I have a bit of a secret. No, I never switched a paternity test, snatched a baby with a birth mark I later concealed, or slept with the husband of a close friend or relative.
My bit of a secret is this: I am a married, well educated professional and mother, and I watch soap operas. All My Children (or AMC, as we soap watchers say), and One Life to Live will end within the year. Even as I cling to GH (General Hospital) and Days (Days of Our Lives) I know that sooner or later I must face a future without them. How can I when they've been a constant source of escape throughout my life?
I crawl to the finish line of every day knowing that at 10 pm, no matter what else has happened, no matter what I have to face the next day, I will turn on SoapNet, the daily soap re-run channel, and instantly, happily, fall into a trance in my Easy-Boy recliner. Soap operas are my drug of choice, my martini, my half- Klonopin.
No one is allowed to speak to me during this sacred hour. If my husband interrupts with a question, I snap at him. He knows that I only take questions during commercials. For years he tried to understand my love of soaps. He'd gingerly ask: "Why are people so mean to each other on this show? I do not trust the woman with the big blond hair! I don't like Sonny. What's the connection between him and that other guy? Are they related?"
It's highly annoying to have to answer such questions, even during commercials, particularly his question "Are they related?" (Most people in soaps are or have been related by marriage.) I can give the details but the answers sound so ridiculous coming out of my mouth that I get embarrassed. By watching every night, I give tacit consent to the rationality of being jailed, kidnapped, shot at, and married -- often just to balance the power in town.
But the material is so clearly fantastical as to be mere fun. Shimmering lip gloss, garish outfits, fake houses, sky blue eyes, multiple personalities, vindication. The plots don't change much but they still work. How often I have entertained the notion of amnesia. Would amnesia be such a bad thing for me? Answer: no.
For decades, women have been hooked on soap operas and long to be in each other's company watching and discussing them. Forty years ago I saw my grandmother, a widow raising three children, and her sister, next door, watch their daily afternoon sketch together in their Bronx walk up. My very busy mother would occasionally pause with a basket of laundry in hand to watch Phil and Jesse on GH. Phil was young and slick and using Jesse; Jesse was desperate, my mother used to say. My sisters and I rushed home after school -- sometimes not even changing out of our Catholic School uniforms -- to eat snacks and set up for GH. My college roommates each liked a different soap on different channels but we graciously worked out a schedule for sharing our one TV. The women in our office today discuss what happened nearly every morning; we even circulate Soap Opera Digest.
You might be surprised at how many people watch or have watched at some time in their lives. Men get hooked too, usually by circumstances, like they work in a hospital (my brother), or they love a woman who watches (my law partner). People with gravitas watch as well. Once I saw a woman in court and blurted out, "You look like Carly on General Hospital!" I immediately apologized for saying something so stupid when she blurted back, "I love Carly!"
My replacement escape paths look bleak right now. The only thing that comes close is the QVC channel. There are lots of shimmering lips, garish outfits, fake backdrops, skyblue eyes and faux important dialogue, like when the host interrupts a conversation with a viewer because she has received vital information in her headset that there are only 18 of the blue earrings left.
QVC has no story line and won't keep me hooked. Sports, news and cooking shows won't either. Nothing will. So for now, I will not fear that this is the end of soaps. Devoted soap opera watchers like me know that even if something implodes before your eyes, it may turn up later, very much alive!