An Ode to Classic Television Soaps and 41 Years of “All My Children”
So, in addition to my many varied entertainment addictions, is my sometimes secret shame.... Daytime Soaps. Yes that's right, I said it. Most people who know me, would call me a TV snob. I'd like to say I'm a connoisseur of sorts. I respect the art of good storytelling and cannot be convinced to watch a show because it's popular, if it's just not there.
This is why I've always found it hard to defend my 30 year love affair with Pine Valley. I mean I've heard all the complaints, they're too predictable, too far-fetched, the writing is bad, the acting is bad. Then there are the stereotypes for soap watchers, I recently came across one study that said “Typically, soap viewers have been equally condemned and stereotyped for their addiction to this so-called mindless form of entertainment. Early accounts of the radio-soap listeners envisage groups of educationally backward, emotionally and socially deprived women, all eagerly tuning in to their favourite serial. The typical listener was thought to be a lower-class housewife, using soaps as a form of escapism from mundane isolation in the home and an indisputable source of advise on personal problems” [Buckingham, 1987 : 5] Seriously? This doesn't make you want to wave your Soap Fan Flag. I will admit I have occasionally had the same complaints about my beloved soaps. I've laughed derisively at ridiculous plots and thrown the remote down in disgust and vowed at least 2 times a week, to never watch this bull^&*@ again!
So why did the prospect of soap (that I've watched maybe weekly at best for the last few years) leave me in genuine tears? This is before I even tuned in to watch the last two weeks of episodes. Now that I've had a few days to recover and analyze it, I think I've figured out why. Of course, I love it for all the typical reasons: mindless entertainment, the escapism, melodramatic romances, all the corniness you expect from a soap. But its been more than that to me. Soaps were always on in my house when I was young, My mother and grandmother were both ABC soap fans ( though they've both long since stopped watching). I can remember the first day I actually paid attention to them. In November 1981 my mom picked me up from Kindergarten, and she rushed back to my grandmother's house, I can remember my mother and grandmother shushing me repeatedly, while they stared at the screen as they watched Luke and Laura's iconic wedding. Out of boredom and maybe some curiosity I watched too. I'd like to say I was so blown away by what I saw that it made me a fan for life, but that's a lie. Gimme a break I was five years old. What I do remember is the connection I felt between them as they watched and discussed the epic episode. They bonded as they watched “their show”. I wanted to be a part of that. So I pretended it was my show too. Until one day it actually was. I turned to ABC Channel 7 everyday at 1 pm on every summer vacation, every sick day, every school holiday.
By the time I got to high school I started taping them. They became a part of my life through their sheer consistency. Even if I ignored them, for weeks or months at at time, while I became engrossed in new friends, new boyfriends and new activities whenever I looked for them, they were still there waiting, as if they knew eventually, I’d be back. I didn' t need a reintroduction. There was no awkward reunion. In the space of a day or maybe two, It would be like I never left. I've heard people reminisce on the music soundtrack of their youth. I think I have a ABC Soap film reel of my youth.
And as fantastical and over the top as they were, they taught me so much, I was pulled from my seemingly important teenage dramas of grades and cheer-leading and boyfriends, into stories involving serious issues, my school and friends and family weren't talking about, like cancer, mental illness, rape, drug addiction and homophobia. As I raged and cried and suffered along with my favorite characters, I was exposed to issues that would one day touch my life. And I wouldn't be lying if I said it gave me empathy and a perspective at an earlier age than a lot of my peers. But I didn't just learn from their tragedies. I watched characters go from enemies to super couples and I learned to give people second chances. I watched the under dog characters that no one believes in anymore climb out of well or save the day and shock ( well not really) everyone and I learned perseverance. I watched con men, murderers and rapists save lives, selflessly sacrifice themselves or bring another beloved character back from the dead and I learned the power of redemption. I watched soul mates die ( sometimes 2 or 3 times) and come back to each other and I saw love's undying devotion. And they never let me down. They were always there, waiting to give me exactly what I didn’t even know I needed on that particular day. So I cried for more than an entertaining TV show, more than a deeply ingrained habit, I cried for my friends, these characters that have lived in my head and heart for thirty years, making me laugh, cry and throw the remote.
Good Bye “All My Children” I'll miss you.