Soap operas: Their outlandish storylines and the antics of the characters have made them objects of ridicule over the years. They’ve been pigeonholed as women’s entertainment, although I’ve known men who’ve watched, too. “Washboard weepers,” the shows used to be called. I’m a longtime soap viewer, dating back to childhood. I’m not much of a celebrity chaser these days, so I’m sheepish about admitting it, but I can remember standing in line at a local mall to meet one of my favorite characters from “Guiding Light” when he visited for a promotional event at a department store … many years ago, of course.
Sadly, the soaps seem to be a dying breed these days. I’ve always exclusively watched the ones airing on CBS, and the offerings have dwindled alarmingly over the past couple of years. First, it was “GL,” historically significant for its number of years on radio and television, which was cut. Last fall, “As the World Turns,” another long-running soap on the network, got the axe. Both of them victims, supposedly, of changing tastes in television due to various societal changes, as well as high production costs compared with other types of shows. I’m down to just two soaps to watch, “The Young and the Restless” and “The Bold and the Beautiful.” Eventually, I fear they, too, may be replaced by game shows, talk shows and so-called “reality” TV. At least the soaps don’t masquerade as reality; we all know it’s make-believe, a harmless escape.
I had a professor when I was in graduate school who suggested, not completely tongue-in-cheek, that there might be something for us as counselors-in-training to learn from the soaps. Don’t laugh, but I think she may have been on to something. Just don’t take too many relationship cues from the soaps, or before you know it, you’ll be marrying and remarrying the same person countless times, dating two or three generations of men within the same family and possibly worse. (Oh, and don’t be surprised if you have a long-lost identical twin sister somewhere out there you never knew about.)
You may have noticed something distinctive about soaps, how it is possible to leave a show and then pick up watching again at a later point, only to easily get caught up. Sometimes, even, after the passage of a significant amount of time. I think it has to do with the nature of the dialogue on the soaps. And that’s part of the appeal.
Many of the soap characters are not half bad as communicators (which, you would think, would lead to more satisfying relationships with friends, family and romantic partners than is usually the case for this unfortunate lot). There are plenty of minimal encouragers, ample paraphrasing and summarizing going on, and the characters reflect feeling and meaning endlessly. Watch sometime.
Hope Yancey is a counselor and freelance writer living in Charlotte, North Carolina