In Defense Of Soap Operas
December 1, 2009 in Life Lessons From TV
Last week, because of James Franco working on General Hospital, lady blogger Willa Paskin of XX/Slate wrote a needlessly bitter takedown of the show, calling it the most violent show on tv. (this via the awl)
I watch a lot of TV and I disagree.
Of course, the show requires a huge suspension of disbelief! That is the good part. Soap operas are not meant to be taken seriously. They are camp. Wardrobes, sets, plotlines and most performances are way over the top. 12-3 p.m. on network television is neither the time nor place for subtlety or restraint. Plot points are drawn out and morals are hammered home. What they accomplish is a particular form of storytelling and a sort of broad mythology.
Violence death and mourning are central themes of every soap, at least as much as sappy romance, love triangles, and high-risk pregnancies. Innocence, goodness and true love always win out. Sometimes the good people die, (Mmm sadness), but resurrection happens all the time, (Yay! Redemption!). The storytelling is structured for viewers who have other stuff to do and who frequently miss episodes. And, who have tragically messed up or somehow unsatisfying lives. (Where’s your suspension of disbelief now?)
Here are the rules:
1. Everyone has a secret twin. Sometimes this is a long lost relative, sometimes a random doppelganger with your face.
2. Everyone has long lost relatives.
3. Many people have multiple personalities. It is best when these personalities have rhyming names. (Tina/Nina, Jess/Tess/Bess)
4. Every town has at least one mobster with a heart of gold, and a couple of serial killers. [See every daytime soap ever.]
5. Most people will experience a coma at some point in their lives. Some coma victims may be faking. And some will wake from their comas in an overdecorated room, dressed in a pink negligee. (You only need to watch the first 3 minutes of this clip. After this Skye went back to bed and spent weeks or months messing with people.)
6. Everyone will at some point get locked in the wine cellar or trapped in an elevator. People of the opposite sex who get trapped together will become lovers. Maybe not right then and there, but within a couple of months. (skip to about 1:58 “I hope there isn’t anyone trapped in those elevators!”)
7. Most kids conveniently age from cute toddler-hood to late teens at whim.
8. No one is irreplaceable. Survivability of the decades-long plots depends on the statement, “The role of Carly is now being played by [new girl].”
All of these are good things. These often ridiculous points work together to create modern morality plays: broad, campy, serial meditations on choices and consequences. Should the poor little rich girl choose the rich guy her mother set her up with or the stable boy she’s crazy about? What if she finds out she’s adopted and the stable boy might be her brother/ uncle? Should the mob enforcer marry the mother of his child or give them up to protect them? Wait for sweeps. What we’re doing here is selling soap.