable audience response, a verdict is quickly available. This means that the victors in this blatant popularity contest are those soap operas which can persistently touch the right popular chord.

In one case, the chief writer for a major show actually rode the subways regularly, and made notes on the conversations of ordinary people. These were then fed into the show's hack-writing mill to emerge as the basic narrative matter of the program, and proved very successful on the marketplace because the writer's immersion in everyday concerns kept the show vibrantly in tune with daily life it became an instrument of the folk, a string which resonated with every wave of popular feeling. Indeed, so sure is the appeal of those shows which survive that certain soap operas have remained attractive for decades. We thus encounter the ironic situation that the desire for financial success has functioned as an unwitting laboratory agent to strip away false paths and ineffective excesses and pare the art of soap-opera writing down to its most universally attractive essence.

What is left, refined and sifted like the philosopher's stone, is pure fable, enduring and popular and magnetic pattern. If carefully studied, it can be seen to contain the same actions and elements passion, envy, violence, illicit love, family hatred and betrayal, sex, rape, incest, death and destruction which are found in Greek myth. The resemblances between the two bodies of narrative, in general and in particular, are quite striking; and it has indeed been observed by many that the soap operas constitute today's closest equivalent to Greek myth.(12)

Velikovsky has argued in Worlds in Collision that segments of Greek myth, particularly certain events of the Trojan War as depicted by Homer, are the product of a racial knowledge of worldwide physical catastrophe.(13) He says the social, political, and atmospheric disorders in the myths represent the planetary disorders observed in the heavens and their effects on Earth. If, therefore, there is a strong similarity of event and appeal between ancient Greek myth and modern soap opera, then may we not apply Velikovsky's judgement here as well, and say that the elements of passion, violence, betrayal and so forth to be found in the television genre may likewise be surrogates for traumatic ancestral memories of planetary disorder? Can the soap opera be a contemporary case where archetypal patterns of action representing what was seen in the sky have been unconsciously incorporated into a popular narrative tradition? If so, then we may theorize of the soap opera what has already been suggested of Greek myth and great narrative when we experience their unreal horrible events and unconsciously recognize to what real and even more horrible events they refer, the tension of unconsciously possessing such disquieting knowledge is relieved by displacement. The soap opera, like the Greek myth, may be a communal safety valve which allows us to remember so that we can reforget. Every age needs its Homer to assuage its D-Fear, and America's may come most abundantly via the vacuum tube.

I believe de Grazia's contention to be essentially true, but it is incomplete as a description of what truly happens between us and the soap operas we create. I think the actual process is rather more complex, befitting the devious complexity of the human mind. To perceive this, we shall need first to isolate certain formal characteristics of the genre.

Time recognizes the force of the soap operas, but has difficulty explaining the source of their power.

For all their huge popularity and moneymaking capacity, the soaps are something of a mystery hit.(14)

The reason for Time's mystification is the apparent harshness and inflexibility of the universe created by this medium.

To watch a soap is to be drawn into an enclosed and not particularly welcoming world.(15)

If their world is so unpleasant, why do the soaps possess such power? What is the nature of their deep irrational appeal? In a recent defence of the medium, a popular journalist argued that the appeal of soap opera lies mainly in its story, not its dramatic thrust, and that the most appealing element of the story is its implication of continuity. The plot is replete with melodramatic horror which might at first convey the impression that all is futile and impermanent, but

. . . there is also the feeling that somehow behind all that, propping up and providing a floor for the people of Pine Valley, are these big solid pillars of tradition, and behind them, protected by them, a huge vat of Grandma Kate's vegetable soup that will ease all sorrows, cure all ills.(16)

From a catastrophic point of view, this is precisely what all popular narrative must achieve. It must acknowledge the presence of disaster but proclaim the persistence of identity. That is why the soaps contain a catastrophic and disjointed surface set against a comforting eternal base. Although much changes or perishes at a superficial level, the base is seen to endure. Thus, while these shows thrive upon instability, the priority of stability is never in doubt. As another critic put it, the soap opera is generically inconclusive.

