Audacious list (2 of 10): As if feminism never happened.

And now, the continuing story of 10 creative pitfalls that have affected the daytime industry. Previously on the Audacious List: Complaining about the lack of diversity in culture, age, and personality.

This post was originally slated for later in the series, but I mentioned an awesome blog entry of Cady McClain’s yesterday. It’s a natural segue to talk about this as the next issue on my list.

In a nutshell, it’s this: Somehow, in all of the changes that have happened over the last decade or so, most of the smart, independent women onscreen have been banished to the far corners of the canvas or run out of town. It’s as if feminism never happened!

Yes, I know: “daytime drama” and “feminism” haven’t always gone hand in hand. This genre has always been about marriage and family and a very traditional sense of what the nuclear family should look like.

But I would argue that soaps experienced a great creative renaissance in the 60s and 70s, where the topics and subject mirrored what was going on in the country. And as a result, it opened up what could be played out on screen.

In the earlier days of soaps, we had dependable heroines like Jo on Search for Tomorrow, Bert on Guiding Light, and Nancy Hughes on As The World Turns. The flip side of that was the bad girl –ATWT’s Lisa being the template for many years of the Bad Man-Stealing Hussy. You might get a few minor variations on the theme – a little more crazy, or manipulative, on the ‘bad’ side, and maybe a little bit of a martyr or a complainer, as Bert was, on the ‘good’ side. But these were usually the only women you saw on the shows.

But starting in the late 60s, the women we saw onscreen got more complex. We still had melodramatic twists and turns, but the characters were smarter and wiser. At the very least, they were more cognizant about what they were doing, or not doing. Rachel on Another World was a great example of someone who grew and evolved before our very eyes. There were characters like Holly and Rita on Guiding Light who made foolish choices, but we saw their innate intelligence at work even when their bad choices overwhelmed them.

And of course, in the 80s big-business frenzy on the shows (inspired by Dallas and Dynasty) we saw the introduction of several female characters who were every bit the relentless tycoon as their male counterparts. You didn’t mess with women like Lucinda Walsh or Alexandra Spaulding.

So why am I saying feminism never happened? Well, a lot of these kinds of characters have been pushed to the wayside (like two of my favorites, ATWT’s Margo and Lucinda) or eliminated all together (AMC’s Brooke, GL’s Holly to name just two).

I know, I sound like a bitter old negativista stuck in a haze of misty water-colored memories. But it’s just sad to see such a regression in the way women are written on the shows.

I don’t believe this is just a daytime issue – we have so much entertainment these days where the “entertainment value” is watching people being depicted in the harshest, ugliest light. We have women being depicted as catty and competitive (America’s Next Top Model) or vapid and silly (The Simple Life, The Hills). There ARE wellsprings of intelligence in scripted shows on the networks and on cable, but sometimes those voices are overwhelmed.

One of the biggest trends on daytime has been to simplify, simplify, simplify – in the hopes of attracting new viewers without overwhelming them with silly things like, y’know, history and complex personalities. And I think rounding out younger female characters and making them more than arm candy or catfight participants can’t happen with budget cuts and the drive to simplicity.

And honest, I’m not on Cady McClain’s payroll, but I think she’s the poster child of this particular entry for me. Why? Because I’ve read interviews with her and heard her talk, and I see an incredibly bright, compelling person who is creative and smart and funny – not to mention a person who seems like she could take care of herself (and maybe kick your ass, too).

But for some reason, writers and producers on daytime have seen Cady and what THEY walk away with is: Cries. A lot. Baby crazy, baby fever, must have baby. More crying. Helpless, needs a man to save her. And, in the rare moments they haven’t had Cady playing those notes? She was Demonic Monster Beyotch.

I hope Cady doesn’t mind, but I want to summarize this entry with some quotes from her essay on this. She says it better than I ever could, and with the authority of someone who has played the words and storylines on the soundstage.

