By Silas Kain
My name is Silas and I’m a soap opera aficionado.
There I said it and I have no shame.
And that’s how I’d like to begin my relationship with you.
A couple of weeks ago, Michele asked if I would consider being a contributor to Soapbox1. I didn’t have to think about it for long – because Michele gets it. She understands the intimate relationship fans have to soap opera.
So, in this introductory piece for Soapbox1, I’d like to take a moment of your time and explain what it is about Soap Opera that I respect and admire. And when you’re done, I hope you seriously consider what I’ve written and share your thoughts here at Soapbox1.
It really doesn’t matter which soaps you may watch, we all share a common bond. So with all that being said, a glimpse into the life of a soap opera fanatic…
It began for me as a little boy.
John F. Kennedy was assassinated on the weekend of my 8th birthday (please don’t do the math). Suddenly this little 3rd grader was sitting in front of the television translating the words of Cronkite, Huntley and Brinkley to his deaf parents. It was a quick education. But that baptism of fire caused me to become extremely interested in current events, the American political system and History.
The following summer I would come in from morning play to capture the 15 minute soap opera Love of Life. Remember them? Bruce & Vanessa Sterling? Christopher Reeve? Life on a college campus? Sure, it was quirky – almost silly at times. But the lives of the people in Rosehill, New York was completely fascinating to me on so many levels and for so many reasons.
That was a contentious year – the aftermath of John F. Kennedy.
The week following Mother’s Day 1964 would transform my life on so many levels. That was the week my mother began watching Another World.
Remember we’re at the Summer of 1964.
And by the end of that summer, this little boy learned what abortion was – thanks to Pat Matthews and the vision of Irna Philips. Sure that was too much for a kid – but remember, I was my parents’ human closed-captioning device.
From that summer I was baptized by the families of Bay City into a world of bumps and curves which lasted until that final show in June 1999. For 35 years I followed the lives of the Matthews, Davis, Cory and Carrington families. I laughed and cried with Wally, Felicia and Cass. When the show bid their farewell to Mackenzie Cory, I wept openly with my mom. It’s OK for a man to have feelings. I learned that from soap opera.
You see those shows were my education into the real world.
My parents did their best, but they viewed the world without the “noise”. They had innocence and as hard as they worked at being parents – their innocence and sheltering from their own families did not really prepare them for the world of the 60’s.
I grew up fast. And, in retrospect, I wouldn’t give up a thing. Every rise and fall. A marriage. Ups, downs, near fatal illness – all of it. I wouldn’t change a thing because all of it was but a dress rehearsal for this stage of my growing, fulfilling life.
And through it all, the cast of “my story” would be guests in my living room 5 days a week. They became my friends, my teachers, my guides.
Take All My Children, for instance. When Tara and Phil went through the trauma of the Vietnam War, I was right there with them. That’s where I got my attitudes against the war.
Tara Martin (Karen Lynn Gorney) and Phil Brent (Richard Hatch)
When I was introduced to the character of Erica Kane – she was a spoiled self-absorbed brat being raised by the ever loving Mona. While everyone was abuzz about Erica being raised by a “single” parent – I found it interesting from a different perspective.
My grandmother raised 10 children on her own. My dad was the product of a single parent having lost his father at 11 months. He never knew his father and I never understood my grandmother’s “hardness” until Mona Kane. She made me understand my grandmother in a whole new light.
Frances Heflin as Mona Kane
Of course, there was Ryan’s Hope.
My other Grandmother – the Irish Catholic one — and Maeve Ryan were so alike it was almost frightening. The only difference? Grandma had the faith of Maeve but the spunk of Mary.
But it was tough to keep up in the 70’s. School work was a priority and there were many familial events which would be yet another transformation.
There was a constant.
Those silly little daytime dramas which were packed with knowledge like no other program on television.
At this point you must be asking yourself why I’m weaving this broadcloth? Where am I going? Relax. It all comes together — and when it does I hope a light bulb burns brightly above your head.
If you’re under 50 you probably don’t know much about the 60’s. But life was different back then.
Most mothers were at home raising their families. And while they watched their stories in the afternoons they would learn about appliances, detergents, furniture and life. The classic American soap opera became a classroom in millions of living rooms across America. Don’t laugh just yet, my dear. I’m uttering a profound truth.
Twelve years ago a small group of Another World fans got together in an Internet campaign to save our show. Of course, it didn’t happen. But what blossomed were friendships and bonds that remain strong to this very day. And we had the opportunity to share notes over the years.
The first two years after AW, we held reunions in New York City. The AW stars came out – at their own expense. They spoke to us, encouraged us but most of all they were grateful on so many levels for the loyalty, the respect and the love we shared.
In 2001 we got the Governor of Connecticut to proclaim Linda Dano Day. She went on The View the day before our 2nd Reunion. Joy Behar thought it was kind of dumb but that’s Joy Behar. She couldn’t understand the daytime dynamic – she wasn’t really part of it. But this small group of AW loyalists accomplished something astounding. And we accomplished these feats by learning from Rachel & Mac Cory, Ada Downs, Felicia Gallant and Donna Love. Those people were role models to us – the simple folk. And we became determined in our goal, we had the steadfastness of Ada, the creativity of Rachel and the loyalty of Liz Matthews.
