Soap Comes Before Opera


Illustration by Ayo Arogunmati / AOTD

In one day, you, me, and those around you see between 4,000 to 10,000 advertisements per day. In 1985, Neil Postman wrote the book Amusing Ourselves to Death, a book on the effects of television on the American public. In the book, he mentions that the average American experiences over 40 million advertisements in their lifetime. Instagram, a free social app, now ensures that for every 3 posts on your feed page by your friends, you must be interrupted by an advertisement. Most of these advertisements are not good and further contributes to the clutter that the average person is already consumed with on a daily basis.

As a culture, we have evolved along the spectrum starting from speech to visual or image-centered communication through a screen. It started with the television, a static medium that was located in a particular space and could not commute with the owner. Now, the screens are attached and the ubiquity of advertisements grows exponentially. The realization from the ever-increasing advertisement in an age whereby all shows are engines of consumerism, is that all forms of content is entertainment and we are now, as a culture, immersed in the business of show.

A binary test was conducted by me last month on the evening news. The experiment was simple, it involved watching the evening news for thirty minutes, and documenting the good news and the bad news with a “1” and a “0”. At the end of the news cycle, I would attempt to recall the specific news in detail. In the half-hour of watching, a total of thirteen stories were presented with nine bad stories and 4 good stories. None of the stories resonated deeply with me and by the end of the engagement, I could not recall in detail exactly what was important. I realized from this very short and anecdotal experience, the news cycle is just another form of entertainment. Emotionally charging but quickly fleeting as you move from one story to the next, all in an attempt to hold our attention during an advertisement break.   

Few weeks back, there was a 6-part series called Surviving R.Kelly. the documentary is based on his transgressions over the last two decades. The story needs to be told and people need to be made aware of any negative or criminal acts he has committed. However, upon further discussion with those who decided to participate, I asked if it was entertaining, and all were affirmative on the question. The 6-part series also included advertisements, suggesting to viewer, who is unconscious of the effect, that what you just watched is terrible and should not be tolerated, but before you sink too deep in moving towards an action, watch this product advertisement. 

Media has to generate revenue and the method relied upon for generating revenue is through advertisements. These advertisements interrupt the flow of any serious communication being reflected on the television screen. This is evident in the current news cycle and private documentaries created to inform the masses of a serious issue. While many will laugh at those individuals who are consumed day time shows and soap operas, there is an understanding that it is not serious and should not be taken as such. The soap companies sponsored the first radio soap opera’s and ensured that the listeners are keenly aware of the relationship between what they are watching and what the advertisers would like to sell. It may be time to include a pre-fix or tag to visual programming that lets the viewer know that the real purpose of this content is to show the business financing the content.