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The Feminist, the Housewife, and the Soap Opera$

Charlotte Brunsdon

Print publication date: 2000

Print ISBN-13: 9780198159803

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198159803.001.0001

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(p.219) Appendix: Example of Interview Transcription

(p.219) Appendix: Example of Interview Transcription

The Feminist, the Housewife, and the Soap Opera
Oxford University Press

This appendix reproduces the first nineteen pages of the transcription of the interview with Ellen Seiter. Parts of this sequence have been subject to detailed analysis in Chapter 10, and all passages quoted there are printed in bold. Also included is my own introduction to the interview when I offer a series of formulations about the nature of the project.

No attempt has been made to render phonetic detail in the transcriptions—thus for example, laughter is rendered as ‘[laughs]’, and ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ are excluded. However, in this version, some attempt has been made to render the enormously high frequency of the range of confirmatory noises made by both participants, generally through the conventional use of ‘uh-huh’ or ‘yeah’. The appearance of ‘uh-huh’ or ‘yeah’ in square brackets during speech signifies this noisy confirmatory listening which was such a feature of all the interviews, but which is not represented in the extracts used in the analysis chapters. In the same way ‘[laughs]’ signifies that the speaker laughs, whereas ‘[laughter]’ signifies that both do. Punctuation has been used to some extent in transcription—for example, the use of question marks. The more difficult issues of pausing and pacing, conventionally rendered through commas, full stops, and paragraphs in written English, have in general been represented through the use of commas and dashes, where the dash designates a longer pause.

The inclusion of this lengthy extract from the very beginning of an interview is designed to function as an exemplary control for the reader. The extract provides context for the shorter passages discussed in Chapter 10, while also, in its general narrative development, showing how Ellen Seiter told her story. Against this, the emphases I have given can be measured. What immediately appears as one of my main interpretative practices is the rearrangement of Ellen's story. I use a very high proportion of the interview and discuss lengthy quotation in context, but I group material together in different topic groups and themes than her narrative offers sequentially.

As is characteristic of the beginnings of the interviews, most of this sequence is what I would describe a ‘referential’ narrative. However, in the sequence where Ellen is describing beginning to watch General Hospital, she moves into what I would designate ‘reflection’ as she meditates, with some irony, on the particular audience shifts for this show at this time. This I join in. Slightly later we find the beginnings of theoretical narrative, ‘I was first using all the melodrama, you know…’ although this is not much developed here. As a whole, the extract indicates how complex is the interweaving of identities, narrations, and histories in these accounts.

Note on Pagination

The interview with Ellen Seiter, like the one with Dorothy Hobson, was transcribed with very wide margins and quadruple spacing. The extract below is the (p.220) first nineteen pages of the interview. Different spacing and indeed paper size were used for other interviews, so pagination is not comparable across the interviews as an indicator of length. However, page references have been retained in the text to enable the reader to gauge the sequence in which comments were originally made.

Interview with Ellen Seiter, 21 June 1990 (opening)

CB: I mean really, as I said, my interest—there isn't an idea of ethnography [yeah]—my interest is interviews between really scholars who know each other [laughs], and in a way it's a kind of it's to try and think about what we went into the work doing and of course you can only give retrospective accounts [yeah], obviously the way one glosses what one did is probably quite different but that seems to me—I’m kind of interested in if you can think about how you got into it and what you thought you were doing really when you started doing it [uh-huh] and then I suppose at a later point I kind of want to if you can hold the separation—sort of see if that's what you think what you think you did so [yeah]. Do you see what I mean? [yeah] If you did what you thought you were doing, [yeah] So I don't know how…because you were at North Western weren't you, is that the Jump Cut crew—?

