February 24, 2005
“ A mental view or outlook…The relationship of aspects of a subject to each other and to a whole…”
A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our girls out for pizza. When he took the youngest with him to the register to pay the check, our oldest, who is seven, happened to turn around and notice a group of young people at a large table in the back of the room. I immediately suspected what would come next, and sure enough, she turned back around with a look of wonder on her face. “Mom!” she said in her most astonished (and loud, of course) voice, “That girl has blue hair!” I immediately launched into my hushed “We don’t want to say things that might make someone feel bad…” routine. She cut me off at “bad” and said, “No, Mom, you don’t understand. I LOVE it! I think it’s really interesting!” Interesting is her latest word du jour. Previously, everything was unexpected…she had that one perfected down to “Well that’s (insert pause and place index finger on chin) …unexpected”. Children never fail to help you see the “relationship of aspects of a subject to each other” from a completely different angle.
I’ve mentioned before that I started watching As the World Turns on CBS a few months back. It’s an enjoyable hour for me, and I’m still new enough to be able to fast forward without any guilt the things that don’t interest me. It’s practically a match made in heaven. I’ve considered writing a column on the show, but I’m really still getting the feel for Oakdale and I’m still easily confused. I mix up characters names, I have a very sketchy (at best) knowledge of the history, and I just don’t feel confident enough yet to dive in. It would help me a lot if Alison or Katie changed their hairstyle a bit so I wouldn’t keep seeing the back of a blonde head and wondering why Katie is kissing Aaron. When you’re new, sometimes you seriously wonder if you missed something! Maybe Katie and Aaron have a past and she just ran up to him at the diner (does that place have a name?) and started smooching! I will give ATWT credit though because they’re ever so helpful in delineating characters if you just pay attention to wardrobe. Katie = little tennis skirt (pleats optional). Lily = dramatic V-neck (cleavage mandatory). Julia = jeans and teeny tight shirt, Julia’s rebellious you see, so winter can be dammed! Who needs sleeves when you have other women’s husbands to keep you warm? Carly = Cowgirl Chic? Seriously, does she have a history as a country singer? Rodeo clown? Glen Campbell’s fan club president? I’d find pictures but all the plaid, piping, and yokes would probably harm you for life. Plus, I haven’t even attempted to find an ATWT screen cap site…judging by what I’ve found for the show so far on the ‘net, I’d guess that might be difficult.
Beyond the base enjoyment of what takes me back to a simpler soap era (and that should completely be taken from the perspective of a longtime General Hospital viewer…I suspect few yearn for that era more than we do), I have learned something incredibly important that has actually, oddly enough, made it easier for me to go back toward…and even enjoy at times…that longtime love of mine. Before you start asking me for contact info for whatever dealer I’m using, let me say that this isn’t *new* information. It isn’t anything you don’t already know. I’ve known it for years, but this is the first time it truly hit home for me. I’ve peeked in and out of several soaps over my life: Days, One Life to Live, All My Children, etc. The first time I saw any of them was in my youth, when soaps were more like an occasional snack in between phone calls and toenail painting. Starting a new soap was different back then, my time was not at a premium and escapism not as hard to come by. I had very, very occasionally seen bits and pieces of ATWT before now, and having read soap magazines and watched award shows for years I was aware of many of the actors and the characters they play, but the bits and pieces amounted to pretty much nothing I realized when I sat down to really watch. So that makes ATWT the first new soap I’ve started viewing in my adult life. I watched for a few weeks without discussing the show much with anyone, because I wanted to form my own opinions. Once I did start to talk with friends, check out a few message boards, etc, I was truly surprised.
