By Marlena De Lacroix
Bonjour, everyone. Still watching. I’ve particularly enjoyed One Life to Live‘s sweeps, with the downfall of Clint, and his acid confrontations with that bitch Aubrey. Pine Valley seems to be emptying out and you have to ask yourself how long Alicia Minshew can carry the show on her boney shoulders. I’m rooting for Sonny and Brenda — how many brides and grooms can boast that they’ve both killed people?
As you know, the fare is so limited these days, the snowy afternoon ends much earlier than it used to. So what’s a girl to do?
How about browsing through a good new book on soap opera. Whether you are a fan or a soap scholar, you’ll enjoy The Survival of Soap Opera: Transformations for a New Media Era (University of Mississippi Press), edited by academics Sam Ford, Abigail De Kosnik and C. Lee Harrington. The book is a compendium of mostly observational articles exploring what has happened to soaps these last twenty years — how the audience has drifted away and how the soaps have responded to this drift. I particularly enjoyed the variety of the many contributions made by an assortment of familiar academics, bloggers, sophisticated fans and former soap journalists.
Ford’s examination of the life of Tom Hughes of As the World Turns is particularly readable and interesting. I’ve always thought of Tom as one of the most boring men on soap operas — except when he was played by Justin Deas in the Mr. Big mid-80′s. But Ford makes a good point that Tom is one of the few characters we’ve seen really grow up from childhood to full manhood. He’s a barometer of soap men — the messy teenhood (I remember him doing drugs with a dealer played by Gary Sandy), the many girlfriends, the long, sometimes troubled marriage to Margo. It’s a shame that neither As the World Turns nor Tom are not amongst us anymore. But Ford’s Tom is living and breathing still within the pages of this book, and I’m sure you’ll enjoy reliving and reexamining his life story.
I also like the survey of soap critics by Denise Bielby (no jobs, huh?). And I like very much the examination of the last bittersweet days of Guiding Light in Peapack, New Jersey, written by our own Patrick Erwin. Patrick was one of a group of enthusiastic bloggers GL took to Peapack two years ago to generate some buzz in an effort – in vain, as it turned out – to save the show. Patrick is a good writer, as you know if you’ve read his posts on this site and on his own, A Thousand Other Worlds. In this lively piece of reporting he captures perfectly the stress and chaos on the under-funded location: the producer’s office doubling as a hotel room set, the disgruntled musings of actors commuting long distances daily, knowing they are living on borrowed time. It was soap on the fly, and in the end the perfect venue for some insightful investigative reporting.
What I really like about the book is its tone of intelligent optimism. Nowhere does it say what everyone else is saying — that soaps are dying. It examines minutely a medium that is still — unlike Tom Hughes — alive and in the fight, even as its numbers dwindle. It’s a uniquely American creation that is still often worth watching — and thinking deeply about.