Its purpose clearly is to never end and its beginnings are always lost sight of. If then, as Aristotle so reasonably claimed, drama is the imitation of a human action that has a beginning, a middle and an end, soap opera belongs to a separate genus that is entirely composed of an indefinitely expandable middle .... Unlike all traditionally end-oriented fiction and drama, soap opera offers process without progression .... its peculiar formal conventions derive less from mimetic considerations than from a generic will to survive.(17)

Second is the deceptive nature of soap-opera tension, for the harsh world it evokes is ultimately a never-never land in which all menace loses its power to cause anxiety. The soap opera

. . . raises problems but it raises them in such a way and under such conditions that potential threats are effectively neutralized for the viewer. Like the storms and witches of fairy tales, the divorces and abortions of the nineteen inch screen represent no lasting menace; they become rather elements of one's pleasure.(18)

Third is the emotional atmosphere of the soaps as compared with other forms of television narrative.

Agnes Nixon defines the difference between daytime and prime time as "the suffering of consequences." There is no time at night to experience the result of foolish action; during the day that is all there is to do.(19)

Time has referred with great insight to

. . . the euphemistic nature of the soaps: terrible things may happen, but it is the emotional reaction to them that is emphasized.(20)

As in Greek tragedy, violence and disaster occur off camera or even in between the segments of the shows.

The soaps are fascinated with the crimes of the body, fornication and murder. But the interest is an abstract one, a retrospective, imaginative one. It is exclusive of violence.(21)

That is why

The most startling physical characteristic of a soap is its sound. Soaps keen. The plots jerk along in a series of moans.(22)

These observations permit us to draw a clear distinction between the soap opera and more classical narrative. First, the soap opera is middle-oriented, never-ending, "process without progression" in other words, it is eternal. Particular plot threads reach a climax or are suspended, but the narrative as a whole goes inexorably onward forever, like life. It is a fable of human continuity. Second, it deals with great amounts of violence and tension, but abstractly, concentrating rather on the emotions which violence produces, and on the consequences. In other words, it is not violent events which are stressed, but the private reactions to them. Third, the soap-opera world, which is filled with cruelty, ultimately gives pleasure. Although its vision contains very little humor or joy, which are doled out in fleeting moments overwhelmed by abundant stretches of cruelty and sadness, the audience feels no fear, only comfort.

We may say in general, therefore, that the soap opera appears to be a method whereby the imagination can dwell, with excessive indulgence, on the personal consequences of disaster. It does not seek to assign blame or look for cause, but only to recreate the emotion of the experience. This has been referred to by one critic as the feminine principle, a vision of life in which

. . . all of us are part of a turbulent, passionate, inter-connected flow of life in which our purposes and efforts have only a minor importance (23)

Morality and guilt . . . are irrelevant to the mystic, who goes with the flow.(24)

Individuals need not act, they need only endure.(25)

In the soap opera, the characters

. . . do not Fall, they are not Reborn, they do not conquer; they flow day after day, month after month, actor after actor the characters flow through complex, cluttered, non-progressing situations (26)

To put it another way, the soap opera seems to embody a sense of human helplessness vis-á-vis a universe which man can neither control nor understand.

On the other hand, rational Western man must look for cause and effect, guilt and punishment, error and disaster

. . . because we are by and large moralists. We are egoists. We steer our consciousness away from whatever sense of the flow we may possess.(27)

In most "good" literature since Aristotle, there is a structure of beginning, middle and end, cause and effect, guilt and retribution, merit and reward, indeed Fall and Rebirth, totally at odds with the essence of the soap opera.(28) If the latter can be said to convey a sense of helplessness, then the former can equally be said to convey the feeling that we understand and control our environment and thus our destiny. This has been termed the masculine principle, aggressive and purposeful and active,(29) which would make the soap opera very much unlike the classical novel or play.

Such a distinction raises an immediate question in our minds. I had said earlier that catastrophist poetics sees all enduring narrative as a product of our racially-inherited knowledge of global catastrophes, yet the soap opera as we have just defined it appears to contain a radically-different vision of life from the great novel. How can they both be products of the same racial knowledge? The answer, I suggest, lies in their different functions. The male-female distinction I have just referred to (if one ignores the chauvinistic overtone of the terminology) may help to explain the presence of both types of narrative in Western culture they fulfill opposite needs arising from one source, needs so opposite that they may be complementary. If Velikovsky is correct, there is an unconscious battle always going on in us between our non-rational knowledge of a flow which man cannot control and our rational need to either find order in the flow or pretend it does not exist and that reality is different. Can one's preference in narrative be determined by the outcome of that battle? Those who want to believe that the catastrophes never happened would not easily tolerate reminders of it. They would therefore desire "masculine" fictions with an ultimate structure, purpose, and order. Those who can only find peace through vicarious re-experience, who must re-live the catastrophes (in safe form) rather than pretend they never occurred, would prefer the passive, open-ended opiate of the "feminine" soap opera. One may be a placebo for the left brain, the other for the right.