I know so many of the women on daytime are total victims waiting to be rescued by their man. Can you say barf? Whose fantasy is this? How dated is this? I don’t understand how writers in this era can think stories like this are anything but insulting to their audience. Even in the breadbasket of America, the Christian right-est must be asking themselves, “what the heck is going on with my stories?”

It’s not the 50’s, the 60’s, the 70’s, 80’s or 90’s. It’s 2007, soon to be 2008 and more women want to know how to TRULY love, HOW to chose between revenge and forgiveness when they are hurt, want to see women who can be tough like only a woman can be tough, not copying a man’s behavior. Women, I think, want to see beauty that doesn’t look like either a skeleton or a weightlifter, to see characters that struggle with their LOOKS, even if they are pretty, because it’s this endless pervasive comparing that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Writing female friendships is NOT easy, but there are a lot of stories out there that don’t have to be about the man and the baby, for god’s sake. Why does melodrama have to include endless focus on the uterus? How about a friend stealing another friends money? How about the friend that borrows your stuff to an annoying degree until you come home one day and she’s helped herself to your whole life? How about the jealousy that can live for a lifetime between two women that really care about each other, be they sisters or friends, that comes from having different abilities?

RELATIONSHIPS. It’s not rocket science, soaps are about RELATIONSHIPS and CURRENT SOCIAL ISSUES we are having these relationships in.

Am I wrong? I’m not saying men and babies and love and all that aren’t going to be a part of the whole she-bang, but it just seems like the stories start there, like “Ok, she loves him and they want a baby… go.” WHY does she love him? HOW do they stay together? These shows don’t have to be MILDRED PIERCE anymore, they really, really don’t.

NOTE: I really didn’t delve into a deep debate on specific storylines (my aim is to talk about the big picture in this blog) but clearly, some of the soaps have had storylines that are misogynistic. General Hospital is often cited, as well as some other shows. Check out the excellent post by Jennifer Gibbons in her blog, which talks about the last days of Passions, a show that had several troublingly misogynistic story arcs.

Audacious list (1 of 10) – A lack of diversity

Diversity on daytime, or the lack of it, is hardly a new conversation. OLTL is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and it was new and bold in 1968 specifically because it did have ethnic diversity (much more diversity, it should be noted, than the show has today).

The shows do suffer because of a lack of diversity. And I’m not simply talking about diversity in terms of what we all associate that word with.

It’s very, very true that African-Americans are woefully underrepresented on daytime. Latinos are only slightly more visible. Asians are almost non-existent on daytime outside of a few recurring roles, and other cultural or ethnic minorities are almost never featured.

And for every story where a character eases onto the canvas naturally and has a story that is genuine and real – Jesse or Angie (AMC), Jessica Griffin (ATWT), or Carla and Sadie Gray (OLTL) – there have been countless other stories where attempts to introduce non-WASPy characters have fallen flat and been terribly awkward.

Daytime has been trying to feature more LGBT characters, but outside of the controversial Luke and Noah story on ATWT, most of the stories we’ve seen so far have followed the same script:

(1) The LGBT character is just short of sainthood. (e.g., Bianca on AMC) In addition to being presented as an example of moral fortitude for the entire town, the character picks up litter, saves stray puppies and pulls people out of burning cars and buildings.

(2) S/he helps other characters and/or is the catalyst for an epiphany in a major front-burner character’s life. 

(3) LGBT characters are so busy being virtuous that they don’t see a lot of action. Whereas most characters in their age bracket are seeing more action than Pamela Anderson’s divorce lawyer, LGBT characters’ action level hovers around the “Nancy Hughes” level.

(4) S/he is there for a few cycles, and then mysterious disappears or is sent out of town, to be brought back at Christmas (if at all).

These are all examples of where daytime misses opportunities to keep our interest with a diversified canvas. But that’s only part of the picture.

I’m also talking about the kind of diversity we had when our shows had multi-generational casts and storylines. And more importantly, when characters had POINTS of VIEW – viewpoints that didn’t change every 13 weeks, along with the head writer.

