This passage is from Sandy Flitterman, “The Real Soap Operas” (1983)

Advertisements shouldn’t be regarded as the opposite of “content.” More typically, they are “content” perfected, presenting the pleasures of narrative, repetition, and vicarious participation in the most efficient possible form. Failing at that, they establish the terms by which we can recognize “content” — that is emotionally manipulative material that is ambiguous rather than explicit in its aims. The ads, in their necessary narrative closure, help us see open narratives elsewhere. We get some doses of closure to make overwhelming interminability of “content” manageable and pleasurable.

As always, the “content” depends on ads just as much as ads depend on “content.” This point, obvious but sometimes overlooked, seems relevant to how ads change social streams. The ads change the way all the content around them is understood. Not only do the posts from those we choose to follow now function as bait to get us to see ads; they also tee up the ads and allow them to perform the functions Flitterman describes with respect to soap operas. The ads become reassuring “oases” of clarity and narrative closure that stand in contrast to the ongoing, open-ended drama of our friends’ posts. The kinds of closure inherent to ads are then structurally denied to non-ads — we read them as non-ads, as incomplete, as teases, regardless of what they depict.


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