The Great American Soap Opera



In the following years, soaps featured other romances told with richness and complexity which became hugely popular with audiences, including Jessica and Duncan on As the World Turns and Tom and Simone on General Hospital. Soaps introduced Black characters and families with their own storylines, many of them professional, intelligent, and sometimes just as messed up as their white counterparts. Every once in a while, black characters were allowed to be villains; Generations had a cast and crew that was 50% Black and featured its own "black Alexis Carrington" in the form of uberbitch Doreen Marshall. During their entire nine year run, the Russell family was allowed to be just as psychotic as any other family on Passions. It goes almost without mention that The Young and the Restless has regularly featured Blacks in front burner stories for many years. In their own ways, soaps allowed many Blacks and other people of color to, if not know whites outright, to at least feel they could know them; as for whites, the few Blacks that were allowed on soaps at a time had the same effect over time.

None of this inclusion has been perfect nor has it been consistent from show to show (not even Y&R all the time), but progress has been made on soaps, just as it has in real life. With every attempt to expand the racial and ethnic scope of the collective soap canvas, daytime dramas undoubtably have influenced millions of viewers to broaden their own horizons, if only just a little. Today, people of Latin and Hispanic descent are a regular part of almost every daytime serial compared to when they were barely seen or heard prior to the 1984 premiere of Santa Barbara. In 1983, All My Children provoked a firestorm of criticism and intense viewer backlash when Devon admitted her crush on lesbian psychiatrist Lynn, but in 2009 fans are openly and defiantly cheering for Bianca and Reese and Guiding Light's Natalia and Olivia. More astonishing, large numbers of fans are vocal and angry that a network didn't feature a love scene (sex!) between two gay male characters on As the World Turns, Luke and Noah. Lest we forget, strong, independent, forceful women are in; the put upon female victim has been out of fashion for quite some time.

The changes in our society force soaps to try to catch up with the times, but many times soaps have led the way in helping to chip away at barriers of the topical or social kind. Without Devon and Lynn, there would be no Rianca. Without ATWT's Hank Eliot, there would be no Nuke. Without David and Valerie, we don't think twice about Marcus and Steffy on B&B. We demand Days' Abe and Lexie have a quality story of their own and we hope for the return of suave, sexy and slightly dangerous RJ with his long, distinct and decidedly ethnic locks on One Life to Live. Am I arguing that The Gannons of OLTL, the Grants of GL, or the Fry's of AMC led directly to the election of Barack Obama? Of course not. However, since there are scholars who argue The Cosby Show and 24 with its fictional African American President David Palmer helped pave the way for the election of the real life first African American president, it would seem that daytime dramas — which have reached millions of more viewers of all races and ethnicities for decades longer before and after the reign of the Huxtables — deserve a little influential credit themselves. I would like to think that in their own way, soaps have helped millions of fans see beyond the surface of preconceptions or stereotypes and opened more minds than they left closed. (continued)


Comments

daisyclover1938's picture
Member since:
14 November 2007
Last activity:
3 years 49 weeks

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 Smile

*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!

Member since:
8 May 2008
Last activity:
2 days 8 hours

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.

siomonstuart2003

Member since:
10 July 2008
Last activity:
2 years 27 weeks

"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!

J Bernard Jones's picture
Member since:
9 September 2008
Last activity:
6 hours 23 min

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.

season1217's picture
Member since:
23 July 2008
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31 weeks 1 day

Bernard, you're a beautiful, beautiful man!

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Pushing Daisies - You will always be in my heart!

Member since:
22 January 2008
Last activity:
2 hours 54 min

One drop of African blood makes you black, just like one drop of Jesus's blood makes you Holy.

season1217's picture
Member since:
23 July 2008
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31 weeks 1 day

I don't agree, Jamey. Two words. Mariah Carey. Tongue I kid! I kid!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Pushing Daisies - You will always be in my heart!

Member since:
22 January 2008
Last activity:
2 hours 54 min

Tongue Season! LOL

SoapSnob's picture
Member since:
1 July 2008
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3 weeks 1 day

Exceptional piece, J. Bernard. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Member since:
14 December 2008
Last activity:
19 weeks 6 days

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.

Member since:
15 October 2008
Last activity:
37 weeks 3 days

J.Bernard it is always a treat to read your blog posts and this one I couldn't agree more with you.

Member since:
10 March 2008
Last activity:
3 years 19 weeks

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.

david46208's picture
Member since:
15 January 2009
Last activity:
1 hour 32 min

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 http://www.timeaftertimeonlinedrama.webs.com Thanks again!