Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The End of Soap Operas


We knew it would come to this.  Final eviction notices for the almost last holdouts.

Who needs daytime soaps when all the nighttime shows are...soaps?

Who needs daytime t.v. with advertising for Downy and Air Freshener and things that smell like babies when you can stream Netflix?

The last time I watched a soap opera?  I was probably super sick and super bored and it was probably at least 5 years ago.

But that does not change the fact that I'm not sure I can live without Erica Kane.

I was a toddler when I started hanging out in Pine Valley.  Susan Lucci, with all her Italian - that real nose, those thin lips and that moxie - captivated me.  Very shortly, I came to confuse her with my mother.  Thereafter, I modeled myself on a life where Erica Kane was my mother.  "What would Erica Kane do?," became a frequent question in my tiny little head.  She was always disappointing her old, provincial, cross-wearing mother (this was a good fit, since it was actually my grandmother who took care of me daily) and scandalizing the community with her big ideas.  I loved her.  She was evil, but she wasn't that kind of evil.  She was evil you could love.  She wouldn't go out of her way to hatch elaborate schemes, or steal or lie, she just didn't like getting messed with.  Don't mess with her man, don't be her ex-man if you messed with her, and most importantly DO NOT try to stop her from getting what she desires.

Susan Lucci
Erica Kane
If you got in Erica Kane's way, you'd know about it, sooner or later.  She'd pout her perfectly lipsticked lips at you while you tried to tell her off,  then pull out her trump card -- she's found the illegitimate daughter you've been hiding in an insane asylum for 20 years and if you don't do what she wants, she'll expose you - and you're putty in her diamond-ringed fingers.

I cried when she finally got her Emmy.  I did.  I mean, why not - that was my mom up there.

A boyfriend once asked me why I watched these things.  The answer is pretty simple.  More than anything else ever represented in high or low culture, soap operas belong to women.  This is an idea of a world created by women like Agnes Nixon, and primarily written and run by women, where the women are the anchors of the shows and where women actually get to do what they want.  The world of the soap opera is not ruled by commerce and bureaucracy.  It is ruled by love and hate.  Familial love, romantic love, and the hate of betrayal.  If women ran the world, it would  not be peaceful and perfect.  It would, in fact, look a lot like Pine Valley.  There would be backstabbing, but there would be passion.  There would not be toxic waste dumps and long drawn out debates about education.  Mostly, there would be narrative constantly.

Maybe our real lives have gotten too dramatic to ever be consoled by the lives of characters in daytime drama.  Maybe the crassness of reality television has made it all look like a Pepperidge Farm remembers moment.  I suspect these shows will live on, though, in their own way.

And I, for one, will cry at Erica Kane's funeral.

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