To carry this a bit further, it seems to me that the designations "male" and "female" as we have employed them here may serve a quite useful descriptive and thus analytic function if we apply them not simply to the soap opera but to television programs in general as a distinct genre of narrative. It turns out that most television shows today can indeed be classified in one of these two large categories the male program, which is order-oriented, or the female, which is continuity-oriented. The male program has a context of rules and values against which all are judged, a strong system of rule enforcement and a central "masculine" authority figure in whom this whole ordered universe is crystallized. Kojak is a clear example, of course. It contains beginning and end, cause and effect, reward and punishment. The female program has a far less prominent value system which is flexible and is constantly being challenged or modified. There is no dominant rule-enforcing presence, no central unquestionable authority, no clear beginning and end. Instead, it is continuity which is stressed, the ongoingness of life as a whole despite each week's teapot tempest. One Day at a Time is a feminine program. Furthermore, if we compare the general run of today's programs with those of the past, an interesting characteristic emerges.

In the 1950's, almost all types of programs were largely masculine except for the overt soap operas. This includes not only the cowboy, police and detective shows, but also the major comedies. The sitcom Father Knows Best, for example, was more a comic version of Kojak than a progenitor of One Day at a Time. Each program was self contained, paternally-dominated and morally precise. Today, on the contrary, The Mary Tyler Moore Show is, or rather was, a combination of concurrent ongoing open-ended sub-plots. It had no supreme moral code which always triumphed, and Lou Grant didn't always know best.

There may be a third class of program observable today, which, in keeping with our pair of designations above, we will call "hermaphroditic". Mash may be such a show. The Korean war is a background of good versus evil which seems to go on forever, and each episode thus contains a certain amount of tension, violence, and brutality. But the focus of the show is on the personal reactions to this world of war, on the long and detailed suffering of its consequences. Like the soap opera as it was described a moment ago, Mash does not emphasize the fact that terrible things may happen in its world, but the emotional reaction to them. Because it is a comedy, this emerges as laughter, but there is keening beneath. Hill Street Blues is perhaps an example of a hermaphroditic police show. Its base structure may derive originally from Kojak and its ilk, but the particular events from week to week contain a significant open-ended feminine atmosphere.

One should not normally allow extrinsic judgements to intrude upon a purely formal analysis, but it is very tempting to suggest that the change from masculinity to femininity or at least hermaphroditism in T.V. programs over the past 25 years reflects a change in the general attitude toward authority over that period. In the 1950's, most Americans had no doubt that America was good and its enemies bad, that the American Way of Life was actually blessed by heaven over all other cultures, and that strength wedded to righteousness would ultimately prevail under the guidance of a firm but benevolent masculine leader. It was a case of Ike Knows Best. There is no such consensus today, the New Right notwithstanding.

The shift in the nature of T.V. programs from predominantly masculine to a larger number of feminine and hermaphroditic ones may reflect this decline in public faith in authority and custom, and the replacement of a vision of order by a perception of continuity despite disorder. Oscar Wilde once humorously observed that life seems to imitate art, and this is all too often true, with television and the cinema especially said to exert a powerful influence on everyday behaviour and values. At a more intuitive level, however, I think that art imitates life, or reflects it. Popular art in particular, I think, is a sensitive and indicative barometer of the people, and the soap opera, being folk art par excellence, must reflect what the folk are thinking, or at least feeling. We are in an age of doubt, and our popular culture may mirror it.

This leads me to propose another set of terms which may prove helpful in accurately describing the soap opera, and indeed all popular art. Those terms are elitist and democratic. The masculine vision in art or science, ordered and measured, authoritarian and paternal, may not correspond to reality at all, as Velikovsky and many others have argued.(30) It may instead be an arbitrary attitude imposed on reality from above by what we might call the "left brain" mentality, that part of us which needs to feel secure that it knows what is good, what is bad, what works and what doesn't, how to find truth and deal with matters. In an era when the world seems ordered, we would want this elitist vision embodied in formal art and formal science to uphold established opinions. The moment we would begin to perceive chaos beneath the surface, however, these elitist approaches to physical and metaphysical reality would no longer appear adequate. We would require more feminine modes of art and more mystical non-rational avenues of scientific exploration to correspond to our intuition of disorder. This new need and new vision would not be imposed willy-nilly from above by that elitist part of ourselves which needs to feel at any cost that all is eternally orderly, but would well up instinctively and democratically from below in response to our holistic right-brain intuition of what the world is really like.