ES: So basically what happened was, I’d done a film-making degree and I just did, you know, theory and practice kind of stuff, I was making little short experimental films then I taught for a year. I got hired to replace somebody and then I decided to go back to school [uh-huh] because my mother told me why don't you get a Ph.D. because that will be a more pleasant life for you because you're obviously not going to work in the industry and you know, take the train at night to downtown Chicago and work sixty hours a week, so that's one part of it so then I was back in school and I took a melodrama class from Chuck Kleinhans, OK, [yeah] which was all movies, we read Mommie Dearest and saw Joan Crawford movies and that and I was in the film—it was ‘Radio-TV-film’, but I was in the film division so it was all film and this was 1979 when I went back to school and we could write about anything that we, we had to keep like a diary a journal and we could write about anything we wanted to and I was writing about General Hospital which I was watching for the first time [uh-huh]. What happened was I met a woman started the programme at that time Lisa Lewis [uh-huh] and she and I would go to the cafeteria every day and eat our lunch at two o'clock which was the only time postgraduate students hung out with the staff in the cafeteria. It was a huge room with like maybe seventy-five seats and it was the first [inaudible: one word] projected television video thing so we were watching that then just about every day and the group got larger, you know larger and larger and some men would come and watch too, although none of the men I was involved with of course they wouldn't be caught dead, [laughter] so I decided I would write about that, but the real part of it was that before that when I was in college my sister who was then in law school started talking to me all the time about The Young and the Restless and saying you should really watch this.

(p.221) CB: Is that because she thought it was telling her things about her life or…

ES: She just loved it. And my sister is somebody who aspires, my sister was in sociology and she likes to think of herself as completely normal, she likes to read the National Enquirer and she likes to have her finger on the pulse of sort of popular culture and she has been consistently sort of my informant, she says look, I mean this kids’ TV stuff you know she's getting into that too, she's taken me, she takes me through my clothing and she takes me through my television viewing—.

CB: So she's like Janice Radway's Dot—[laughter].

ES: And she, she then she became a lawyer and she doesn't get to do this stuff, basically cultural studies is what she wants…you know…and she has really wanted to do a graduate degree in sociology, but my mother told her [laughs] that that was too impractical and she should go to law school [laughs]. But what happened because it's very clear to me about just sort of the introduction to soap operas, because nobody watched them, my mother always worked and nobody, there was no daytime television, she started watching it during her break from classes and law school and then that year I would go up and visit her, I spent a lot of time visiting her, as a teenager you know sort of going wild you know away from home and on this vacation she would force me to watch it and she would ask me when she was phoning me up at college about are you watching you know can you find a student lounge where you can watch it. So that was kind of the background, but I never was really around a TV enough to watch it, but then by the time, so that was like ’73, so then back up to ’79 by this time my mother was living in Chicago and working as a legal proof-reader and she was then starting—she didn't used to have a job where you would talk about television but then there was a radio that they brought to the office where she was a legal proof-reader and her partner a black woman lived on the south side of Chicago was listening to the soap opera so there was that kind of interest that I you know then I found this time of day that I could then watch this one and then she was also talking to me about it and both my mother and my sister as you know, it was very important and I was kind of horrified when my sister first started talking about them, you know I did think, I did kind of wonder about her and I didn't have a particularly strong stereotype about it but it was just completely foreign to be doing that my mother then was totally open to it at her work and stuff and clearly saw it as you know something that you could talk to women who were much younger about, so anyway and then there was this melodrama class and that was kind of so then I started writing about General Hospital. And that was by the way, a time 1978–9 when like millions of people in the United States started watching specifically General Hospital at that time and when General Hospital had a producer that started trying to reach younger women they brought in William M—so, and there was this plot around Luke and Laura that you know so although I wasn't aware of that at the time to be the age that I was then and to start watching that show you know it was definitely a mass movement, [laughter]

CB: Demographically [laughter] you were personally choosing something that was laid out for you.

