I grew up watching soap operas (now called daytime dramas), mainly because my mother was hooked on one called Search for Tomorrow. Back in the 1950s, she, wearing her crisp cotton housedress and apron, would drop whatever she was doing and rush to sit in front of the TV the minute her favorite soap opera popped on.
In those days, 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? It usually was 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 ship her off to boarding 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 probably 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 “Skylark” and be a former CIA agent with three ex-husbands, two current lovers (one of whom is half her age and used to date her daughter), and six children, each fathered by a different mystery man - at least one of whom is an alien from another planet.
Joanne’s wayward daughter Patty probably would be a neurosurgeon named Rasputina, who has multiple personalities and a child who hates her so much, she runs off to live with a cult leader she met online and ends up in a remote cabin in some town with a made-up soap-opera name like “Evergreenville.” Soap operas, after all, are famous for naming towns after trees and adding “ville” to the end of them.
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 95 days in real life. If you tuned in to an episode in July and then didn’t watch the show again until 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 an abandoned baby) on Monday, it’s a safe bet the baby will be shaving by Friday.
I realize that modern soap operas are supposed to reflect the changing times, but I can’t help but wonder how many of us actually 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 with 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, complete with false eyelashes, and her hair looking as if she just stepped out of a beauty salon. The woman must sleep sitting up. If I ever wore false eyelashes to bed, no doubt they would fall off during the night and stick to me somewhere else, like under my nose, and I’d wake up looking like Hitler.
Another thing that always annoyed me was the characters’ unknown 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. Hunkyman, I’ve been working for you for three years now, and I had no idea you had a 25-year-old son!”
“Neither did I, Delilah, until his mother, a woman I met way back when I was suffering from amnesia after a train wreck in Mapleville, texted me 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 in Tobongo. Perhaps this is fate.”
Alas, when my favorite soap opera, All my Children, got canceled after I’d faithfully been watching it for about 112 years, I was so crushed, I vowed never to watch another soap again, and switched over to reality talk-shows like Jerry Springer and Maury Povich. The other day on Maury’s show, a young woman was having five guys take paternity tests so she could determine which one had fathered her baby.
Sounds like a good soap-opera plot to me.
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