The Great American Soap Opera

Every soap opera has one element in common: conflict.

Conflict, internal or external, is the engine that drives all great dramas, all great rivalries, all great love stories, indeed all great passions from affairs of the heart to affairs of state. The great dramatic conflict that has threaded the entire fabric of the history of the United States has been the relationship between this great country and it’s citizens of African descent.

This is not to belittle the struggles and triumphs of any other groups who have felt the sting of discrimination or oppression throughout the course of American history. Obviously, people of various ethnic and religious backgrounds have their own tales to tell. Women have unique testimonies to share. Japanese Americans were unfairly and unjustly treated by the American government during World War II, having since been granted reparations. No one can dispute with any shred of credibility the shameful horrors visited upon Native Americans, casino revenues notwithstanding.

If you think this is the part where I go into a lengthy explanation of how and why African Americans are unique as an aggrieved class, think again. Intellects far superior to mine and history itself makes a far more compelling argument than I can. Besides, Daytime Confidential is not the appropriate forum for such a discussion to take place either. As an African American man on the cusp of middle age who has loved soaps for the bulk of my life however, I feel there are a few salient considerations to be made of the importance between soaps and the inauguration of the first African American president in this nation’s history. In order to look forward, I must first look back.

The small town I grew up in southern Arkansas had a population smaller than many apartment buildings. Although my community was close, it was also segregated with a large pond (in)conveniently separating whites from blacks. For as far back as I could remember, "racial incidents" were few and far between, and the few that did pop up in between were extinguished almost as quickly as they began. For the most part in our daily lives, we truly lived separate but equal; even our only diner was literally divided in half with different entrances for blacks and whites and not too many people openly questioned much of it.

As it so happens, the more things stayed the same, the more they changed. Our separate school districts merged in 1971 and my class was the first to be fully integrated from first grade through graduation. I grew up with friends on both sides of the racial equation. My household, though traditional in many respects, was an open and hospitable environment where everyone was welcome and treated with respect and dignity. My parents, themselves products of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, encouraged those qualities in me and I have carried within me those principles ever since. Nonetheless, a small town is a small town no matter it’s racial makeup. Sometimes a large city can feel like a small town too, depending on what and who you do and do not know. Although it is less true today than in years and decades past, many people never get to know people much different from themselves and/or cling to stereotypes despite the changing world around them. It’s not that hard to live in a self-imposed bubble whether you grew up then or now. Therefore, if you haven’t always known or socialized with people who didn’t look like you or lived like you it might be a bit easier to not see a wider world beyond your own.

Soaps, among other influences, helped me imagine a world beyond my small town existence. Entertainment can offer a broader perspective on the human experience; how other people live (however unrealistic the portrayal might be) and, at their most successful if they are of noble intent, alter preconceptions that are based on lies, half truths and prejudices. Soaps, for all of their melodrama and stereotypical silliness, have always provided audiences wider windows to the world and fictional acquaintances with people we may never ever meet, but whom we feel we intimately know. (continued)

13 Responses

  1. Profile photo of daisyclover1938

    Great post Bernard. As usual you’ve given me a lot to think about.
    Some random comments/observations:
    *I don’t read political blogs/threads on DC or elsewhere, so I was surprised when you mentioned that some people (inclduing DC posters) don’t see the importance of Obama being elected. That just boggles my mind. How can anyone deny the significance of it?

    *And it’s interesting that you stated you thought it was more likely that a woman would be elected president before an African American would. For my entire adult life I’ve been sure that an AA man would be elected before a woman, and that it would happen in my lifetime. I’d love to see a woman elected as President someday, but we’ll see…

    *I’ve always appreciated that Y&R has had African American characters that are so interesting/complex and who where important to the show, not just insulting “tokens.” But I always felt that *romantically* they could have been better integrated into the show.

    *I have this theory (I’ve mentioned it before), that one reason TPTB are reluctant to introduce AA characters is because they still consider interracial romances (particularly white/black) ‘taboo’. By bringing on an AA character, they may feel ‘limited’ in who they can pair that person with…

    *I LOVED Doreen on Generations. She is one of my favorite soap characters. She was a total b*tch but could cry like no one’s business (I still remember that trembling chin of hers, lol). And the famous catfight between Doreen and Maya was awesome :)

    *I’ve read about the Carla story on OLTL, but it’s always reminded me more of “Pinky” than “Imitation of Life”. Maybe just because of the whole -falling in love with a white doctor- aspect of the story…though “Imitation” was the more soapy film, lol

    Anyway, thanks for another interesting and thoughtful blog Bernard!

  2. Profile photo of siomonstuart2003

    Hey, Bernard, another great piece and a great way of how Barack being the first African American president and how soaps should be diverse in daytime and primetime is a first start to making it work. I feel that the industry does not feel that blacks matter, but I hope that this is the change that will start being in the entertainment industry that will be more diverse on screen.


  3. Profile photo of Revafan001

    “that man” is not fully Black, he is 1/2 black so thier for not the first african american president..

    GL/AMC/ATWT/GH/Y&R Fans!!!!!!!!!
    Ashamed RC/BF’s let Todd get of the rape charge!

  4. Profile photo of J Bernard Jones
    J Bernard Jones

    I was going to add a part about how the debate over whether Obama is “Black” or “bi-racial” is a dusty canard with no relevance.

    There are very few, if any, “fully Black” black people in this country, as the vast majority of us are something mixed with something else. It is an age old debate about identity but in this case, Obama himself proves the argument moot:

    Born to a Kenyan father and a white mother from Kansas, Obama has more of a claim to being literally “African American” than many of those of us who are black in America.

    Even that is somewhat beside the point. After all, Obama embraces ALL of who he is: American, black, African, white, African American and everything those shadings imply. To claim that he is not something that he clearly embraces on his own terms is to devalue the man and those whose blood run in his veins.

    He is a man comfortable in his own skin and that is what counts.

  5. Profile photo of Dariclone

    Excellent post. I didn’t know about Jesse/Jenny and the backlash against them and all the other interacial couples and while I really shouldn’t have been, I was surprised. Guess I’m a product of my generation.
    Thank you again for your powerful words.

  6. Profile photo of marceline

    This was a very nice read. It was good to read the honest examination of Jesse/Jenny. Jesse and Jenny would’ve made a good couple but I think they made great friends. Was it “settling” on the part of the writers? Yes. But I consider J/J one of the best friendships in the history of soaps and it led to Jesse/Jenny/Angie/Greg/Tad, a perfect five point star of friendship and love. JMHO.

    Unfortunately Mr. Jones – and I say this with much respect – I feel like you’ve let current soaps off the hook a little bit with this piece. Of course, this is a historic day so perhaps it’s best to concentrate on how far they’ve come but I hope that one of your future entries will take a less…sentimental look at what soaps bring to the global entertainment marketplace because I think this has a lot to do with what has killed the genre.

  7. Profile photo of Camp is not a sustainable model
    Camp is not a sustainable model

    Thanks as an African American male I enjoyed this. I too think that soaps need to diversify their cast in Daytime and Primetime. I have been so passionate about this in my online video’s as many may know. If there is a race-o-meter for the soaps then I must be one taking the most notes and quantifying with others. So I am putting my power to the pen and i have started my own online drama called Time After Time. Why don’t you and Soap opera Confidential folks and readers alike check it out at Thanks again!

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