In my first few weeks I saw Carly discover her amnesiac husband with another woman, and I felt for her. Until she opened her mouth, that is. I was astonished to find that people root for Carly! I heard/read things like “She’s scrappy, she stands up for what’s hers!” Yeah…I certainly hear “mine” a lot from her, so I guess this applies. “She’s fought too hard for what she has, to lose it now!” Yes, well so do mosquitoes but we slap them anyway. I admit that after talking to friends about her, I had the desire to hate her a little extra to make up for those poor lost souls that think she’s worth worrying about! Somewhere along the way though, I found myself watching General Hospital’s Carly and considering that much of the reason I cannot stand to watch that character anymore has to do with her history. As in who she used to be as opposed to who she is now. I wouldn’t attempt to make cross-soap Carly comparison’s, largely because I know very little of ATWT Carly beyond what I’ve seen with my own two eyes. But I would guess that there was a time when GH’s Carly could’ve been compared to ATWT Carly, in some ways. I do know that GH’s Carly was never likeable, never good, and she always screwed things up. I had no reason to root for her back when I did, but there it is…I kind of did. I didn’t feel guilty about reveling a bit in her over-the-top confrontations with people. I didn’t need for her to be right for me to enjoy her and see beyond the shrewish-ness she often exuded from every pore. A large part of that was due to knowing where she came from and understanding exactly who she was because I *saw* her vulnerabilities once upon a time. I witnessed the vendetta against her mother come to an end. I saw Bobbie hand Carly her son one snowy night. It never made Carly justified in her behaviors, but it made watching her an exercise in psychology at times. It made her dimensional.
Since then things have changed and I don’t see the same Carly I used to on General Hospital. Many of the things that made her work for me, are gone. The character I watch now feels like an empty shell of the character I used to watch. It’s kind of odd though because really, Carly is overall probably nicer now. She’s beyond selfish still, and she makes that very obvious, but she doesn’t screw up as often and supposedly Sonny has taught her where her place is and for the most part, she toes the party line. She’s supermom, or so they say. The problem for me is that it’s *not* Carly, so everything the writers tell me about her goes right past my brain and lands somewhere near my garbage can. My feelings about certain ATWT characters though, made me trip right over all that stuff I’ve let fly on by. Why wouldn’t someone who started viewing six months ago believe what the writers tell him or her? How about three months ago? How sympathetic would that viewer be to Emily? This is hard for me, but I’m choosing to leave actors out of this for now…because I do believe there is a decent segment of people out there who really don’t care that much about blockbuster acting. If the story is decent, and it connects with them, they’ll put up with a lot. Maybe rightly so, I don’t know. But leaving the skill and possible detriment of the actors to a character out of the equation and just taking the story at face value, I’ve begun to better understand the true beauty of soap operas.
I’ve said it hundreds of times, in this column, in emails, to friends. I love hearing differing opinions. I’m not one to feel like someone else has to have the same feelings about certain characters or storylines as I do. However, I admit I’ve also been guilty of basically trying to “convince” someone that they just aren’t getting it; that the history doesn’t support it, or actions are totally out of character. Out of what character though? The character I’ve known for years or the character you just met? Soap characters are making first impressions every day to someone.
None of this makes much of a difference in my opinions really. Both Carly’s annoy the hell out of me at the moment. I have though, of late, been viewing them both a little bit differently. I don’t think anyone should have to put much thought into their feelings about soap characters, unless they want to for some reason. I shouldn’t have to justify my desire to laugh in ATWT Carly’s face when she (yet again!) sends her supposed friend in to do what amounts to her own dirty work, never once feeling bad about it any longer than it takes her to come up with a new way to mess her life up a bit more. She appears to be getting exactly what she deserves to me. If she wants to support Lily, she should tell her to show Holden the door and send him divorce papers herself. I understood his point of view regarding their marriage and the whole Craig thing, but that doesn’t mean I think she should grovel and beg to get him back. At the moment I can’t feel sorry for either Carly or Lily, they’re not sympathetic to me at all. I know people who find the whole thing upsetting and sad though, and we have not one thing in common when we try to discuss the storyline. Actually I suppose that’s not true, I suppose what we have in common is an interest in the story, an investment in the outcome – albeit it different ones. And really, how perfect is that? It’s very much like life, and you win some and lose some. Sometimes the couple that hosted last year’s New Year’s Eve party ends up divorced even though you thought they were such a perfect couple. And probably there’s someone else who was at that party that thought she should’ve left him years ago. Maybe more importantly, one or both of the newly divorced ex-couple would probably tell you that the other acted completely out of character along the path to the destruction of their marriage.
