Friday, January 22, 2016

What does the Soap "General Hospital" have to do with the latest breastfeeding in public controversy?

Note: I admit I do not watch the show "General Hospital".  But I do know lots of women of all ages who do watch soap operas frequently!

Soap operas have been a part of the human tapestry for many years. From as far back as Charles Dickens, serials have influenced society both in positive and negative ways. These shows have a tremendous following all over the world with the vast majority of viewers being women. Traditionally, viewers were those that were stay-at-homers, however since VCRs and DVRs, the viewership has extended to those who are not stay-at-homers.

A 2014 study observed that social, cultural and economic values found in soap operas are mostly portrayed as negative. And the time allotted for such negative values is more than the positive values, the frequency of the negative content is double than the positive content of a five day soap per week. 

Soap operas can and have been used as change agents.  At first, in the 1930s, serials were named "soap" operas as they were vehicles through which manufacturers such as Proctor and Gamble could advertise their soap products directly to the woman of the house.  Worldwide (and yes nearly every country has their own soap operas!), these serials continue to influence us.

Which brings us to the current dilemma apparently smoldering on ABC's General Hospital.
General Hospital's Olivia

According to soap blogger Hope Campbell, the character Olivia was nursing Leo in public and Mayor Lomax (who is female) had Olivia arrested.  It was first claimed that the charge was verbal abuse, but, according to the blog, most viewers realize it was due to breastfeeding in public.

So, Soap Shows Blog ran a pole to see what viewers thought of this story line. “Out of about 6,000 votes, 79% of you thought Olivia had every right to breastfeed in public. After all, breastfeeding is a natural act, and when a child is hungry, he should not have to wait to eat.  A very small 8% thought Olivia should have had a bottle of pumped milk on hand when she has to bring her baby to work. You have nothing against breastfeeding, but thought nursing during a business meeting was completely inappropriate.” Another 13% didn't care, considering Olivia's odd behavior in the recent past.

This group of viewers may have already had their view of breastfeeding in public - we cannot be sure.  But what we can be sure of is that soap operas not only sell products but bring these types of social issues to the forefront of our thinking.  In Kenya, it is the peace between tribes. In Peru, it might be that working hard pays off with rewards.  And it may even influence how we feel about HIV/AIDS.  
Homebirth on The
Young and the Restless

Here in the US, soap operas are shown as part of daytime television however in the UK, the same shows are built into the prime time hours.  This opens up a larger range of views, including men and children. Famed British childbirth educator Sheila Kitzinger was once interviewed by a scriptwriter who was adding in a home birth to one of the soap opera scripts. The writer, who had given birth successfully at home herself, wrote about a beautiful and uncomplicated homebirth.

An unlikely partner in perinatal education, soap operas may be an influencer that we have not tapped into as yet.  When other types of media are marginalizing, childbirth and breastfeeding, soap operas may be a viable partner in educating the expectant and new parent population.

Anitha K (2014) Socio, Economic and Cultural Impact of Soap Operas on Home Makers (A Study in Andhra Pradesh). Journal of Mass Communication and  Journalism  4:189. doi:10.4172/2165-7912.1000189

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