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Consuming Pleasures

Consuming Pleasures: Active Audiences and Serial Fictions from Dickens to Soap Opera

Jennifer Hayward
Copyright Date: 1997
Edition: 1
Pages: 232
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  • Book Info
    Consuming Pleasures
    Book Description:

    "To be continued... " Whether these words fall at a season-ending episode ofStar Trekor a TV commercial flirtation between coffee-loving neighbors, true fans find them impossible to resist. Ever since the 1830s, when Charles Dickens'sPickwick Papersenticed a mass market for fiction, the serial has been a popular means of snaring avid audiences. Jennifer Hayward establishes serial fiction as a distinct genre -- one defined by the activities of its audience rather than by the formal qualities of the text. Ranging from installment novels, mysteries, and detective fiction of the 1800s to the television and movie series, comics, and advertisements of the twentieth century, serials are loosely linked by what may be called "family resemblances." These traits include intertwined subplots, diverse casts of characters, dramatic plot reversals, suspense, an such narrative devices as long-lost family members and evil twins. Hayward chooses four texts to represent the evolution of serial fiction as a genre and to analyze the peculiar draw that serials have upon their audiences: Dickens's novelOur Mutual Friend, Milton Canif's comic stripTerry and the Pirates, and the soap operasAll My ChildrenandOne Life to Live. Hayward argues that serial audiences have developed active strategies of consumption, such as collaborative reading and attempts to shape the production process. In this way fans have forced serial producers to acknowledge the power of the audience.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4963-9
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    In the lines just quoted, soap patriarch Palmer Cortlandt succinctly argues one side of the continued debate over the function of mass culture. This rather outdated view asserts that the culture industry (like the hospital café) supplies its own choice of “food” to the starving masses, ignoring audience needs and opinions completely: Forced to fill up on empty calories, the viewer consequently suffers (like Palmer’s daughter Nina, for whom he seeks the protein) from diabetes. This inability to control blood sugar levels is a suggestive metaphor, one echoing arguments that, beginning in the nineteenth century and continuing through our own,...

  5. 1 Mutual Friends: The Development of the Mass Serial
    (pp. 21-83)

    As is obvious from this review ofOur Mutual Friend, popular serial novels became phenomena on the level of the O.J. Simpson trial or the first heady season ofTwin Peaks. The sheer volume of discourse surrounding such fiction, which mobilized suspense and desire in highly profitable ways, enabled it to change the shape of the novel while creating a new genre that persists across time and technology to the present.

    Like later serials, the novel in parts appeared just when a new technology needed to consolidate a mass audience in order to prove its viability. Although the narrative advantages...

  6. 2 Terry’s Expert Readers: The Rise of the Continuity Comic
    (pp. 84-134)

    “His works are a sign of the times,” a reviewer said as Charles Dickens’sOliver Twistbegan its serial run; “their periodical return excites more interest than that of Halley’s comet.”¹ Manufactured, mass-cultural time replacing organic, celestial time: from Dickens’s era through World War I, new technologies impelled new modes of thinking about and experiencing temporality: For thirty-odd years (1836 to the 1870s), serialization was the most popular method of nineteenth-century novel publication. Seen in the context of generic development, this popularity indicates a remarkable process of cultural adjustment to the changed experience of time. Part-published novels parallel transformations in...

  7. 3 The Future of the Serial Form
    (pp. 135-196)

    Pushing the Dickensian serial narrative to its logical conclusion, both comic strips and soap operas were created tovanish. Each episode gives way to the next, repeatedly renewing an experience that eternally changes and eternally remains the same. But serial fictions are neither consumed nor interpreted in a vacuum. An individual, or group of individuals, filters the familiar tropes of soap opera through a specific set of cultural references or habitus. And the meanings audiences produce as well as the ways they use their texts in turn influence the circumference of the familiar.

    The serial languages discussed in this study...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 197-206)
  9. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-215)
  10. Index
    (pp. 216-228)