A Polish addiction - TV soaps and series

Photo: CTK

On average, Poles spends three and a half hours daily in front of the television. Nearly half of that time is devoted to watching TV series or soap operas. This is according to a recent survey by Poland's leading polling center. Anna Piwowarska of Polish Radio's External Service investigates the Polish people's love for television sagas.

Photo: CTK
‘M jak Miłość’ or ‘L for Love’, is a program that attracts almost ten million viewers three times a week. Launched eight years ago by Poland’s public television, it is now also shown in Ukraine and has its Russian counterpart. It is one of a wide range of TV series on Poland’s public and commercial networks including South American soap operas, popular sitcoms made in the US, Polish classical communist-era series and contemporary Western-style productions which seem to be most popular with the Polish public. A quick survey on the streets of Prague brought some revealing comments.

'I have several favorite television series. I started watching and I got involved. It's like a drug. These actors are so beautiful and intelligent.'

‘I must admit that I am sometimes even ready to miss an important appointment to be at home when the film starts. ‘

'My favorite series premieres on Sunday afternoon, it's a very comfortable time and I also watch the repeats on Mondays. I like all characters.'

Many Polish actors have skyrocketed to fame thanks to their appearances in popular TV series. One of the male stars of ‘L for Love’ has been invited to Ukraine to compete in that country’s edition of ‘Dancing with the Stars’. More than that - he won the top accolade in the contest. A star of another popular series, produced by the commercial TVN station, won the last edition of the Polish version of ‘Strictly Ballroom’, a ballroom dancing competition.

Psychologist Anna Patryn says that like audiences in other countries, Poles love to identify themselves with fictional characters and their virtual lives.

‘Soap operas show us an idealized world of our dreams. Very often the characters are constructed in such a way that we can identify with them. Through the life of our favorite character we experience situations that we would like to experience but do not have in our own lives. For sure, TV series serve as entertainment, just as books were in the past. I don't think television sagas are harmful by definition.'

On another level, TV series teach people a lot about social behaviour, says sociologist Maria Rogaczewska. In a way, they have taken over the function of natural role models in multigenerational families:

'People learn a lot from soap operas. They learn a kind of art of living. In a transforming country, a modernizing society, like the Polish one, sometimes they are not sure how to behave, for example when they become rich, or when they marry. So they watch the way of conversation between a wife and a husband, and they watch how to talk to children.. The problem is that people don't know the art of living because the social bonds in Poland are becoming weaker. They have weakened in the last twenty years, so people tend to live one generation under one roof, so they don't have much contact with the older generations, so they don't learn the cultural patterns that our parents used to learn when they were young. That's why people are so much interested in programs devoted to lifestyle and also soap operas.'

Still, people should be careful, because sometimes TV series cross the line of positive education and enter into engineering the social perception of controversial issues. This happens when movie makers start to usurp for themselves the role of culture and attitude shapers. Maria Rogaczewska again:

'Maybe it's too much to say they are manipulating, but still they are extremely influential. They really have an impact on human mind and the way people are behaving in their interactions with each other.'

Public opinion surveys in Poland show that some people are reluctant to admit they ever watch television series, which, according to many, is of no value at all. This is perhaps going too far... Just make sure it doesn't become an addiction.