Sunday, June 30, 2013

Soap Power

When I was first studying in Morocco, I learned about Soap Power.  I would go to school from 9-12am to study Arabic.  Then I would return for lunch with my host family in the casbah of Rabat.  It was always a three hour affair.  One hour of eating, one hour of Mexican soap operas dubbed into Arabic, and one hour of nap.  It was amazing I ever made it back to class in the afternoon.

My favorite soap was "Baloma."  That would be "Paloma" but there is no "p" in Arabic.  Hard to say dove in Spanish without one.  I loved it, and so did my host family.  We watched daily as it slunk through the plot twists.  The main character Baloma would declare: Oh Fernando Jose, shukran habibi.

Soaps in a Brazilian context were always interesting too.  Brazilians learned to love Morocco through the soap "The Clone."  They were watching a Brazilian soap based in Turkey last time I was there.  Something related to St. George, with Istanbul playing a big role.

Soap operas have been used as a tool to learn languageslearn finance and  a tool to deal with social issues.

There are also downsides to such fiery passion.  I had heard anecdotes about Vietnamese women watching Korean soaps, and thinking how romantic Korean men were.  So much so that some agreed to be mail order brides in South Korea, only to find Korean farmers were not as romantic as the men on the soaps.

The thought that spurred this blog was a piece was the neo-Ottoman soaps that are all the rage in the Arab world.  Public diplomacy is about telling stories, and soap operas do tell stories well.  I would be curious to see the effect of Taiwanese soaps on China.  Also curious to study Mexico soap industry as a source of soft power in the Americas and otherwise.  Besides, what did good ol' Will write if it wasn't soap operas.

PS: Arts Diplomacy Network tweeted me a great story about Soaps for social change from the Population Media Center.  Merci, I met someone from the Population Media Center years ago at the SAGE launch, and remembered the initiative when I was writing this piece but couldn't remember their name.

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