Home from Home. Mmmm!

We like our soaps like we like our pornography


Part of the justification for publishing the photos of Kate Middleton topless in Italy and France has been that since young women routinely sunbathe topless on the continent, what’s the biggie?*   This is probably nonsense, but it does raise the question of wider cultural differences on television.

One of the abiding cultural differences between Americans and the British is that soap operas in the US are glamorous affairs, with handsome matinee idol-type men and elegant women in smart locations.  They are an aspirational afternoon escape, and one clue is in their names – The Young and the Restless, and the Bold and the Beautiful.  These names simply would not apply to dramas featuring Dot Cotton and Hilda Ogden. Our soaps are far more gritty and run-of-the-mill.  We like them that way.

A make-over is standard when an actress moves from an American soap to a British one. Crystal meth can speed up the process.

Kate Fox has argued (in Watching the English), that the English shyness which can make social interaction so excruciating, has meant that we don’t invite people into our homes with the same openness found in other cultures. As a corollary, this has left us more curious than is really healthy – positively nosy, in fact.  Our soaps, therefore, are popular because they provide us with a glimpse in the hidden world of (Shhhh!…) next DOOR.

We are genuinely excited to see into a fictional street that looks a little like ours.  The same nosiness is most obvious in the property porn of TV programmes about homes – we don’t even mind if they’re rubbish places to live.

A Property Porn mug. Available for purchase from Urban Dictionary

It’s the same with the pornography that features people, rather than buildings.

A former flatmate of mine has explained that when she was the MD of Playboy TV, their consumer research found that tastes in the UK were very different to those in the USA.  The channel had to adjust its focus, literally.  While the American viewer of Playboy TV likes his (or her?) soft-porn to be air-brushed, sun-kissed, gently aerated and unattainable, British viewers preferred girl-next-door authenticity.  Warts and all.  (Well, perhaps not warts).   If the whole thing can be lightened by seaside humour so much the better.

Aspiration is a slightly different thing here.

The Royal Family seems to be that rare thing, a cast of characters which most British people don’t want dragged down to the level of the people next door.

Elstree Centre studio sets: Eastenders (left), and Peyton Place (right)


Playboy TV. This looks like the American one, but I’m no expert



* If anything Americans are more phobic about breasts in public than the British – I still remember the embarrassment (I obviously mean pride) of my Spanish girlfriend being asked to cover up on Rockaway Beach New York, in the 1990s.

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