Culture: Daytime Soap Plot

Who says soaps don’t give you an insight into local culture. Of course, there were soaps aimed at different demographics, but your afternoon or early evening ones aimed at the housewife/mother-in-law market always had the same plot:

Bossy mother-in-law who is constantly worried about how much money her son is earning, and disappointed by the lack of commitment of her daughter-in-law to her son and her. Put upon daughter-in-law who is sincerely trying to sacrifice for her husband and child and frustrated by the fact that nothing is ever good enough for her mother-in-law and husband. Inarticulate and proud husband who rarely says anything to anyone, but displays a wounded, mystified look that he should need to explain himself to anyone at anytime (the same actor has consistently played this role in serial after serial, over numerous different channels). The husband’s father who knows he doesn’t have to justify himself to anyone at anytime – his principal role is to walk into the room when the tension is building up, make everyone shut up just by being there, thus postponing the climax by another week. Then, bitchy younger sister of the husband who is always tring to get her sister-in-law in trouble. Finally, a few errant relatives who are trying to borrow large sums of money on the basis that they were family.

Everybody lives together in the same apartment – or some of the family live in an apartment upstairs or across the hall – never more than a staircase away.

Over ten weeks or so, all the women will fret over the attentions of the husband, while the husband shows genuine concern over how to divide time between his girlfriend and family.
His affair is usually a major plot theme that usually evolves as follows: wife starts by believing it is her duty to accept this for the family, but gently tries to push him to give up. His mother tells her that ‘men are men’ and he is under a lot of pressure from work and therefore needs to have fun. The husband will miss important dinners with family, kids’ birthday etc; the wife will get increasing depressed and angry. Next, because nobody is listening to her, the wife will try to commit suicide – it seems the only way to show sincerity or get heard is to threaten or actually go through with your own execution – and everyone will berate her for not just speaking out, nonetheless she will get a little bit of sympathy from her mother-in-law who is worried there won’t be anyone around to wash her underwear. The mother-in-law will tell her son off and he will come home to dinner for a few weeks, before going back to his mistress(es). Finally, in the last episode the wife will finally lose her temper, tell her husband he is the bastard he is, and, he, having still not really said anything for ten episodes, will earn his check by giving her a no nonsense slap to the face. At this point the mother will jump in, not to berate her son, but rather the daughter-in-law with: ‘look what you have done now. Why did you get him angry? – He is your husband’; the wife will see the error of her way, realizing that a good wife should keep her composure – that she was deserving of that slap. The husband will walk out of the room confused that his wife wanted to shout at him, and, the extremely melodramatic theme tune will come on. They rewrite the theme tune each time but essentially it is the same ‘love is difficult, it is hard work to be a good wife’ – making Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by your man” sound like a feminist call to arms. All across the country rowing women call a truce just long ago to watch the show and no doubt study tactics.

Oh, and that was not including the subplot: errant relatives – usually younger brother of the husband – will ask to borrow a hundred thousand US dollars, and, because he already owes the older one fifty thousand or so from that business venture in Shanghai exporting pork to the Middle East, the older one will say no. Two days later the mother will go back to the older brother after a thorough analysis of the younger brother’s business plan, convinced of his new responsible attitude, and say: “He is your little brother: family. You have to give him a chance. At this point the younger brother will run in and kneel down and beg, and the older brother will lend him the money. Next episode the brother has lost all the money on the scheme to sell beef to India, and we find out the reasons for the sister-in-law’s bitchiness: her mother will demand she hand over all her life savings to rescue the family. She can’t pay for that MBA in America anymore. She is stuck.

About the Author

I have been in Taiwan for nearly fifteen years, deciding to complicate life by adding cultural confusion to the mix of going from cocky early twenties guy to more mature family man. Along the way I have gone through almost every stage that we foreigners do unconsciously trying to reconcile culture shock, love of Taiwan and home. I have also spent alot of my time outside of teaching, being the only foreigner in local companies - big, small, legit and borderline. Dan blogs frequently at his own site,Betelnut-Equation

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