This is a simple column by a complex
Erica Kane is my mother.
She might as well be. I grew up on her, my babysitter, my confidante, my mentor, my surrogate when the real thing had to work late into the night as a waitress in the Ft. Knox, KY NCO Club with no experience and no knowledge of English.
She taught the young Korean bride whose Army sergeant mail-order husband left her for Viet Nam, leaving two young children in his wake, how to slowly speak the vernacular, complete with hair shakes and attitude. The abortion, however, mom been there, done that twice removed.
Our first experience with American television came via All My Children and Erica’s many romantic exploits. At once appalled and intrigued by her shameless flirting and caustic bitching, we fell madly in love nevertheless. And while my mother moved on with her life, leaving soaps far behind sometime after the brutal divorce in the mid-‘70s, I stuck around, smitten.
Throughout the subsequent years, I watched Erica evolve—as much as she could under the soap circumstances—from a self-centered, amoral, lying, backstabbing bitch in heat into a doting, fierce, responsible, career woman, mother and, dare I say?, heroine.
Sure, she tosses her hair a tad much (must she adjust the hairdo whenever she answers the door or approaches a man?), gives in to Emmy-reel worthy histrionics and fights off cathartic crying. This would be Susan Lucci, who shows up on the Home Shopping Network frequently to pitch her hair, jewelry and assorted other accessory products, and frequently crosses over into her character with the hair-tossing and designer clothes-smoothing—now for $9.99 exclusively yours! at Shop the Soaps!—leave it naturally thick and curly, let the tears flow and forget the Emmys.
Oh, the Emmys... The year, 1999. The month, May. I, in my bunny pajamas, sipping from a 2-liter bottle of Coke, giving up hope, marveling at her flawless fashion sense, and— “... The streak is over, Susan Lucci!” (I don’t blame the actress for opening her site with Shemar Moore’s/ex-Malcolm, Y&R, Emmy-winning announcement).
La Lucci recalled, “My reaction… did you ever see the clip? I was so shocked and so overwhelmed and so touched and I will never forget it as long as I live. The reaction from the audience, the reaction from the fans and the continued reaction from the people I meet has been [incredible]…” (SoapCity)
I might as well have been in a car accident or imploded from one too many cheese fries at Jack-in-the-Box for my reaction: chills, goosebumps, electricity coursing through my body, a painful headache before a tidal wave of weeping. That was my mother up there, so shocked and so overwhelmed and so untouchably beautiful and classy, my mother who taught me to fend for myself in a room full of spoiled brat blonde bitches, who taught me to go after the man, the job, the having it all life no matter the obstacle or the bad reputation, who taught me to revere those who love and respect me despite my tremendously overwhelming Erica Kane flaws, and who taught me to speak English with an American accent where, on a spastic manic Monday, I’ll sound very much like the head of a cosmetics company about to pounce on a rival take-over attempt in a rant about the traffic, conservative radio idiots and the two-inch pile of dust over every conceivable surface in my house.
Maybe she resembled my actual mother, Connie, back then in the vertically challenged wig-out of the early ‘70s, the long thick dark hair, the overdone make-up and stilettos, the never-stepping-foot-outside-without-the-full-diva-regalia, even to grocery shop, the typical beautiful girl who wanted to add rich and powerful the easy way. Yup, my mom alright. Take away the Asian features and she might as well have been Erica Kane, including the short, diminutive, seemingly frail stature and the vase-throwing temper tantrums.
Maybe I just appreciate any soap actor who openly embraces his or her roots and who stays for the bad and mediocre times, through several cast changes, upstarts launching themselves into mainstream success, revolving door regimes and hysterically ridiculous attempts to catch a falling trend, someone I can count on to be there no matter what, for the fans, for continuity, for soap integrity.
While other soaps constantly attempt to change the tenets, going for an MTV crowd, fulfilling ADD skips, giving in to prurient proclivities, youthanizing the game plan, AMC – for whatever reason and FWIW – remains loyal to its long-time fans and to the rhythms, flows, and jazz of a one, inimitable, original Erica Kane.
She can be vain, easily won over by flowery praise, unreasonably jealous of any eligible woman in the room, and incredibly demanding of the men in her life, expecting them to break laws and drop everything to protect her and her loved ones and questioning their love when they refuse. And sometimes, she can piss me off to the point where I want to cancel the programming altogether, when she refused to give her firstborn daughter Kendall a chance, much less acknowledge their family ties, such coldness reminiscent of the early Erica, but totally unbecoming the mother she’s grown into, who would hardly allow rape to interfere with blood.
But in the end, she’s mom. Surrounded by a community of admirers who really would drop everything for her every whim – if she really needed them – yet always lonely, as an only child with an incomplete family tree... another similarity to my mother who was adopted by an inn-keeping, unmarried, dour spinster.
The current story involving her beloved daughter, the one she wanted, Bianca and the rape trial has finally taken off in my heart and mind, simply because, goddammit, it’s Erica Kane, and she’s in trouble.
I don’t care about Bianca. I never much cared for portrayer Eden Riegel’s high-pitched version of her, either. Her depiction of a rape victim in denial works in spurts for me, mostly through the far superior interactions of her far superior co-stars. Namely, Susan Lucci.
When Lucci’s Erica got involved, so did I.
The same bone-chilling, headache of a torrent of weeping threatened to overwhelm me when Erica broke through, held her baby girl by the fireplace and looked up to her late mother and to heaven, begging—a rare but true thing for a woman of such dignity—for refuge. And continued before, after, a moment of insecurity in front of surrogate mom Myrtle, of clarity fought with incoherence after David confirmed the worst, of a mother’s rage breaking down in court, “I don’t give a damn about my company!”—perhaps the best scene of all...
If I were next year’s Emmy committee, well, I’ve got my bunny pjs, my 2-liter Coke and a bottle of aspirin ready.
“AMC, kinda sorta maybe better”
“an audience of one”
“add a real dose of reality-TV to soaps”
“Bianca sucks, let’s rape her!”
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