By Patrick Erwin
A few months ago, I shared with our “Thinking Soap Fans” my thoughts on the Luke and Noah story on As the World Turns, and what it meant to me.
In the last few weeks, buzz about the story has erupted into controversy, as many fans are up in arms about the show’s reluctance to show the couple kissing or expressing affection. The story has expanded to mainstream media, and took on new dimensions when the conservative American Family Association jumped into the fray by designating Procter & Gamble — which produces ATWT and supplies much of its advertising — the catalyst for an “action alert” as a result of P&G’s sponsorship of what the AFA termed “pro-homosexual” programming.
To make sense of what’s happened, I asked a few people who are familiar with both the soap world and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) world to give us their perspective.
DAMON ROMINE, ENTERTAINMENT MEDIA DIRECTOR, GLAAD
Damon Romine, the Entertainment Media Director at GLAAD, has a special perspective on it all because he worked in the soap world as a soap opera magazine editor for ten years.
Patrick: Prior to the kiss controversy, how did you think ATWT handled Luke and Noah’s storyline?
Damon: Though daytime dramas have been around for 60 years, As the World Turns is the very first soap to portray a gay male romance, as well as the first soap to feature a male kiss onscreen. By introducing Noah and Luke to their cast, the drama has boldly taken an historic step forward. Because of the careful writing of both characters’ individual journeys which ultimately lead to their romance, GLAAD was proud to nominate the soap for a GLAAD Media Award. And while we support Noah and Luke’s romance and are eager to see where their relationship is headed, we also understand that Nuke needs to share screen time with a lot of other characters, and that we’ll have to be patient at times and wait until their story takes a front seat once again.
Patrick: So what do you think caused the change in how “Nuke” have been portrayed? Are there any specifics you can point to?
Damon: We’ve noticed — like all other ATWT fans – that Luke and Noah seem to be having intimate near misses and that their story seems to have fallen to the wayside in recent months. Such is the nature of soaps, though, and we have been assured by the powers that be that there is a big Nuke storyline coming up. And who’s to say their next story won’t create a passionate response as well? The nature of a soap romance is that the supercouple can’t stay happy, so I expect fans to continue to be passionate regardless of what happens to Nuke.
Ultimately, while tremendous strides have been made on soaps, it’s clear that we’re not at a place where gay and transgender people are treated the same on daytime as they are on primetime or cable. But even when you look at primetime, gay male characters weren’t kissing on network television before two years ago with Desperate Housewives and Brothers & Sisters. So the fact that Luke and Noah have shared two kisses is historic, and perhaps some compromises are being made on the intimacy front to allow their story to continue to be told, but let’s keep in mind that if P&G or CBS did not want to tell this story, they would very easily have already brought it to an end.
Patrick: Can you tell me a little about the reactions you’ve gotten from LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people about this controversy?
Damon: As all of us who have been in the soap business know, soap fans are the most vocal and passionate fans there are. There are fans who want to see more of Luke and Noah and who want this couple to get the same attention and respect as other couples on the canvas. This story has pushed the daytime genre and created a glimpse of what can happen when soaps are inclusive of gay storylines: Increased story potential and increased viewers. It’s a win-win and I look forward to the day when gay stories are given their due on daytime.
Patrick: Any thoughts about how the mainstream press has covered this controversy?
Damon: Coverage in outlets like NY Daily News and LA Times certainly brings more attention to the show and can only bring more viewers to the show. CBS has reported that the show’s ratings have gone up because of Nuke, and press coverage can only bring in more viewers, so this is ultimately a good thing to further keep Nuke on the canvas.
Patrick: Does GLAAD anticipate taking any specific action regarding this controversy?
Damon: We’re going to continue to support and encourage Luke and Noah’s journey, to promote the show and talk about the importance of this couple to viewers and how a storylline like this helps change hearts and minds. The show was nominated for its second GLAAD Media Award in as many years and we’ll find out on March 17 if they win. [They won at the 1st Annual GLAAD Media Awards].
MICHAEL JENSEN, EDITOR IN CHIEF, http://www.afterelton.com/
Michael Jensen also has a unique perspective as the editor of AfterElton, a site that specifically covers news about music, film, television and entertainment geared towards gay men. The site has given a great deal of coverage to As The World Turns, especially since the Luke/Noah storyline was launched.
Patrick: How are the AfterElton readers responding to the kissing controversy, and the change in storyline?
Michael: The reaction is, as you can imagine, overwhelmingly negative. The mistletoe cutaway, especially, inflamed people. (This refers to the scene in December where, just as Luke and Noah were leaning in to kiss, the camera panned away from them and instead showed mistletoe to imply the kiss.) Many people have commented about how upset, angry and bothered they are. Of course, when people are unhappy, they are more likely to speak up!
The reactions really show how involved and invested people are in the storyline. Fans are really interested, and they’re really eager to talk about it and comment on it. We’ve seen an increase in people joining the site to be able to comment on the Nuke storyline and on As the World Turns.
Patrick: What are your personal thoughts, both as a gay man and as an industry observer, about this controversy?
Michael: Despite the lack of kissing, I still think it’s amazing that the show is showing, on a regular basis, two teenage guys in a relationship. We’ve seen them numerous times showing affection and being physically intimate in a way we are not seeing anywhere else. Yes, the show has gotten nervous about showing actual kissing, but they are NOT fiddling around with feelings — they showed a scene recently with Noah and Ameera where he made it very clear that he loved Luke.
I think it’s great that fans care and are speaking up. We supported the “Kiss Campaign,” which was started by one of our readers. But there also needs to be perspective that no other soap is doing this story. We need to remember who our enemies are, and who is supporting us.
Thanks to Damon and Michael both for sharing their valuable perspectives.
As for me? Well, I, too, am angry, disappointed, and irritated. More than anything, though, I’m just exhausted. I’m sad that this is still an issue. I wish Luke loving Noah was no more or less intriguing to the audience than Gwen loving Will, and that the audience could just enjoy the quirkiness and the romance of both couples. I wish that Emma not wanting premarital sex under her roof was the biggest obstacle for these guys. (Kudos to ATWT for that twist, by the way — based in realism and the fact that Emma loves Luke but is also uncomfortable.) More than anything, I just wish romance for ALL couples would come back to the shows in a big way. In a time where love and romance are in short supply, I hope ATWT stands its ground and lets us see Luke and Noah in love.