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Should soaps take a stand on controversial issues?

Last week’s soaps post discussed whether or not actress Victoria Rowell would be able to prove racial discrimination as the reason behind her not being rehired at The Young and the Restless.

Even more than expected, this triggered a great deal of discussion—in the comments, on Twitter, and in emails sent directly to me.


One poster wrote:

This “cry racism” garbage is backfiring across America big-time. Millions of people are turned down for jobs every hour. If this narcissistic whiner wasn’t happy with how she was treated, then go elsewhere! If the management had a vendetta against black people, the soap wouldn’t have hired her the FIRST time!

Another countered:

It’s easy for the privileged few to scream racism doesn’t exist. It does. And it’s evident. No one knows how this woman was treated.

And a third insisted:

Oh, good Lord, I am sick of this racial bull of whining and complaining. She was no great asset to The Young and the Restless. Been watching since it began. Race is an old excuse, and getting older in this day and age.

Interestingly, the bulk of the feedback on Twitter and email came down to the question: Is it possible to dislike a character of a different race, religion, sexuality, etc. … and have it be not about the race, religion, and sexuality, but about the character themselves?

Is it racist to have never liked Rowell’s character, Dru, and not want her back now, or is it just a matter of personal preference?

Can you dislike Maya on The Bold and the Beautiful because she’s a bitchy, manipulative social climber who seduced Rick away from his wife (personally, that’s why I happen to love her, but to each their own)? Or must it only be because she is currently in an interracial relationship?

Can you think that Days of Our Lives’ Will is a whiny, self-absorbed, spoiled brat who, like his mother before him, is always blaming his bad behavior on someone else, without it automatically being a case of homophobia?

And then there’s the General Hospital twofer, where Brad is both gay and Asian, but also has a past that includes blackmail, tampering with lab results, and perennial snark (again, why I love him, but I can certainly understand those who feel otherwise)?

For every soap character with a rabid fan base—say, Sonny on GH—there is an equally loud group that finds them unpalatable. In this case, no one (to my knowledge) is accusing Sonny-haters of being anti-Greek. They simply don’t happen to believe that an unrepentant mobster who kills people for looking at him funny is prime romantic hero material. Those who love him, on the other hand, point to the dimples, and go from there.

This begs the question: Are these the sorts of issues daytime soaps should be dealing with? To some, the shows are pure escapism, a place to get away from the strife and conflict of the real world.

Others, however, believe that soaps, coming (as they do) five days a week, 52 weeks a year, straight into your living room, are the perfect educational platform.

In my book, Soap Opera 451: A Time Capsule of Daytime Drama’s Greatest Moments, fans voted on the scenes they felt presented soaps at the very top of their game, and they gave their reasons for feeling that way.

About Guiding Light‘s groundbreaking “two women in love” story, one fan wrote:

Just as the feelings between these two women changed, my feelings toward homosexuality and acceptance changed as well. I laughed, I cried, and I cheered for Otalia. I feel that I am a better person because of Otalia, and because of GL.

Another fan referenced As the World Turns’ Luke and Noah:

As this story played out, fan communities that often did not talk about politically and morally charged issues found their discussion of Luke’s story soon spilling over to conversations about larger issues surrounding homosexuality and the struggles of coming out in the U.S.

Sally Sussman, who, in 1989, created, executive produced, and wrote Generations, the first “all black” soap (it wasn’t, really; it just had more black characters than any other show then on the air) told me:

Our purpose in creating a multiracial series was to not shy away from controversial storylines. We hoped to make our show different by creating black characters who had not been seen on daytime before—like Doreen, the black conniving bitch, or Martin Jackson, the manipulative businessman. Generations didn’t look like every other show. Sadly, we were a little ahead of our time, and the series only lasted two years.

But was that because the show featured multiracial characters, or because (as many fans and pundits described it) it was deadly dull?

All My Children‘s Emmy winner Eden Riegel, who played her own character’s coming out to mom Erica (Susan Lucci), said:

Audiences already loved and were invested in Erica and her daughter, and went on the journey with Erica as their surrogate. Over time, they began to embrace Bianca along with Erica. This story is proof positive that soaps have great power not only to tell dramatic, engaging stories, but also to help change hearts and minds.

The question to you is: Should they?

Let’s discuss!

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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