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Soap opera critics and criticism: Industry and audience in an era of transformation


At the heart of all relationships between producers and consumers of media texts is a struggle over the meaning of those texts. This struggle is just as likely to occur over popular cultural material, such as soap operas, as it is over canonical literature. Because popular cultural texts specialize in the familiar and are relatively "open" to interpretation, it is not uncommon for audiences to develop expert knowledge and seek participation alongside professional critics in the evaluative process. In the case of daytime serials, dedicated fans have been shown to develop sophisticated insight amassed from long-term viewing and to assert legitimate evaluative claims that significantly challenge the judgments of soaps' producers and professional critics (Bielby, Harrington, and Bielby 1999). In some instances, those claims, which are rendered visible through organized Internet protests, on blogs, or in massive letter writing campaigns, have affected the outcome of a narrative or the direction of a show. Thus, in popular culture, audience-based critical insight competes head-on with professional expertise about the quality or value of cultural products. But what room do such audience contestations leave for professional criticism within popular culture? © 2011 by University Press of Mississippi. All Rights Reserved.

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