Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Pompatus Of Soap Operas - Why We Watch

The Pompatus of Soap Operas

Soap operas. They have been around for a very long time. Guiding Light has been on the air for 75 years! That, of course, includes the show’s radio days. So what is it about soaps that keeps so many people coming back and tuning in day after day?

I watch soaps. I enjoy them. They are a distraction for me from the chaotic stew that a laughingly refer to as my life. But, there is something else. There is the innate humanness of the characters. Yes, the stories tend to be absurd and overly scandalous, but it is the moments when the characters display feelings and sentiments that we, as everyday people, can fully relate to.

The writers often try to point us towards hope in the storylines, but they are not afraid to simply have lessons learned rather than the happy ending every time. At this point I will use a soliloquy from All My Children to make my case. The situation leading up to this discussion was this: Dr. Greg Madden stole Tad Martin’s daughter just after she was born. The evil doctor refused to tell anyone where the little girl was. Tad’s cheese flew off the cracker and he kidnapped Madden, locked him in a box and buried the guy alive (we had seen so much evil from this dude that most of us viewers stood up and cheered) and tried to make the schmuck spill the beans. An unexpected earthquake killed the doc, Tad lost his only means of finding his child, and he essentially slid down a shit spiral into what was apparently the seventh layer of hell. His loss and his guilt were devouring him. When a friend decided to talk to him about the dark funk he was in, this was his reply:

Tad Martin is dead. Let him rest in peace. He was buried with Greg Madden. You think you can help me? Save me? Can you cleanse a tainted soul? I’m in hell. I am right where I should be, every minute, of every day. I’m in hell. Where somebody like me belongs, I know, because the voices in my head tell me all about it.

Everything I was, everything I ever had or ever will have, is dead and gone…because I buried it. I made a choice. I took a chance, and I traded away my soul. That’s who I am.

Are we gonna stand around and talk about God now? What do you want me to do? You want me to fall to my knees, start praying, weeping, confessing my sins? Why should I? God knows all about it, he was there. He was there when I turned my back on him, so now he’s turned his back on me. It’s over. I’m done. Look at me. Look at my eyes. You were right the first time. There’s nothing left. That’s all there is to it.

This was where they gave us the revelation that this man was going to kill himself. Now, it being the holiday season when this aired, they did execute a miracle. He found peace. Not a solution, just peace. He had a conversation with a priest (who mysteriously shows up every Christmas and does a Capra-esqe type miracle here and there, then is gone until next year) who pointed him towards hope. It sounds cheesy and lame, but then so is life…more often than not.

The stories they deliver to us are often absurd, there’s no doubt. Soaps have been losing viewers in recent years because they have told almost every story. They have done stories on infidelity, premature babies, paternity, infertility, baby swapping, kidnapping, amnesia, murder, AIDS, split personalities, death, vampires, avatars, aliens, witches, corporate takeovers, rape, molestation, the mob, cancer, blindness, deafness, prison breaks, general insanity, and on and on. The appeal is this… we want to see these people do what seems to be impossible, so that we have hope of doing the same. Plus…we like to suspend reality and the sudsers let us do that. And when we least expect it, they drop something real in our laps, we relate to it, and we want to see it thru to the end…like life.

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