(p.222) ES: Yes, that's right [laughs]. So then I just started writing about it and just kind of figuring out the rules of it and applying but at that time applying things about nineteenth-century stage melodrama to soap opera, so by the end of that year, and Chuck Kleinhans was very enthusiastic about what I was writing about soap opera, so by the end of that year you know I sort of needed a dissertation topic and chose that and these teen pics from the ’70s Highest Castles, You Light Up My Life and The Promise, movies whose music themes are played in stores to this day constantly like the major musak numbers of [laughter] so—.

CB:…which you must recognize the minute you go into stores (laughs).

ES: Oh yes [laughs] so, and but I kind of, so I was first using all the melodrama, you know I read Tania Modleski's thing I read, Carol Lopate, I read Renata Adler—you know Laura Mulvey you know [yeah] was around all that time but what I thought I was doing was I did you know which I sometimes still interested in doing is crossing film and television stuff and I tried to look at all the supporting materials within soap opera, [uh-huh] I’d just look at the production the advertising packages on the films and all of that and then I was in that Feminar group that started at the same time.

CB : Which did the Film Reader?

ES: Yeah. Which did the Film Reader and did the conference. So I gave the paper at that conference and it was wildly well received, you know, [uh-huh] a sort of very early public paper about soap opera including that the people who put up the money for the conference and who then had all of us to this cocktail party and stuff. I was the one, they chose my paper to go to and they chose me to talk about because they were sort of closet soap opera viewers.

CB: And did they…I mean like, when I’ve talked to other people like Dorothy there's been like this moment of recognition like somebody serious is doing something or somebody is doing something [yes] serious about this thing which nobody else has done anything serious about or some—.

ES : Yes, yeah and that you know I think the thing for me was that I had you know I was coming out of this experimental film thing and also these sort of fantasies of being a film-maker so when I switched over to criticism the kind of giving up of being a film-maker was—well already about something really popular and that you know that's something that—all the—I mean, it still happens to me constantly that people will sort of light up and start talking about soap opera and that it's a way of being an academic with thinking that you're still kind of ‘in touch’ in some way.

CB: It's sort of like being not an academic academic or—.

ES: Yes, yes, which I think I have a lot invested in anyway you know, you know, that I’ve sort of tried to and then of course you think about teaching you know, would you rather teach Riddles of the Sphinx or General Hospital in terms of the different kinds of student reactions that you get? Like I always, I basically always had a problem in teaching film that I was lacking some conviction to convince the students that this extremely difficult stuff like Michael Snow and you know, was worth it you know I you know I knew how to do it but I (p.223) couldn't really get up you know when they would sort of say ‘Bleah, well you know, this is horrible’ and you know and then as I went on teaching I was teaching larger and larger classes you know 250 students in a film history class you know that's been kind of a recurring issue for me that I somehow, that has made me feel that I’m kind of in the wrong business and that I should be in TV criticism, although I never get to teach TV criticism hardly ever, I teach film history and production classes, so, which always seems also easier to me to teach despite this problem of lack of conviction about taking difficult and dealing with avant-garde stuff, I still like the big bang that you get in like a feminist criticism class about switching to soap opera and the way that suddenly students are talking in a way—who do not normally talk and also what happens with the women and the men in the class. So I think the initial thing to me was also getting you know was very much a sense of trying to valorize soap opera as women's TV and it was also at a point then in the ’70s when there was all this about, the mass comm. stuff, was about the absence of women the Gaye Tuchman, the symbolic annihilation thing [uh-huh] so a lot of the initial impulse was just to sort of say, Look here's something where there are lots of women on the screen and you can, so let's talk about this because that's the representation we're getting, so let's sort of take that apart. And then, so that was one part of the interest and then the other part was just kind of the melodramatic mode, but I was more influenced by stuff by Peter Brooks and Thomas Elsaesser [yeah]. You know I still sort of—Thomas Elsaesser's article is still kind of the the you know and that had a huge impact on me you know actually more than you know, some other things—.

CB: But also I mean I think Peter Brooks I think it's a great book you know. [uh-huh] (p.224)