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An investigation into the effects of local television soap operas on romantic relationships among University of KwaZulu-Natal’s undergraduate students on the Pietermaritzburg campus.

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Despite their popularity, few studies have thoroughly investigated the content of local romantic soap operas and their effects on viewers. This study was conducted to address this gap. This study initially explored the effects of local television soap operas on romantic relationships amongst UKZN undergraduate students on the Pietermaritzburg campus. Of particular interest was the way in which university students engaged with soap operas and how they perceived their gender roles within romantic relationships in relation to intimate relationships portrayed in soap operas. The study was positioned within a qualitative research paradigm conducted at UKZN Pietermaritzburg residences. This allowed for the examination, description and interpretation of the data developed throughout the focus groups and indepth interviews. Convenience, purposive and snowballing procedures were adopted to select participants. A total of 30 undergraduate students participated in this study. Ten indepth interviews and three focus groups of 6 to 8 participants were held. The focus group discussions and interviews were recorded and transcribed word-for-word. The data was analysed using a critical thematic analysis to formulate dominant themes within the data. Findings from this study indicated that soap operas have a huge effect on students’ romantic relationships. Further findings were that although soap operas are informative, they can also be over-exaggerated in their portrayal of events. Participants indicated that this is however not entirely bad, as they use the watching of soap operas for relaxation and “escaping” their lives. They also argued that they learn from characters’ experiences and use these lessons when faced with similar situations. Students interviewed stated that a character’s ability to move on, personality characteristics, their earning capacity, physical beauty and relational skills were found to be key influencing factors on the choice of a romantic partner in soap operas. Nonetheless, study participants complained about the portrayal of women in soap operas, describing them as being misrepresented and undermined. Participants indicated that sexual activities on soap operas are over-exaggerated. In short, participants in the study felt that they never get what they expect in relationships when they have based their expectations on soap opera portrayals of relationships. They also pointed out that traditional gender roles and transactional relationships are very popular in soap opera portrayals, and this might unintentionally encourage the viewers to follow similar behaviours. To conclude, the participants indicated that all the themes that emerged from the data have an influence in their relationships.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.