The daytime Emmys are being announced today on The View, honoring the best of soap operas. This is the first time in a long while where I don’t care who is going to be nominated.
I should explain. Ever since I was a kid, I watched the soaps. Yes, I know the PC term now is “Daytime Dramas” but to me, they are the soaps. My grandmother watched the CBS shows. Her cigarettes were right by her chair, and the smoke surrounded her like wispy clouds. We watched As the World Turns and Guiding Light. We followed the storylines and if I had to miss an episode, she would give me an update on what happened.
When she was dying of lung cancer, one of the last memories I have of her is watching ATWT in her hospital room.
After she died, I watched Guiding Light. I watched the show mostly during the summer, because it was half over by the time I got home from school. In 1983, I switched schools and I got out earlier, so I got to see the show right away. And I was hooked. Phillip and Beth were the couple at the time, and to escape her abusive stepfather, they ran away to New York where they read F. Scott Fitzgerald and dressed up as clowns to entertain people on the streets. Yes, it sounds corny now, but it was so delightful to watch, so lovely to see two people in love and read books and loved art.
Of course this being a soap, they weren’t to last. The writers hooked Beth up with Lujack, a gang leader with a heart of gold. Their relationship led me to write a short story about them called They Are Kissing. That story became one of my first short stories to be published, so even today I am grateful for those two characters.
But Lujack wasn’t to last either; he died in Beth’s arms after rescuing her from a terrorist organization named Infinity (don’t ask). I was devastated. Back then, they didn’t have spoilers so it just shook me.
I also had a plan: I wanted to write soap operas. I wanted to be like Irna Phillips, who created the first soap operas like Guiding Light, then proceeded to create sixteen soap operas. She was one of the first women to write for television and to be successful at it. She also had some of the best advice on plot I ever read: “Let them suffer, let them care, let them wait.”
But life has twists and turns; I found I like writing novels better than soaps, but I kept watching them. I think there have been times I’ve watched every show that was on the air at the time. I read the book Soap World until the spine started to fall apart. I knew why Vikki and Nikki was the same person on One Life to Live, and I saw a young Julianne Moore in As The World Turns. I watched Susan Lucci finally get her Emmy.
Then something happened. Soaps started to, well, get really bad. Some people blame the fact they were pre-empted a lot during the O.J. Simpson trial. Others blame the Internet because of spoilers being leaked. For me, it was all about the writing. None of the characters had any depth to them. They weren’t reading F. Scott Fitzgerald to each other or being romantic. It felt formulaic.
The last straw came last summer. My mom watches The Bold and the Beautiful which has that rare quality that they have no likable characters at all. I’m serious. They could all die and no one would care. Anyway, one of the characters Stephanie Forrester tried to set up her longtime enemy Brooke Logan by telling a guy where Brooke hides her house key. Friday he confronted Brooke, and then wrestled her to the ground. I knew on Monday, he was going to rape her.
That was when something said inside me: I’m done.
As a writer, I understand that with soaps, they have to show bad things that happen. Rape is one of those things. But soaps have, until recently, been responsible about showing what rape can do to the woman, her boyfriend/husband, the rapist himself, and the aftermath. On GL, they were the first television show to show a marital rape and the wife bringing charges against him.
But now rape is being treated like amnesia, or a baby-switch. Hmm, we don't know what to do with this character? Let's have her get raped! It doesn't even have to be a "her" anymore; look at Jack on ATWT being raped by Julia. But it's taken weird turns. Olivia has fallen in love with her rapist on GL. On Passions, half the women on that show has been raped or hurt somehow by Alistair Crane. My friend Laura says that rape is the new cliffhanger.
However, what happened to good stories? What happened to three dimensional characters? On Ryan’s Hope, there was Jillian Coleridge, who was sleeping with another woman’s husband. Okay, it’s sleazy, but then the writers showed Jillian at her job as a lawyer, which she was quite good at. We never see people at their jobs anymore. We never know what their inner life is like.
Linda Bloodworth-Thomason said it perfectly through Suzanne Sugarbaker:
"At some point it has to stop... (Showing violence against women.) Because it's just plain wrong, and it's hurting your wives, your girlfriends, your mothers, sisters, daughters. And if you say it can't be proven it's hurting them, let me just say, it's not helping, OK? It can't be a good thing... Now let's move on and express something else. How about; women who are friends, women who have adventures, women who wear clothes, women who aren't in jeopardy, women who are --in fact-- doing just fine."
I miss the soaps. I do. I do watch reruns of Ryan’s Hope and the Brit soap EastEnders, but I’m done with the soaps. I try to remember the times when they had good stories and characters we care about. But when they announce the nominations on The View today, they will have to do it without me.
Causes Jennifer Gibbons Supports
Gilda's Club, Greenpeace, Rosie's Broadway Kids,Westwind Foster Family Agency, Amber Brown Fund, Linda Duncan Fund for Contra Costa Libraries