So one of my two favorite soap operas of all time, Guiding Light, was recently canceled. This fall, my favorite soap opera of all time, As the World Turns, will follow. Admittedly, in recent years I haven't been a faithful viewer, but I have kept up on things and now, in the last two years, I've been able to watch online which means I can watch my soap operas AT WORK!
My history of soap viewing mirrors that of many others. I watched my mother's soaps when I was a kid. In high school, I watched Luke and Laura get married on General Hospital, and tried to define the feelings Dr. Noah Drake stirred in my virginal heart. In college, it was all about Days of Our Lives, because, well, that's what was on at lunch. I've stayed with ATWT and GL through two pregnancies, working at home, staying at home with kids, and babysitting other people's kids. Most recently, I was starting to share the joys of soaps with my daughter.
Since I'm a child of the countdown era, I'm going to countdown the top ten things I love about soaps.
10) Money and jobs...not that important.
Oh they talk about money troubles, this business is going under or that. Someone is going to lose millions. But has there ever been a scene in a soap where a character is at the grocery store and then realizes that they're overdrawn on their account and they can't get that bag of cheese doodles. There are the power players who are loaded no matter what, who always manage to put up the cash for pretty much anything.
As for jobs, well, you've got the doctors on almost all the shows. And cops. (Excuse me, detectives.) Waitresses, sometimes. TV station owners, diner owners. But mostly, most people on soaps are in "business." I don't know what kind of business. And if that business fails, they get into another business. Perfume, clothing design, vodka, these are all businesses for soap people. What you don't see are dentists or bank tellers, or teachers.
9) Everyone has fantastic, trendy clothes, and great houses.
Though there is little evidence of an actual income, even the poorest person on a soap is decked out in the latest. The only character I remember wearing jeans and a ratty t-shirt on a soap was Holden Snyder when he was Lucinda Walshes' stable boy. (Funny, I never saw her on a horse...in fact I never saw a horse!) Even now, some 25 years after Holden made his first appearance on ATWT, Holden claims to work in the barns, but he's almost always in a suit or something far too dressy for the barn. Oh, and soap teens have long been the mirror of the latest fashions, bringing New York trends to the heartland. I suppose it's because almost all the women on soaps are clothing designers, that probably helps.
8) Someone needs to clean out the gene pool!
Family trees on soaps are completely messed up. Everyone has been married or slept with everyone else and everyone is a half something to everyone else. Which is why we have to keep bringing secret kids in (more on that later) to sort of freshen up the gene pool. Or bring in a long lost friend from the old neighborhood. Or, and this is my favorite, clean out the gene pool and clear up any oogy questions of incest, by simply revealing that an entire branch of one family is ADOPTED and therefore it's open season!
7) They're only mostly dead.
And speaking of convenient tricks...how about that he's dead/but there's no body/oh look he's alive! (Also a convenient way to recast a character when an actor doesn't come back to a show or the producers want to bring someone back after a long absence.) How many times has James Stenbeck come back from the dead? Roger Thorpe? Alan Spaulding? Stefano DiMera?
6) Actors trying to wash away soapy residue.
What do John Stamos, Kevin Bacon, Maria Tomie, Julianne Moore, Meg Ryan, Mark Hamill, Tommy Lee Jones, Kathy Bates, and Brad Pitt all have in common? All respected actors, all got a break on soaps. (And this isn't even a fraction of the list.) My favorite is William Fitchner, who was Josh on ATWT. His character was less than savory, in fact, he raped his cousin/half cousin, wait no ADOPTED COUSIN whom he later married. He's in all kinds of movies now...I say, "Look, it's Josh the rapist! (Your soap past never leaves you.)
5) Geography isn't important. Neither are passports.
Theoretically, ATWT and GL were set in Illinois. Wisconsin is referenced in these shows hundreds of times...sort of as a big wide wilderness where there's nothing but trees and remote cabins in which to conceive secret children. Conversely, Springfield, Ill, where GL was set, was also a very, very short drive from Oklahoma, another tiny little place where really there was one cabin (Cross Creek) and that was it. You could get to Cross Creek from Springfield in a minute and return, by car, the same day in daylight.
I love all the traveling everyone does on soaps because it looks so completely fun and easy. Hey, let's hop to the islands. We can do that in a commercial break. Hey, let's go to France. Okay! Bam, we're in France looking fantastic, wearing the same clothes we were wearing when we decided to go to France, and, in the same day we fly TO France, we're going to FLY BACK FROM FRANCE only to be delayed in Toronto By a STORM IN THE ATLANTIC. (This just happened on a soap. The characters had to rush back from France to OakdaleOakdale HAS a passport) no one worries about lay overs or flying stand bye or security...9/11? What 9/11?
