Tuesday, August 2, 2005

Soap Opera Evolution

I never thought the day would come when I wouldn’t be watching any soap operas at all on TV, but it finally has arrived…and my friends are shocked.

I grew up watching soap operas, mainly because my mother was hooked on one called, “Search for Tomorrow.” Back in the 1950s, my mother, wearing her crisp cotton housedress, would drop whatever she was doing and rush to sit in front of the TV the minute her favorite soap opera popped on.

Back then, Search for Tomorrow’s heroine, Joanne, a middle-class housewife who also wore crisp cotton housedresses (and her hair in a bun), did a lot of crying into lace-edged hankies as the ever-present organ music played in the background.

And what made poor Joanne so upset? Her wayward daughter, Patty, who did such unforgivable things as flunk math at school or stay out 20 minutes past her curfew.

“That Patty is such a brat!” my mother, shaking her head in disgust, would say after each show. “If I were Joanne, I would send her straight to reform school!”

I’m pretty sure there were other reasons for Joanne’s daily flood of tears. For one thing, she and her husband were forced to sleep in twin beds (thanks to the strict television censorship back then), which would be enough to depress anyone.

I really enjoyed watching soap operas back in the 1950s and ‘60s because the characters had normal lives and normal everyday problems to which just about everyone could relate. But over the years, the soaps evolved so much, they soon bore no resemblance whatsoever to any life that could be considered even remotely normal.

If Search for Tomorrow were to premiere today, Joanne would have a name like “Skye” and be a former CIA agent with five ex-husbands, two lovers (one of whom is half her age and used to date her daughter), and six children, each fathered by a different mysterious man, at least one of whom is an alien from another planet.

Joanne’s wayward daughter Patty probably would be a neurosurgeon who has multiple personalities and a child who hates her so much, he runs off to join a cult in one of those countries with a made-up soap opera name like “Schmutopia.”

Years ago, if you missed an episode or two of a soap opera, it was no big deal. That’s because back then, a day in the life of a soap-opera character lasted about 114 days in real life. If you tuned in to an episode in July and then didn’t watch the show again till Christmas, you still could pick up the plot pretty much where you’d left off.

Nowadays, however, soap-opera story lines move so swiftly, if a character has a baby (adopts a baby, steals a baby, finds a long-lost baby) on Monday, it’s a safe bet that the baby will be shaving by Friday.

I realize that today’s soap operas are supposed to reflect the changing times, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us really live in a town where every available bachelor looks like a male model and is either a doctor, lawyer, police officer or a detective?

Frankly, over the years, the more I watched soap operas, the more annoyed I became at certain things about them. For example, the characters’ lack of morning breath. I don’t know anyone who can wake up out of a dead sleep in the morning and roll over and talk nose to nose with his sweetie without making her eyes water. And miraculously, the sweetie always awakens in full makeup without a smudge or smear anywhere, and her hair looks as if she just stepped out of a beauty salon. The woman must sleep sitting up.

Another thing that always annoyed me were the characters’ long-lost children who always seemed to pop up during the program’s ratings slumps. These children ranged in age from less than one year to over 30, depending on what the main character needed at the time. Whenever a long-lost child was going to be added to the plot, a typical conversation would go something like this:

“Why, Dr. Kennard, I had no idea you had a 25-year-old son!”

“Neither did I, Delilah, until his mother, a woman I met while I had amnesia after a train wreck, sent me a letter last week and told me about him. I can’t wait for you to meet him. After all, you’re both about the same age and I know how lonely you’ve been since your husband died tragically in that volcano eruption. Perhaps it’s fate.”

But I guess the real reason why I finally gave up watching soap operas is because they interfered with my computer time. Now, instead of being glued to the TV at certain times every day, I can give my full attention to my computer…and join in chat-room conversations with normal, everyday people like “3HeadedMama” and “RazorEater.”