Cady McClain is a notable actress, but she’s also incredibly intelligent about the industry. Some of her comments in her blog make me wish she would give up acting and come over to the dark side to become a writer or producer. She made a great comment (in an amazing post) about shows needing a character like the local storeowner who disapproves of the young, pregnant teenage customer. (Look towards the end of the post.) That’s the kind of character where you can put four or five of them in a room and the story writes itself.

I think the lack of diversity (both cultural and personality-wise) hurts daytime for two very specific reasons:

(1) With leaner, more streamlined casts, the characters shows keep are often so similar to one another it’s hard to tell them apart. On GL, Reva, Cassie, Harley, Blake, Beth, Dinah and Olivia are all, to some degree or another, the same damn person. On ATWT, most of the female contract characters under 40 are the same – they’ve all been painted with the same brush.

(2) When everyone is the same, and everything is the same, a very simple, logical result happens: THERE ARE NO SURPRISES. There is also no burning need to tune in tomorrow. Why? You know what will happen. Not because of spoilers, but because there are no surprises.

Can this be fixed? Creatively, it seems possible. Shows like Grey’s Anatomy are doing a great job of making diversity both a fact of life and a non-issue. But financially, I’m not sure this can ever become a priority for daytime. When we have shrinking budgets and disappearing vets, it seems less likely for a show to introduce a new character of family.

But I’ll make a point here as to why they might want to think about it. I would argue that the two most iconic soap stories of all time – the ones that even non-soap fans will know and acknowledge – are (a) Luke and Laura, and (b) the life and times of Erica Kane. Those actors and stories have made a lasting imprint on people. More importantly, they also brought a lot of non-soap fans – NEW FANS, which the format desperately needs – to their shows.

There’s something just like this happening right now – Luke and Noah on ATWT. Now, I’m not a Nielsen expert, or an industry insider, and I can’t verify the figures and the viewers and write all of this in stone for you. But we do know this: Their first kiss has had nearly half a million viewers on YouTube. ATWT went to #3 during the period when Luke and Noah were first playing front-burner. More importantly, people who did not watch before are watching. EVERY DAY. The site has people liveblogging episodes of the show.

Part of that success is probably the new technology, but part of it has to be creative. ATWT is playing a new idea, with character “types” we haven’t seen before, in a very old-fashioned way. Every show would be wise to keep diversity in mind when they try to give us something “never before seen on daytime TV.”  (And hopefully they’ll do a better job managing it than P&G, who seems to support the Luke/Noah story but hasn’t capitalized on the story publicity-wise as much as they could have. )

Being audacious

To properly launch my blog, I’m being very audacious. 

I’m outlining for my readers (all three of them) the TEN biggest issues, creatively, that face daytime drama. 

TEN? Yes, ten. 

(I told you it was audacious!)

What this blog is (and what it is not)

If you’ve stumbled across this site, thanks for coming by to visit!

There are many, many people writing in blogs, magazines, and all over the Internet about soap operas. I know I am adding yet another blog to that list.

I thought it would be easier to tell you what my goals are, and what I intend to do, by sharing with you all of the things I am NOT trying to accomplish.

I am NOT an expert of any sort. My ideas, opinions and thoughts come solely from being a fan of the genre for the last 35 years.

I do not have any knowledge of backstage happenings, inner workings or industry gossip. I have never had lunch with Jill Farren Phelps, or sat next to Hogan Sheffer at the barber shop. I have not gone drinking with the writers, nor have I slept with any of the actors.

There are a multitude of people who can talk to you about soaps and give you in-depth reporting, insightful features and logical, solid criticism. I will try my best to do so here, but I have to tell you: I’m a dreamer. Head in the clouds. And sometimes, I think the best thing in the world is not to hear the voice that tells you, “This is always the way it has been”. Sometimes, the small voice saying “I had an idea” is the most courageous one of all.

In short, I’m not reinventing the wheel…I offer you nothing truly new notable to encourage you to read my blog. Just my perspective from the peanut gallery. And my love of this genre.