Television Soap Operas and Moral Debate

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Television Soap Operas and Moral DebateABSTRACT: This paper proposes that we should aim to refine talk about issues in soap opera as a means of developing moral reasoning skills. I begin with a report of work at schools in New Jersey over 1996-97, during which excerpts of a popular soap opera, ‘Party of Five,’ were used as the basis of a rigorous philosophical discussion of moral behavior. I then turn to the distinctive role of soap opera as a locus of moral discussion, with an example of a Mexicana telenovela. I suggest that children are already engaged in moral debate about soap operas and are eager to develop a more rigorous critical framework for the debate. I argue that children appreciate the opportunity to flesh out the school yard gossip about soap operas with a philosophically sophisticated discussion. My approach draws on the work of Matthew Lipman in philosophy for children, Neil Postman’s critique of television, and David Buckingham’s analysis of children’s responses to television.

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The paper proposes that we aim to refine talk about issues in soap opera as a means of developing moral reasoning skills. It begins with a report of work at schools in New Jersey over 1996-7, during which excerpts of a popular soap opera, ‘Party of Five’ were used as the basis of a rigorous philosophical discussion of moral behaviour. The paper then turns to the distinctive role of soap opera as a locus of moral discussion, with an example of a Mexican telenovela. I suggest that children are already engaged in moral debate about soap operas and are eager to develop a more rigorous critical framework for the debate. My argument is that children appreciate the opportunity to flesh out the school yard gossip about soap operas with a philosophically sophisticated discussion.

The approach draws on the work of Matthew Lipman in Philosophy for Children, Neil Postman’s critique of television and David Buckingham’s analysis of children’s responses to television.

PARTY OF FIVE

Claudia: No, uh ah, no way.

Charlie: Claudia

Claudia: No, forget it. That’s, that is a terrible thing to do.

Julia: Yeah, it is. It is, but how else, Claude, I mean, how else are we going to get him here?

Claudia: I don’t know, but that? No, you can’t tell him that. You can’t have him get in his car and drive all the way over here thinking that. You don’t think this is the cruelest thing you could do to a person, I mean you’re actually OK with this ?

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