History matters, but it inevitably matters more to those that witnessed it. Sometimes that’s hard for soap viewers to accept. What are Luke and Laura now? If the last year was all you saw, even if you were told about their “great love”, could you really feel it? Could you really care? It’s an intangible. It’s someone’s recitation of something that is no longer the point of the story, for the moment at least. A good soap remembers to go back and bring it up again. It remembers to show new viewers a glimpse so that they can build their own version of a character’s history. Because whether we realize it or not, that’s exactly what we all do…no matter how long we’ve been watching. History is one thing, but soap viewing has no end, it’s constantly evolving. What happens now does change characters – this is the history they’ll have ten years from now, “in” character or “out”. I guess the only thing all this thinking about this subject has really done for me is to make me notice the little things and take them into consideration. I want to form my own opinions of ATWT characters. That’s how I can make it “my show”. So when Lily reminded Holden of how they used to be, I listened and I chose to believe it even though I’ve never seen it. I let it be part of who they are to me now. Then Lily screeched something along the lines of “Die, bitch, die” and I let that be part of who they are now, as well…because I’m ever the equal opportunity viewer!
As for General Hospital, all of this has made me realize that as much as I might like to pretend the last few years just didn’t even happen, someone else is probably loving every second of it. Even if it doesn’t feel like “my show” most days anymore, it certainly is exactly that to someone, I’m sure. Sometimes now, I can view it without my expectations and while it doesn’t make it a great show again, it does sometimes makes it better than it was a few months ago. I find myself wondering how I’d feel if I hadn’t already watched almost the same scene 85 times. How would I feel if I’d been gunplay free for a long while? What if I really believed that Carly acts out of bravery and not the fear I remember her actions to stem from?
Does any of this change my view of General Hospital as a whole? Nope. We need a writing change, an EP change, new light bulbs…I don’t wish to put the wardrobe people out of work but they must promise to stop trying to make everyone blend into the sets! Dressing Reese so all but her head and hands disappear when she sits on Sonny’s couch is not the way to convince us that she meshes well. But then, I suppose that does make her head a more visible target for the day when Sonny wants to prove his love. But back to what we need: more families, less mob, less Sonny, more police, more friendships, less hypocrisy. Several of those are universal, and are obvious to viewers new and not so new. At this point, I’m ready to expend my soap wishes on those and let some of the rest slide. Yep, I realize I keep lowering my expectations…and probably I’m getting too easy in my old age, but sometimes fighting things just wears a person down until they can’t even recognize when something good does appear. There are many great actors working in daytime today, some in great stories on great shows, some in good stories on so-so shows, and some in crappy stories on crappy shows. If I’ve learned anything in the last few years it’s that you don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and you don’t stop appreciating that you get to watch someone work a little magic every day. I hated the idea of this Lucky/Luke story on sight, and knew I would suffer through it, complaining the whole way. Tony Geary reminded me that to dismiss his ability to make me feel and empathize with his character would truly be a mistake. I couldn’t equate it with history, I couldn’t accept that it was in character…but a few minutes over a few days made me realize that maybe I don’t know all of Luke just yet. I may not always like the new things I learn about these characters, but in the right hands I’m still putty. And when a beloved soap is throwing what appears to be an endless tantrum, maybe it’s best to stick to the old adage and pick your battles.
“My show” will return someday, no doubt leaving a whole legion of fans disappointed by the turn of events. I don’t intend to apologize to anyone when that day comes, but I probably will empathize a bit more than I ever thought I would. Soaps are just like family, you either accept that they’ll disappoint you and that you’ll disappoint them, or the whole thing implodes. And just like family, even when you hate them…deep down you hope they’ll always be there – even if it has to be in their imperfect state.
I realize this has jumped and skipped over several topics, and I’m not entirely convinced it makes sense even to me. Sometimes you try to verbalize (in writing? lol) and it flows, and sometimes it just doesn’t. So just for the record, we can blame it on cold medication and the fact that my seven-year-old wants to dye her hair blue. Not entirely blue mind you, just big chunky streaks of blue because see, from her perspective, there’s a difference.
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