Ode to Soaps

Since this blog is going to spend plenty of time discussing the great TV we love, I think it’s only fair that I acknowledge the bad TV I love. (I’m also going acknowledge right now that “great” and “bad” are extremely subjective terms, and that if I love them both, perhaps misleading. Don’t over think it—just go with it.) More specifically, I’m talking about Daytime Soap Operas.

Really? Yes, really. I LOVE soap operas. I have since I was a wee thing. My mother used to watch All My Children religiously back in the day and I used to watch with her. During summers when I was usually home alone for most of the day I would watch the whole ABC soap block. Which I suppose was ultimately what led to the strange deviation that One Life to Live, not All My Children, became my soap of choice. I’ve left and come back a couple times—tried to get clean. From about 1999-2004 I didn’t watch at all (it helps to leave the country). Then I moved in with someone who watched One Life to Live, and it was all over. I was hooked again. For a while I watched General Hospital too, but I still haven’t forgiven them for killing Georgie. Long story. Messy break up. Sometimes General Hospital still calls me drunk at 2am, but I keep telling it we should both see other people.

I’d call this a guilty pleasure, but the problem is I don’t really feel a lot of guilt about it. No, it’s not necessarily something I advertise all the time. I don’t sit in graduate classes and say, “You know, it’s interesting, because Dundes’s argument here really reminds me of this one time on One Life to Live…” (For the record, I think Alan Dundes could have had fun with soap operas.) But I don’t actively hide it. I don’t lie about it. But I do find that it bothers many of my more intellectual friends. Hell, it bothers a lot of my less than intellectual friends. So for the record, here’s just a few of the things I love about daytime soaps (list of things that drive me nuts about soaps to come at a later date):

1. Escapism. Okay, I’m a full time student in a PhD program. I’ve studied the great works of literature. I’ve taught the great works of literature. My “occupation” tends to be looking for deeper meanings in everything. So sometimes, I like to have the opportunity to turn my brain off and watch trash. It’s a survival technique.

2. Related: Lack of pretension. I’m sure I often come off as pretentious, but I really hate pretension in others. And I like that soaps have kind of embraced their own stereotypes. They don’t try to pass themselves off as more than they are. Let’s be honest, there are soap elements in every primetime show, no matter how critically acclaimed. But they try to pretend they’re all deep and whatnot. Whatever. Get over yourselves.

3. Possibly the only place on television where the men are consistently hotter than the women. It’s kind of the reverse of the sitcom formula of the overweight slovenly guy with the wife who looks like a supermodel. Granted, the women on soaps are still much hotter than I will ever be, but they tend towards being an achievable type of hot. The kind you look at and think: I don’t look like that, but I probably know people who do. The guys on the other hand… Okay, maybe gratuitous shots of David Fumero with his shirt off are exploitative. But given the much more widespread exploitation of women in the media, I’m willing to live with it. And drool while I live with it.

4. Ahead of their time? Okay, it might be successfully argued that soaps have lost this to some degree, but I think it’s worth acknowledging that daytime television dealt with issues like interracial relationships, abortion, and homosexuality at times when primetime wouldn’t touch them. Give props where they are due.

5. I’m a sucker for a long, rambling, complicated story arc. And no one does that better than soaps because no one has the time to do it better than soaps. What they lack in continuity, these story arcs sometimes make up for in sheer complexity. I mean, I’ve explained the Summers family tree to Cammy (X-Men reference for the nongeeks) and I might have broken her brain in the process. But I wouldn’t even attempt to explain the Buchanan or the Lord family trees. Not unless there were copious amounts of alcohol involved.

So there you have it. Confessions of a soap fan. I know everyone’s already writing the eulogy of daytime drama, and I’m not swearing they’re wrong. But I intend to enjoy the ride as long as I can.