My mother, Norma Jean McAfee, was a woman whom one would describe as “cultured”. She was a true steel magnolia in its finest form. I can remember many events over the years that my mother used as an attempt to broaden the horizons of her husband and three kids. My mother would expose us to movies that ranged from Gone with the Wind and The Ten Commandments to Jesus Christ, Superstar to The Hiding Place. She took us to theater productions of A Christmas Carol and attended operas that told stories of a manically depressed clown, a barber in France, or a ghost ship. In short, my mother exposed us to works that were not only designed to entertain but educate.
Some of my mother’s influence stuck with me. I became active in the theater in high school and performed in several productions. I even briefly considered pursuing a degree in Drama and a career as an actor. Even now, as I type this, I remember going to see a musical with my sister at the Fox Theater in Atlanta, GA.
However, there is another genre of entertainment that my mother also enjoyed. A genre that, in light of the exposure to classical music, opera, musical theater, and ballet; seemed incongruent. I am, of course, referring to the soap opera. Viewers call them “soaps”, “stories”, “serials” (by those old enough to remember their origins in radio), or as one nice woman in Alabama called them: “sope uppers”. The viewing demographic of the soap opera is primarily women ranging in age from 12 to 120 as well as men who loathe admitting publicly that they watch them in the first place. Soap operas offer a world of inner social circles and outside love triangles. Viewers are offered a 5 day a week ritual and the feeling that missing a single episode is roughly equivalent to missing your child’s first steps or forgetting to show up for your own wedding. I know this because I have seen my mother, sister, wife, daughter, and nearly every female friend I have known (and a few male friends in denial) drawn in by the tractor beam that invisibly emanates from the television between 12:30 PM and 4:00 PM Eastern US time.
One may choose to enter the world of soap opera viewing. Some do this out of curiosity or simply wish to occupy the same room as the television. A few cardinal rules MUST be observed:
1. Viewing a soap opera demands more silence than a nun in a library. Attempting to engage a viewer (or anyone else in the room) in conversation will result in either an abrupt “SHUSH!” or the viewer grabbing the remote to raise the volume to the level of a KISS concert. This observance lasts throughout the entire 3 ½ hour viewing ritual 5 days a week. The only exception is when the topic of discussion revolves around the storyline. This is because there is usually one person in the room who has missed a previous episode that has thrown their respective world out of alignment.
2. Bear in mind that soap operas are broadcast across several different networks. For example: one can view “As The World Turns” on one network, General Hospital on another network, and Days of Our Lives on yet another network. Soap opera viewers have an allegiance to ONLY ONE NETWORK. It would be a tremendous faux pas to speak of The Guiding Light and All My Children in the same conversation. This will either get a confused stare or a snobbish look of contempt from the viewers in the room. One who watches the daily goings on of Reva Shayne-Lewis-Cooper-Spaulding-Lewis-Lewis-O’ Neill have no clue about the daily goings on of Opal Sue Gardner-Purdy-Cortlandt.
3. If you have a Digital Video Recorder (or DVR) in your home, you should dispense with any thought of your own viewing pleasure. The DVR merely allows the soap opera viewer to do other activities during the day (such as perhaps a full time job) and view the soap opera in the evening in place of other trivial broadcasting such as the World Series Game 7. My wife does this routinely. Few things amuse me more than watching my wife’s thumb constantly in motion, hovering over the DVR remote so she can quickly fast forward through the commercials that were recorded along with the soap opera.
4. Abandon all sense of reality all ye who view the soap opera. Legend has it that when Hank Williams, Jr. recorded This Ain’t Dallas, This Ain’t Dynasty, soap opera viewers worldwide surrounded his house with pitchforks and torches. You can watch multiple soap operas across several networks and time slots. During the viewing experience, you can witness any or all of the following:
a. A character who has revealed him/herself to be the long lost (or unknown) twin, parent, or child of another major character.
b. A character that has died and come back from the dead. It can also be revealed that this character never truly died but was in hiding somewhere in Europe. After all, let’s not make a travesty of the story line.
c. A female character who, over the course of the character’s lifetime, has married several men ALL FROM THE SAME FAMILY. This would include the father of her former husbands. Often this character will hear of a young man from this family reaching adulthood and immediately begin setting up a wedding gift registry.
d. All characters, male and female, are dressed to the nines in outfits that would cost the average viewer a week’s wages. All male characters of any adult age have the physique of an Adonis. All female characters of any adult age have a figure that would require me to use an explicit label if I described it any further.
e. Someone in the town has been murdered. This character usually has enough enemies that a list of suspects would require using database computer software.
5. Lastly, one must bear in mind that the soap opera is not a passing fancy. Unlike, CopRock and the Macarena, the soap opera is here to stay. The Guiding Light has its origins in radio and has been around for more than 70 years. It is wise to resign to the fact that the soap opera is not going away.
Now, that the five cardinal rules of soap opera viewing have been stated, one can choose to assimilate to the environment or cautiously avoid the tractor beam. Once drawn in, you can never truly leave the soap opera realm permanently. Just today, I overheard a woman say she was grateful she lost her job so that way she could “catch up on her stories”.