Friday, April 03, 2009

All My Soap Operas

After a staggering 72 year run , the classic soap opera The Guiding Light is being cancelled.

Soap fans everywhere are devastated.

Some of you, especially those reading this outside the United States, may not be familiar with the concept of the soap opera. Wikipedia defines a soap opera as " ongoing, episodic work of dramatic fiction presented in serial format on television or radio." They're called soap operas because they usually ran in the afternoons when, because many stay-at-home housewives were assumed to be watching (or listening, in the case of radio), many of the sponsors were companies manufacturing laundry soap or other household supplies.

Not all of the fans were traditional housewives, though.

Many years ago, when I was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in the teeming megalopolis of Bossier City, Louisiana, I joined virtually the entire base in being hooked on the soap opera All My Children. I timed my lunch hour so I could go home and watch the show every day. Across the base, work stopped for an hour. In the alert facility, where the crews of B-52 bombers and KC-135 tankers waited for the raucous klaxon call to fly away to war, all training and other activity shut down while everyone crowded into the recreation room to watch the adventures of the twisted inhabitants of Pine Valley. We wondered who would be the next to fall victim to a rare and deadly disease, what man the scheming Erica Kane would target next, what over-the-top evil plot Phoebe Wallingford would hatch, and what utterly unbelieveable but breathlessly-awaited plot twist would come next. Handsome young doctor falls in love with amnesiac prostitute and fights off the pimp who comes looking for her? Done that. Pregnancy threatened by a deadly disease with a polysyllabic Latin name brought on by eating steak tartare? Done that, too. Married 150 times (more or less), but still pursued by men thinking with organs other than their brains? Yep, paging Erica Kane.

Yes, the national defense of the United States of America stopped for an hour every day while we all watched All My Children.

I never watched The Guiding Light or any other daytime soap. I watched Dallas for a while, and Knots Landing once or twice, but no other soap opera, daytime or evening, could match "AMC." I stopped watching it when I left Louisiana and went overseas, and somehow never got back into it when I returned five years later. I did watch a Venezuelan telenovella called El Desprecio for a while, even though I never understood a word anyone was just always fascinating to try to figure out what was going on, and why that old guy was chained up in the basement.

But I have many more ways of wasting time now, such as blogging and Facebook, where I can follow the ongoing soap operas of characters like Fiona and Mike. But perhaps those wouldn't be soap operas...Fiona is probably sponsored by United Whiskey and Haggis, Inc., and Mike would be sponsored by some cell phone service that drives its customers nuts with proprietary cables.

I'm just guessing here. See what you think.

That's all for now. Time to get ready to head off to my own soap opera: All My Commuting Problems. It'll go on for years.

Have a good day. Cartoon Saturday is coming.



Amanda said...

I always wondered why they were called 'Soap Operas'. There are similar shows in Asia but they don't go on for years. The plots are also twisted and shocking, just like the American shows, but they only run for a month each.

I always hated getting hooked on one of them. It makes you re-schedule everything else just for that one hour.

an orange county girl said...

trust me, you're not missing much by not understanding what they are saying on telenovelas. in fact, it's more fun if you mute it and create your own ridiculous dialogue!

Anonymous said...

With the wide range of international soap operas available via regular cable in the polyglot DC Metro area, we can learn everything we didn't want to know about almost every culture on earth--but seriously, has anybody ever seen a soap opera that featured anything but the rich and as a minimum, the upper levels of the middle class? I've always assumed you can find out what TV producers believe is important to their culture by what comes up on the soap operas....

I'd really be interested to find out how one air base got hooked on a specific soap--seems almost like a form of mass hysteria!

Anonymous observer of cultures for fun and profit.

Leslie David said...

Ha! I agree with anOCgirl--when I was stationed in Korea I'd come home and turn on the tv to find out the maid had been watching it--it was tuned to a Korean station rather to the bland, boring AFKN. I missed out on a year of Dynasty but my neighbor and I used to get together, eat popcorn, drink sake and do embroidery while watching some program that was a year old or had been cancelled in the US.

Much more fun to watch a Korean drama or soap opera, whatever, without the sound and make up your own dialogue.

fiona said...

I lived a year of my life controlled by Dallas...
United Whisky and Haggis Inc just made their weekly delivery! Anyone like a wee dram?

The Mistress of the Dark said...

I used to have a small addiction to Passions cos it was so weird

Mike said...

"and went overseas, and somehow never got back into it when I returned five years later"

So the intervention seems to have worked.

Jean-Luc Picard said...

I never watched soap operas as the had no ending. Though I'm in Britain, I've heard of 'The Guiding Light', though never seen here.Why is it ending?

Bilbo said...

Amanda - that was my problem in the end, too.

OCgirl - I think that sounds like fun!

Anonymous - good call on the cultural aspect. I never understood why AMC had such a grip on the base, other than it was so over the top with its plots.

Leslie - Yep!

Fiona - glad you broke the addiction. That dram sounds good!

Andrea - don't think I know about "Passions." And not just because of my age, either.

Mike - yes. Yes it did.

Jean-Luc - Guiding Light is being ended because of "declining viewership," according to the article. Perhaps it was just showing its age...

KKTSews said...

I was sorry to hear about GL--which is the only soap I ever watched. It was great--you could watch it about once a year and keep up on the plot lines!

Soaps really are an international phenom. I was once briefly detained at the French/Spanish boarder by a couple of bored French immigration guys who wouldn't return my passport until I revealed who shot JR! Well, as one who neither speaks much French nor watched Dallas, I had to get them to list characters, and finally told them one who I thought was the culprit from what little I'd gleaned from others. What a hoot. I think I was wrong, too.

Bilbo said...

Katherine - someday, I'll tell you about my adventures with the French customs officers who spent the better part of an hour jerking me around at the Wissembourg border crossing just because it was fun to jerk some poor American's chain...