and for the most part, good riddance. Here in Boston it rained - a lot. I came back from my all-too-short vacation with a cold. Watching Guiding Light piss away most of the summer was no fun - I mean Holly returns, yet she and Ed barely say hello. What was the point of that? Now that the writers seemed to have finally flipped the storytelling switch and reverted to the emotional depth they had resisted for so long, all of September's episodes have been keepers, Of course, with but a handful more to go... Well, let's just call it bittersweet.
Then Ted Kennedy died, and to digress for a moment, what a fabulous soap opera his life would have been. I don't mean in that over-the-top, melodramatic way most do when they reference "The Kennedy Family Soap Opera." But think about the character Doug Marland, Claire Labine or Agnes Nixon would have created with just the bare bones of his life. In fact, to actually write the Kennedys as a soap, as opposed to a superficial bio-pic, they'd have to trim and compress. Can you imagine pitching a network executive? "Troubled marriage, alcoholic wife, ambivalent about carrying on his late brother's legacy - sounds promising. Wait a minute - more than one dead brother? This guy's how old? Late 30s and his three brothers and a sister have all died? Thirteen fatherless nieces and nephews plus three kids of his own? How big is this cast going to be?" So even as a soap, the reality of the Kennedys would have been way too big.
But while the story of the Kennedys may be larger than life, Ted Kennedy was not. He was a flesh-and-blood human being with strengths and weakness just like the rest of us. Only his flaws and missteps were out there for all to see; for that he was reviled by some, beloved by many more. It would have made for some great storytelling, but only in the hands of a master storyteller.
The day after the Kennedy funeral was the Daytime Emmys. Thankfully, I was harboring no illusions that the Emmy show was going to cheer me up. The show was a perfect metaphor for what soap opera storytelling has become of late. Lots of "stuff," but no time to absorb or savor the emotions - of saying goodbye to Guiding Light or to those who passed away over the past year. No time for fans to share in the celebration when The Bold and Beautiful won its first Emmy for "Outstanding Drama Series." The broadcast was pretty well hashed over on the soap blogs last week. Yes, it would be nice if the producers understood the show's target audience; it's the soap fans who set their DVRs or make sure they're in front of a television, not talk-show fans, game-show fans or viewers of children's programming.
But for all of the criticism of the non-soap elements of the show, no one dare question why a full six minutes were given over to an infomercial for the humanitarian organization, "Feed the Children." There are a few things here that bother me. I have no quarrel about acknowledging celebrities for their good works; there is certainly a tradition of recognizing individuals. According to the Academy Awards website, "The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, an Oscar statuette, is given to an ‘individual in the motion picture industry whose humanitarian efforts have brought credit to the industry.'" But how does a humanitarian organization come to rate five-percent of an award show's very valuable, not to mention limited, time - particularly when tributes, clips and acceptance speeches were cut in the process? The "Feed the Children" commercials sprinkled throughout the broadcast suggest a financial quid pro quo: commercials for airtime, which probably says more about the sorry state of the Daytime Emmys than anything else.
But there's more going on here. The importance attached to the "social issue/public service" aspect of soaps has always nagged at me. It happens all the time: a fan is challenged about how stupid soaps are, and after the obligatory recitation of A-list actors who began on daytime, begins reeling off a few of the social issues soaps have explored - AIDS, cancer, wife abuse, substance abuse - not realizing that by doing so, they're implicitly reinforcing the idea that social issues and public service are necessary to legitimize soap opera, which is a tacit acceptance of the of the questioner's belief that soaps are somehow less than legitimate.
More to come on this later...
© 2009 Lynn Liccardo
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lynn Liccardo and for non-commercial purposes only. Lynn Liccardo
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