on December 31, 2000
This is a terrific book on an underrated cultural phenomenon. Soap operas thrive because the medium is the message: Women survive, they continue unto tomorrow and tomorrow and tommorow (to borrow Shakespeare). Soaps are the female viewpoint, their desires, their powers, their failures. And they very often were the trendsetters in female culture and liberation. I know it's hard to believe, but read this history and never feel guility about your "stories" again - Scheherazade didn't!
This is a Ph.D dissertation about Soap Operas by a professor who worked on several as a writer. She uses a Freudian approach to explain that the soap opera format uses a more feminine approach to storytelling instead of the beginning, middle and end format of films and television with a limited amount of story time. My interest in the book revolved around its chapter on the Luke and Laura story of General Hospital from 1978-1981. It also provides a fascinating account of how the soap opera developed from radio in the 1920s when the Ivory Soap company developed 15 minute shows on a recurring basis aimed at women. They weren't successful at first but eventually several caught on, especially in the 30s. In the 40s, a psychologist tried to get soap operas banned because he stated he had scientific evidence that it gave women thoughts they wouldn't normally have without the shows, and physical changes such as racing pulse and high blood pressure. In the 50s, The Guiding Light transferred from radio to TV. Author Nochimson discusses the changes in soap opera format as television took over and the momentous evolution of soap opera in 1978 when Gloria Monty joined General Hospital with an authority few producers ever have. General Hospital was about to be cancelled when Monty took over and she was given wide latitude in deciding how the show would proceed. In looking to lure a younger audience, she chose Genie Francis at 14 to play a 15 year old girl who is at first confused after finding out that she was kidnapped at birth and her family she has grown up with is not her real family. She meets her biological mother and gradually moves in with her. A male border, whom her mother feels obligated to take in due to the fact he is the best friend of her fiancé, seduces Laura, the girl, and eventually Laura realizes that she is a fool to him and only a sexual object. Rejecting this position as an object, she accidentally pushes him in an argument and he dies. Her mother takes the rap until the lie is discovered and eventually Laura is married to a young man, older than she is but still young, who is considered socially acceptable to the community and gives her social acceptability after her scandal. After marriage she meets an older man who offers her a supportive and maternal devotion and an option to live a more exciting life without having to conform to society and masculine rules of being a wife. What I thought was interesting was the idea that this relationship defies the conformity in most movies which are male dominated and end with male domination. Laura is always able to assert herself in her relationships and maintain a feeling of self. What she brings to Luke is a form of salvation where she can free him from the mob and connect him to greater social acceptance without completely conforming to the rules. I really liked how the author defined the female empowerment and I felt it was accurate. The author also covers One Life to Live and Santa Barbara which I didn't watch. I was grateful to find this book