4) Secret children
And speaking of secret children, I am amazed at how these kids keep popping up! I've been watching ATWT for years. Turns out, very recently, one of the male characters discovered his boss had been hiding a secret child from him. The kid is about 18...and honestly, I didn't think two white folks who have no other race in their family tree (unless there's a secret relative I don't know about) could pop out such a DARK child, but what do I know? I'm also not sure how one guy could keep finding out about his secret kids. (AT last count he has three secret children he now knows about. They range in age from 20's someplace to 4 years old.) On another soap, one character just found out who his father was...which made him half brothers with his current lovers' son...who is his age. And this is somehow not oogy.
I could put a sub point here...identical cousins/ lost twins/evil twins...the whole gamut of reasons to have one actor play two parts. Every soap has one. Look it up. Or just call Julianne Moore. She'll tell you.
3) HEPA? OBAMACARE? Nah, we're good.
I swear, security in hospitals in soap land is criminal...which is why switched babies is even possible. Hey, I had two kids...the security they had us under until we left the floor was second only to that of the actual Secret Service. But not on soaps. On soaps you can talk to anyone on your cell phone. On soaps, no one needs to talk to the admissions desk about their health coverage before they are wheeled into surgery. On soaps, everyone has access to your health records, and BIRTH RECORDS (which is another reason there are so many switched babies, or faked pregnancies.) My favorite example is on General Hospital, mostly because with TWO brain surgeons on staff (Dr. Noah Drake and, more recently, his son, Dr. Patrick Drake) there's a lot of brain surgery going on. And they are good. how good? They never have to shave a patent's head and recovery from brain surgery on GH is no more than three episodes. If I ever get a tumor, and those are pretty common among soap families, I'm going to Port Charles for surgery. But don't give me some cut rate surgeon. I want the Drakes!)
2) Time travel, the fountain of youth, and those pesky, boring kid years.
Explorers have been searching for eons for the fountain of youth AND trying to perfect time travel. Soaps have both. Now, they use time travel for kids. honestly, once a baby's born, do we really care what it does until it's a teen and getting into all sorts of bikini clad mischief during the summer when high school kids are watching? No. So we AGE kids. Kid goes away to boarding school (which everyone can afford) and a month later they are sixteen years older, and have a new face! (Probably a new hair color and eye color, too.)
Meanwhile, the elders have frozen time. There's a lot of soapy sexy fun to be hand and so long as your wrinkles can be softened with the proper camera lens, there's no reason you shouldn't be part of it. Which is why,only in soap land, it's okay for the adult kids of one person to have an affair with mom's ex boyfriend. Since we age kids so fast, every one's about the same age, right? So it's all open season on everyone! Which is good, because after a hard at your Business Job, you need to frolic a bit with the child of your former lover.
1) NO ONE EXPECTS YOU TO SHOW UP AT IMPORTANT FAMILY STUFF! (Or, as I like to call it, the "Where's Emma?" Rule)
A number of years ago I was invited to an out of town cousin's wedding. I declined, since my immediate family had obligations that same weekend. The mother of one of the to be marrieds called me up and railed on me for half and hour and then sent my mother an EMAIL about how I was destroying the family by not coming to this wedding. I went. My husband did not. We split the kids, and I missed one of my son's very best soccer games, the last of his season that year.
But on soaps...if you aren't in the current cast, you aren't on the guest list! It's beautiful. People get married, have parties, have holidays...and the only ones who show are the ones in the current active cast. Maybe, maybe they'll give a nod. (For example, the mother of the groom won't be at a wedding on ATWT. Some one said, "Where's Emma?" Well, see, Emma, the mother of the Snyder clan, is never around. But everyone lives at her house. and I mean everyone. Oh, they'll say "Emma made pie!" or "Emma built a barn!" But Emma is never around. Hasn't been since the late 80's. But she's mentioned lovingly and they move on. In Soap land the only relatives expected to show up are the ones who are in the script. and then, not even them because you never know when a mid Atlantic storm is going to strand your plane in Toronto when you're trying to get to Chicago.
So there you are, my friends. I want to live in soap land. I want to never age, I want to go to the family gatherings only if I have the very best clothes to wear. I want to have health care I don't even need to discuss, and I want to travel the planet without going through an airport.
I know soaps are dying. Soap watchers are a dying breed. We are able to suspend our disbelief and get wrapped up in the storyline. I'd love to write for a soap, I think it would be fun. But mostly, I'd like to live there. I'd be a commercial break from anywhere and that would be fun!