- Watching ‘Dallas’: Soap Opera and the Melodramatic Imagination by Ien Ang, translated by Della Couling
Methuen, 148 pp, £10.50, November 1985, ISBN 0 416 41630 6
‘Bobby J. Ewing, I don’t believe you.’ The first episode of Dallas began, in 1978, with Pamela’s stilted expression of incredulity. Within two years the city famous for hosting President Kennedy’s assassination was celebrated instead for the attempt on the life of Bobby’s brother, JR. A hundred and twenty million Americans tuned in to see who had shot him – more than had voted in the previous Presidential election. In Britain the figure was 24 million – almost half the nation. It has been estimated that 250 million people all over the world watched – and continue to watch – the antics of the Ewing family. The symptoms of this obsession are familiar: the dramatic rise in water and electricity consumption, the empty streets. An image I can’t remove from my mind is of an old woman in Ushuaia: one of the last of the Patagonian Indians, she sat in her concrete hut as mesmerised by the episode she was watching as she was by the cocoa leaves she chewed. For a world lacking a binding mythology, Dallas, and its clone Dynasty, which has recently overtaken it in the ratings, have become a common touchstone.
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