On soap operas

The first soaps I remember as a small child were “As the World Turns” and “The Edge of Night,” which were the daytime dramas which my mother watched from time to time while taking care of two children under the age of five. I can’t say that at that age I understood anything that I saw on the screen, but I did get the impression, often, that most of these soap opera people were troubled, in trouble, or just plain trouble. What completely escaped me was both the meaning and purpose of these never ending dramas that ended each day with a small (or big) cliffhanger. Yet, in spite of the accidents, murders, and kidnappings, all or most of the characters just kept limping along from episode to episode. One older woman seemed to have been married to every male character on the show at one point or another. Children that were infants in March were going to school in September. My mother dismissed these inconsistencies by saying “Oh, these are just my stories,” as if this explained all the weird shenanigans on the soaps. Perhaps the great appeal of these television shows lies precisely in the magical fact that they never ended and all the viewers knew this. No matter how bad it ever got–fires, earthquakes, shootings, disappearances, mistaken identities, vampires and werewolves–the show, with all its characters, would be there again tomorrow–same time, same station, same evil doers, same matriarchs, same torment souls–and the day after and the day after. So no matter the strange vicissitudes of the characters, everything would continue on just about the same from day to day. The acting was melodramatic, the stories were predictable, the sets were made of cardboard, and the dialogues were shamefully the same. In fact, I think that most of the viewers were frequently hoping for a cataclysmic flood or fire, an earthquake, a bank robbery, a mistaken identity, a new wedding, a new baby, an unexpected pregnancy, or the disappearance of a major character. As a very young child, I was confused by the serious attitude of the characters and often wondered if it was difficult for the actors to keep a straight face and actually do the dialogues as written. For the most part, the women were elegant and the men, handsome, unless they were evil, in which case they were often represented as ugly miscreants who did not fit it with the utopian society of the television serial. There homes were nice, their jobs, good ones. Yet they suffered infidelities ad nauseum, and at some point or other every single character had been in bed with every single other character of the opposite sex–there wasn’t even the slightest whiff same-sex relationships, or maybe I was just too young to know. Later, when I would have to stay home because I was sick, or it was summer and I was home, tuning into these shows only proved that nothing ever really happened, that the results of an atomic explosion on a soap opera don’t really have any consequences in the long run–perhaps Aunt Hortensia, who has been lost for thirty years, (probably living in Europe), comes back from the dead to move in with a daughter who hates here. The plot possibilities and twists are endless within the format because the viewers expect repetition, not verisimilitude, and they want everything to be the same year in and year out–heroes, villains, were often one and the same person. They want to see the same faces year in and year out, and so some of the most venerated actors in a soap are the ones who last thirty years, get married fourteen times, and have eleven children by the age of 25. Some actors did over two hundred live shows a year during the heyday of the soap. Today, I can’t watch them because they seem goofy and overtly melodramatic, but then again, maybe I’ve just grown too old and cynical.