The term ‘soap opera’ conjures up images of overly dramatic ham-acting performances, unlikely plots, and shaky scenery: so why are so many Kenyans hooked on these silly sagas?
‘Soap operas’ came about in the 1930’s in the United States when radio stations ran daily dramas sponsored by the big ‘soap’, or washing powder manufacturers such as Procter & Gamble, Colgate-Palmolive and Lever Brothers. These early radio series were broadcast on weekdays during the day when men were at work and most of the listeners would be housewives, the people most likely to buy the ‘soap’ brand that was sponsoring the programme.
In Kenya Soap operas are also aired during prime time which draws in a large audience of mainly women, the advertisers target audience, and the tried and trusted format from decades before continues to this day.
Soap operas in Kenya: a specifically targeted advertising ploy
Soap operas have the continuing story aspect that makes viewers want to watch the next day just to see what will happen next, or how an issue is resolved. Will they fall in love? Will she find out about him? Will the bad guy finally get his just deserts? It is the drama, the emotions and in part the exotic settings that give the ‘Telenovelas’ a special attraction.
Most soap operas shown in Kenya were originally made in a different language (mainly Spanish) and interpreted, or ‘dubbed’, in to English. This leads to some amusing problems. More often than not you will find that the actors dubbed words and his or her lip movements aren’t in synch, or a large fully grown man comes out with a tiny little voice. These slight defects however, have not affected the popularity of the soaps.
It is almost always the same things going on in the various soaps but women and a small percentage of men will be found flipping from one channel to another, day after day trying to catch up with all their favourite soaps.
The Forum asked a few women why they faithfully follow these soap operas and the responses were interesting (well, almost).
Soap operas in Kenya: why do we watch them?
Achieng loves soap operas because she says she needs to have some exciting drama to watch. She said, “it’s great to watch but not hard to follow”. Achieng, it transpires, is a sucker for love and enjoys the romance and happily-ever-after stories that some soaps bring across. For her it is “much more interesting than watching eleven men trying to kick a ball into a net”. Surely not?!
Chebet said she watches the soap operas to kill time in what otherwise would be very long evenings on her own. Admittedly she says, with most television stations airing soaps through most of the day and especially in the evenings this leaves her without much of a choice in the matter. While she loves them it’s also a practical matter for Chebet as to miss a few episodes is not a problem because the story lines are very easy to catch up with.
Lucy said she uses soaps as an escape from her real life problems for a while. She particularly loves to marvel at the “eye-candy” men with nice bodies who act in the soaps, and the fashion sense of the women.
Naliaka on the other hand does not like soap operas for one reason, they “need commitment and are quite addictive”, she says, so for her to have a real social life, she stays away from the soap operas.
The Kenya Forum is still bemused but never mind. Be it Triumph of Love, In the Name on Love (Columbia’s first soap opera, would you believe), Days of our Lives (which has been running on NBC in the US since 1965!), or Rafaela, soap operas in Kenya have taken over our TV stations and as much as many people love them and many others love to hate them, the Forum has a feeling they are here for a long while yet. Oh well they’r are not that bad, after all there is nearly always a happy ending (eventually) and good triumphs over evil.