The general change in the nature of television programs in the U. S. over the past 25 years may have this cause. When we did not feel threatened by the world, or by anything in the world, we were easily susceptible to the comforting but illusory elitist beliefs which prevailed in art and science. As the world has grown more unstable politically, economically, and ethically, however, and the universe has been found to be rife with continuous violence on a gigantic scale from supernovas to exploding galaxies, we can no longer ignore the presence of menace everywhere. We then turn instinctively and democratically to non-elitist approaches in all fields, for these alone correspond to our new and fearful insights. Newtonian physics, Lyellian geology, and the classical novel are elitist and illusory. Quantum paradox and the soap opera are democratic and true.

To sum up the soap opera in formal terms: It is a feminine, passive, open-ended, and democratic genre of imaginative narrative whose inconclusive nature may reflect our conscious or subconscious doubts about stability.

. . . to be continued.

REFERENCES

1. November 1975, Loyola Campus, Concordia University (Montreal, Quebec).
2. "Sex and Suffering in the Afternoon", Time, Vol. 107, No. 2 (Jan. 12, 1976), pp. 38-43.
3. Ibid., p. 40.
4. Ibid., p. 43.
5. I. Velikovsky, Earth in Upheaval (N.Y., 1955), p. 248.
6. Ibid., pp. 302-315.
7. See, for example, my articles in KRONOS I:3, pp. 3145; KRONOS I:4, pp. 37-54; KRONOS III:4, pp. 3-18; KRONOS IV:1, pp. 67-89; KRONOS VI:1, pp. 25-47; KRONOS VI:3, pp. 71-92.
8. It can be traced at least from Plato's Ion. In the last two centuries, it has appeared in Romanticism and Transcendentalism and more recently in the mythical and metaphysical approaches to literature.
9. See ref. No. 7. [Also see I. Velikovsky, Mankind in Amnesia (N.Y., 1982), Chapter IV. LMG]
10. A. de Grazia, "The Palaetiology of Fear and Memory", in Recollections of a Fallen Sky: Velikovsky and Cultural Amnesia, ed. E. R. Milton (Univ. of Lethbridge, Alberta, 1978), pp. 2944.
11. A. de Grazia, The Torrid Love Affair of Moon and Mars. (Unpublished book-length manuscript deals with the Song of Demodokos from Book VIII of Homer's Odyssey as an artistic allegory of the interactions of Earth, Moon, Mars, and Venus 28 and 27 centuries ago; a detailed cosmological reconstruction.)
12. Time, op. cit., p. 40.
13. Worlds in Collision, pp. 245-253.
14. Time, op. cit., p. 39.
15. Ibid. 84
16. Review of Dan Wakefield's All Her Children by Eric Larson in Commonweal, Vol CIV, No. 4 (Feb. 18, 1977), p. 124.
17. Dennis Porter, "Soap Time: Thoughts on a Commodity Art Form", College English, Vol. 38, No. 8 (April 1977), pp. 783-784.
18. Ibid., p. 782.
19. Time, p. 41.
20. Ibid., p. 43.
21. Ron McAdow, "Experience of Soap Opera", Journal of Popular Culture, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Spring 1974), p.965.
22. Time, op. cit., p. 40.
23. McAdow, op. cit., p. 965.
24. Ibid., p. 964.
25. Ibid., p. 961.
26. Ibid., p. 962.
27. Ibid., p. 961.
28. See the article on "Aristotle's Tragedy" by Prof. Lynn E. Rose which precedes my own in this issue of KRONOS. Also see Mankind in Amnesia, pp. 52-59.
29. McAdow, op. cit., p. 965.
30. See, for example, KRONOS III:2.

 home       features       science/philosophy       wholesale store        policies        contact
Mikamar Publishing, 16871 SE 80th Pl,  Portland  OR  97267       503-974-9665