Soap (and other four-letter words)

NOTE: This post features adult subject matter and themes, including graphic sexual content. If you would prefer not to read this material, please stop reading now.

I’m not exactly sure why, but according to my WordPress blog search terms, someone came to A Thousand Other Worlds looking for porn. More specifically, they were searching “soap porn” and “soap stars nude porno.” It completely cracked me up – and originally, it inspired me to think of a few clever, sarcastic things to say.

But I thought about it for a while, and my sarcastic ideas seem to have some truth in them. It struck me that even if many people wouldn’t feel comfortable thinking about it or acknowledging it, there are some similarities and parallels between the two industries.

Soap vs. porn?

PERFORMERS: It could be said that both genres have their own company of performers – ones that seem to go from one production to another. They may have specific fans within that genre, though for most performers, more mainstream recognition eludes them.

And if they’re in one role too long, or seen too often as one character or one type of performer, they risk being typecast.

I’m not meaning to lump these two very different types of performance together – traditional acting is significantly more complex and requires intense study and focus. But the business models are not so far removed from one another.

PRODUCTION VALUES: Soaps were initially cheaply made, then adopted more luxurious production values in the 1970s and 1980s. As the audience has diminished for soaps, they’ve returned to making shows on a budget. You could say nearly the same thing about adult films, though there was never really a big-budget moment in porn.

Both soaps and porn were affected by the advent of the VCR (and subsequently, the DVD/DVR). VCRs likely saved soaps and extended their life cycle for 20 or more years, because soap fans – at that time, primarily women re-entering the workforce – could still tape their shows.

But in porn, VCR’s hastened a change in how people viewed the films. Prior to VCR’s, you either had to go to a specific movie theater to see such a film. VCR’s changed adult films and made them something one viewed in their own homes – which dramatically changed the industry, how those films were conceived and how they were marketed.

We can laugh at the idea, but Ellen Wheeler’s Peapack experiment actually has, I believe, as much kinship with an adult film as it does with The Hills. The shaky-cam, using permanent sets and intense “realism?” All a part of porn, especially since digital cameras made it so easy to film anywhere.

DIALOGUE and PACING: Clearly, porn is not known for its dialogue. In general, performers use the smallest amount of dialogue possible to set up the scenario and get to the part where they peel their clothes off and go at it.

Soaps are many levels more complex in the dialogue department, but there are some similarities.

We’ve all seen soap newbies give wooden performances that, in fact, sound as if they’re in the worst porno movie ever made.

Pacing? Well, let’s see – set up the scene, build to a culmination (climax?) of tension and/or passion, and recap, recap, recap. That could apply to soaps and porn (though soaps clearly rely more on recapping to make the story clear).

CULTURAL IMPACT: Porn plays in nearly every gay bar in the country, so as a gay man, my perceptions about porn are much different than for others. But as much as adult material and adult movies have become accessible for couples and more inclusive for women, the fact remains that there’s a significant amount of porn that is horrifically misogynistic to women, that makes men see them simply as sex objects, and that demeans them for thrill and profit.

Of course, we in daytime don’t have any problems with misogyny, do we?


We can say, if a young man sees a woman demeaned in some way and taken advantage of sexually, it will affect him negatively and provide a bad role model. I’m no psychologist, but that sounds like a common-sense statement to me.

But what does that say about what female characters – especially young women – do on soaps? If I was a young woman watching General Hospital, I’d walk away with this: Criminals are hot, and it’s only really hot when the hottest guy in town has sex with you and THEN (inevitably) calls you a whore.

And  As The World Turns, once a bastion of class and complexity, wasn’t much better in a year where: (1) a young woman appeared to nearly apologize for her attempted rapist, and (2) a woman (Rosanna) returned to town where she became re-involved with one ex-husband (Paul) with serious control issues and another ex (Craig) who tried to kill her. KILL. HER.

