This thesis explores the cultural meaning of soap operas in American society. The central research questions are threefold: has the quantity and quality of sexually explicit content on soap operas has changed over the past sixteen years; are college viewers passive or do they actively engage in the material presented on soap operas; and how do male and female college student viewers render moral judgments about soap operas' portrayals of relationships. Content analysis was employed to determine whether the permissibility of sexual content on soap operas has increased since the early 1980's and participant observation was conducted to determine soap opera audiences' viewing rituals. Interviews with 10 college students were used to access the ways in which viewers construct meaning in soap opera storylines. Results show that the quantity of sexually explicit content on soap operas has risen since 1981 and audience members actively engage themeslves in soap opera content. The latter finding complicates both the hypodermic model of media effects and the stereotype of soap fans as being vulnerable to soap operas' messages. The study also reveals that male and female viewers do not respond in significantly different way to portrayals of relationships on soap operas. One possible explanation for this is that differences between male and female approaches to relationships become apparent at the behavioral level rather than the cognitive level.


McConnell, David


Sociology and Anthropology

Publication Date


Degree Granted

Bachelor of Arts

Document Type

Senior Independent Study Thesis

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© Copyright 1997 Janet L. Murray