Interwoven in my 35 years of Another World was my interest in Days of Our Lives, All My Children, One Life to Live and General Hospital.
Another World was and always will the ultimate. So when I make commentary on the shows I view today, remember I was spoiled by a band of actors and writers who were in many respects the Shakespeares of their genre.
So, that’s why I am a soap fan. Not only was I entertained but I was educated on life in so many respects – as each of you is a beneficiary of that education without realizing it!
If you are young man or woman reading this, you may not know it but your grandmother or mom may have been a soap fan. And some of the wisdom they imparted upon you came from what they learned.
Like I said. Soap fans and cast have a different dynamic. They’re guests in our homes. They come on screen 5 days a week. And, in the evolution of the characters’ lives, we learn from their experiences.
A story line such as interracial romance on One Life to Live served to change attitudes on so many levels. When OLTL went out on a limb there was such disdain! Yet today, interracial romances are no novelty. They are the fabric of soap.
The rape of Laura on General Hospital became fodder of discussions in millions of homes. The abortion of Pat Matthews in 1964 had equal impact. The bottom line is women across America were learning more about the realities of life through the stories created by visionary writers.
Do the research. As far as I am concerned, women would not have achieved that which has been achieved without the influence of American soap opera. While most thought of the typical soap fan being an overweight bon-bon devouring woman, lounging like Jean Harlow across a couch – there’s the truth.
Once upon a time, All My Children was shown on college campuses across America. Luke & Laura’s Wedding dominated the entertainment headlines like no other.
Luke (Tony Geary) and Laura (Genie Francis)
Days of Our Lives attempted to introduce a gay character – Eric Peters — at a time when gay rights were just an idea. The fan backlash was so horrific, Days writers reversed course for the character.
It would be years before soap would dare enter the forbidden zone. Remember Capitol? Believe it or not, many female political science lovers were inspired by Wally McCandless and Myrna Clegg.
What Daytime accomplished most is that it served as a vehicle for women to come into their own. Were it not for the strong, driven female role models of soap opera such as Maggie Powers, Dr. Althea Davis and Mona Aldrich, I dare say the evolution of women’s parity in our society would remain delayed.
So, young men and women, believe it or not your lives would be remarkably different today were it not for the genre known as Daytime. As Shakespeare revolutionized storytelling in his time, the pioneers – Irna Philips, Agnes Nixon and countless others have helped shape and shift our attitudes toward contemporary life.
To be honest with you, my ultimate fantasy is to have the Museum of Television & Radio do a serious symposium on the influence of Daytime on American society from 1955 – 2000.
While Daytime seems to be dying these days, I hope to inspire you to understand that which I’ve known for years. I hope you will come to appreciate Daytime’s stellar history and realize that soap opera remains an interesting facet of our culture which needs a little love right now.
And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get you to return to one of those stories you stopped watching.
Reality TV may be the rage these days but there’s nothing “real” about it.
Those who write the lines and create the characters of daytime have a keen sense of our society and world. And in their own little way they bring those things to the screen every day, every week. And, in many cases, the situations the writers create are more real and relative to our lives than that of Snookie and da Situation.
Another goal is to have you come out of the closet.
There’s nothing wrong with being a soap fan. You may be a housewife or retired homemaker. You may be a working gal in a law office or the head of a corporation. You’re a law professor, banker and, yes, even a physician.
Soap fans come from all walks of life. And plenty of them are male – gay and straight. Get over it.
Soap opera is the diversion – the non-pharmaceutical which calms, infuriates and makes one consider options.
Every couple of weeks I’ll be writing a piece for Soapbox1. I’ll be talking about story lines, actors, writing and more. I’m going to be coming from a perspective of 35 years’ intimate experience with the world of Daytime.
I’ll call them like I see them – you may not agree. And when you don’t — I hope you’ll get in to the discussion. I’m human. Perhaps you have a perspective I haven’t considered.
If there’s something you want me to write about, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m full of myself. There’s nothing better than bellowing out an opinion. That’s the Irish in me.
Perhaps you’ve finally reached that point of enlightenment which suggests that soap opera did, indeed, have an impact on your life even before you knew Todd and Tea or Sonny Corinthos.
Perhaps from these story lines that we discuss, we can come up with the writer’s rationale. That’s another beautiful aspect of being a soap fan. We get it. We get the actors and we know when a writer screws up history. If a producer changes, we’re the first to cast our ballots. If a costume designer changes – we know it.
Soap fans are the ultimate focus group underused by media companies. We’re the ones who can tell you everything right down to the sets or change in make-up artists.
We’re up close and personal.
And – we are the ultimate consumers of advertisers’ products. Think about that the next time you go shopping. Those companies who sponsor OUR shows deserve our response.
So, thanks for reading.
The next column I post will be all One Life to Live – on many levels because I am on FIRE at the direction I suspect they’re taking.
[NOTE: Silas Kain hosts the weekly BlogTalk radio show Delibernation, where he and his guests discuss a variety of topics that include “politics, personal empowerment and what each of us can do to make this world a better place for the next generation.”
Michele will be his guest Thursday at 11 p.m. EST to discuss “The Influence of Soap Opera on American Culture.”]