It may have been 2009 on the calendar, but as I mentioned in one of my very first posts here, it’s as if feminism never happened. Women and young girls are getting 1959-era messages. Any woman who has standards and can fight her own battles is either a bitch, a bore or a man-hating lesbian.

And we wonder why young women aren’t tuning in?



There is one area, though, where I think porn can claim a total, epic win. And it’s this: The porn industry has always been at the forefront of new technologies and new platforms for their products.

They were one of the first products available in every new format that’s come along – Betamax, VHS, DVD, online, on smart phones.

If we want to have a serious conversation about how you can monetize online content, you can’t do it without giving some consideration to how adult visual entertainment has been packaged, marketed and sold.

The soap audience is significantly smaller than the porn audience, but let’s be blunt: porn is making money with online content, and it seems to be almost unilaterally through a paid subscription model.

I haven’t seen enough of the Web soaps (yet) to share an informed opinion, but clearly, Web soaps will almost definitely need to go to a paid subscription model to survive and thrive.

4 thoughts on “Soap (and other four-letter words)

  1. Not such a leap, at all. One of the reasons I love Boogie Nights, and watch it over and over again, is that it reminds me of old school soap opera – centered not around a hospital, but around a house where porn films are made.

    As a woman, I don’t feel as strongly about/ am not as bothered by the anti-feminist streak a lot of people (especially men) have noted in soaps over the last ten years, or so. Then again, I have no qualms with porn which, for the most part, is far from woman-centered or empowering. Almost all girl-on-girl porn is about two women going at it for the benefit of men, and hetero porn almost always revolves around male pleasure.

    What does kill me on soaps is when an established female character, who has always been strong, suddenly becomes weak and helpless. Nowhere was this more blatant – or upsetting – than with Reva, during Guiding Light’s last months. When Reva went from being Springfield’s spitfire, the most spirited, stroppy woman in town…to the pathetic creature who had to call her ex-husband to deal with a leaky faucet, all bets were off for me. The woman (figuratively) kicked the hell out of Alan Spaulding, survived numerous deaths, beat cancer, etc….but she was too much of a damsel in distress to bend down and turn off the main water switch? What an insult to viewers. What an insult to Kim Zimmer. What an insult to women, in general.

    Amen, Lana. She was almost unrecognizable at the end. Zimmer did a great job mourning Jeffrey, but I didn’t believe her helplessness either.

    I sort of wish Reva had actually died at the end, but gone out in a burst of flames, with Reva fighting every step of the way. THAT was the balls to the wall, Reva Shayne that jumped in a fountain, drove a car off a pier and LIVED. THAT woman would have gone out in a blaze of glory.

  2. Well, this anti-feminist thing soap thing has been long on my mind…but the real difference between porn and soaps is that women porn stars know they are being exploited and women soap stars are (publicly!) thankful for the chance to be victims, as the ultra-emotional scenes give them Emmy chances. And isn’t it interesting that there is so much praise from critics (not you and I dear!), who love the “drama” of these victim stories, but don’t see the rampant sexism in these soaps stories at all??? Remember when Todd re-raped Marty, and the male critics (except you) cheered???

    This column is a classic, Patrick. To have the imagination and passion to write about soaps anymore…..

    Thanks, Connie!

    As much as I like/can appreciate the general direction of OLTL, I will never understand Todd’s deification. And it’s ongoing – Ross was made into The Big Bad Wolf to make Todd look better to his new daughter. *eyeroll*

  3. I’m a women and I am bothered by the anti-feminist streak on soaps. I don’t expect eveything to be super PC all the time but soaps are supposed to be mainly for women so I’d like to see more respect for females. Its annoying how quickly strong women become weak and its just boring and predictable when so many women on soaps are basically the same outdated stereotype.

  4. Great article, Patrick. I recently blogged that the BnB was like watching porn, but I agree that all of daytime has become that. It’s disturbing that women are interchangeable, men are dominant, and all of the large moments moving scenes forward involve male characters. Women are supporting, there to please their male counterparts and then fade back into the woodwork.

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