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recollections of television are of "The Price is Right" and
Bob Barker's sequin-clad buddy saying, "Come on down. You're the
next contestant on `The Price is Right'!" Running home from kindergarten
to catch the second half of the show and see who won the showcase showdown
was as important as the cheese and mustard sandwich that was waiting
to be eaten in front of the television. I also remember watching "The
Dukes of Hazard" while holding my matchbox versions of the General
Lee and Daisy's jeep and wearing my Bo and Luke nightgown. Television
has shaped my life because I have spent so much time watching it. It
has given me a constant reference point, hours of entertainment and
escape and many colorful memories. I can always refer back to a time
in my life by recalling what my favorite television show was at that
Although each program I have ever watched is permanently engraved in my head,
never to be forgotten and always to be quoted, it is soap operas that have
followed me and helped me grow more than any other form of TV media.
I really had no choice but to watch soap operas. My mother has always watched
them. She remembers the first episodes of my favorite soaps--"Days of
Our Lives" (DOOL) and "Another World" (AW). She was hooked from
the start and so was I. I am not sure if her having watched them while she
was pregnant with me really made much of a difference or not, but I cannot
give them up.
While everyone else my age (myself included) was watching children's television--"3-2-1
Contact," "Sesame Street" and "The Magic Garden," I
was also watching DOOL and AW. I never gave up watching what my friends watched
or what was most popular, but from 1 to 3 p.m. everyday, the soaps were it.
Being addicted to soaps can cause a problem. All I knew about my soaps until
I was about eight was who was married to whom and who I though was pretty.
The problem was that I missed the soaps while in school. My mom kept me updated
through middle school, and I always watched over the summer.
The first episode I remember clearly is when Hope almost married Larry on DOOL.
Bo rode up to the church on his motorcycle wearing a black leather jacket.
He rescued Hope from the future of an unhappy marriage and whisked her off
through green grass on his bike. It was that day that I told my mom I wanted
to marry someone just like Bo, someone who rides a motorcycle wearing a leather
There are two good things about soap opera addiction: 1). the story lines tend
to move slowly, and if you miss an episode or two, you can still tell what
is going on and 2). soap operas do not end on television. The TV Guide has
a weekly update page and there is a plethora of soap magazines. I made it all
the way to the eighth grade depending on soap media (magazines) updates and
my mom for the stories I missed.
There is such a variety of soap magazines. There are the ones called weeklies
and the Soap Opera Digest. Whenever I went food shopping with my mom
I spent the time waiting on the checkout line reading about my soaps. I only
bought the issues that had one of my soaps on the front cover. The spring issues
are always the most fun because they are filled with wedding pictures.
Reading a soap magazine only took me about 20 minutes. I only had to read about
my soaps. The sad part is that I never threw them out. I have a bottom desk
drawer filled with these magazines. Some I managed to rip apart and save only
the important articles and pictures. But others I had to keep like the one
issue with Jenn and Jack's wedding pictures all over it. It had special behind-the-scenes
photos--what can I say? I still hoard over the old issues with the original
actors' pictures in them.
Along the way I had acquired a taste for night-time soaps as well. "Dallas" was
the most important, followed closely by "Falcon Crest." I watched
while baby-sitting; I watched with my parents; I watched with my friends. We
talked about them at school. Fridays meant only two things for me--the first
day of the weekend and my night-time soaps.
But watching night-time soaps was different from watching my five-day-a-week
soaps. Night-time soaps were more adult. They actually had a season. They began
in late September and ended in mid-May. They were long awaited over the summer.
They were only once a week so you had to remember what happened the week before.
To me it was important to watch night-time soaps because it meant I was an
adult. Night-time soaps pulled me out of cartoons and educational programming
and into the world of sex, money and mischief. They differed from the day-time
soaps because they seemed more regal. J.R. Ewing's office at Ewing Oil was
larger and more expensively decorated than the ones on day-time TV. He had
more secretaries and larger parties. What I watched on day-time TV was taken
to the farthest extent on night-time soaps probably because the audience requires
more drama and exaggeration.
The only thing I missed in watching night-time sagas of the Ewings making oil
and the "Falcon Crest" family making wine was teenage actors. The
night-time soaps rarely ran stories with child or teenage actors--it made me
grow up, but I longed for a soap of people closer to my own age. I found it
in a daily soap called "Tribes" that ran at 5 p.m.
The "Tribes" stories were good--one girl was raped by her brother's
best friend and could not say anything about it; one family had more money
than another and the teenagers did not feel equal. The problem was the acting
was horrible. Maybe it was because I was used to professional, adult soaps
that had well-known actors and had been on for years. To me "Tribes" was
amateur--amateur acting and amateur scenery. Nothing seemed real on the show.
When the school the teenagers attended was shown, it did not look like an actual
building but more like a picture. The houses they lived in seemed plastic.
You could tell that behind the walls of the set was nothing but a set. It was
far from the grandeur of my normal soaps, but I needed to know what happened.
I watched until it was canceled.
It was at this same time that I realized I could not continue reading updates
for my daily soaps. I had to start taping them. Everyday, whether someone was
in my house or not, from 1 to 3 p.m. my VCR turned itself on, taped DOOL and
AW and turned itself off. I felt much better being able to come home and watch
Jenn and Jack's wedding rather than read about it and see pictures in a magazine.
There was something about seeing just who was placed where and watching the
expressions on the faces of the actors that could not be replaced with pictures
in a magazine. Soap operas put on such a show. Everything is dramatic and over-played.
That's what I like about them. They are fantasy and need to be seen as such,
but unlike reading a book and imagining in our head what the scene would look
like, soaps show you the scene.
The clincher for me with soaps has always been that I feel like I know the
characters. I know their lives, who they've loved, who they've lost, who they've
married and who they've divorced. I notice when an actor dyes his hair or when
an actress cuts hers. Soap operas, in their being so dramatic, are very visual.
To this day I can exactly describe a wedding dress or the house of any character
because soaps put on such a show to make a point. When Kayla married Patch
on DOOL, it wasn't just on a boat, it was on a boat covered in her favorite
flowers--yellow roses. She didn't just marry him; she heard him take his vows--after
a year of being deaf--she'd regained her hearing at the wedding! That's typical
soap opera, but visually played out it is dramatic, beautiful and unforgettable.
These are images engraved in my head because the soaps make you feel like you're
there. You're not just an outsider watching a one-shot deal. You hear and see
the attitudes, feelings and actions of the characters. If you watch long enough
you can predict just which way an actor will tilt his head when he's upset
or smile when she's happy.
During my first year in high school, while I was busy taping and watching two
hours of day-time TV everyday, Fox and Aaron Spelling introduced another addiction--"Beverly
Hills 90210." In this case it was both peer pressure and the need to know
what was happening that kept me watching. It was peer pressure because Ian
Zeiring, the actor who plays Steve Sanders, graduated from my high school,
and we all had to do our part to support an alum It was all anyone talked about. "Beverly
Hills," like "Tribes," was my own soap (dramatic series in this
case). I watched from the beginning and immediately felt more a part of "Beverly
Hills" because it was about people my age than I did when I started watching
the other soaps. It took time for me to connect to the soaps that I watched
with my parents because I had not been watching them from their beginning.
This time I knew everything--I was positive of the history.
The story-lines pertained to my life, although on TV they were always taken
to extreme. There were girls in my school who were pregnant, just as Brenda
feared she once was. Drinking was attacked on "90210" about the same
time a car that had been in a drinking and driving accident was displayed in
my high school parking lot to prove to us just how unsafe it is. Fashion became
whatever Kelly, Brenda and Donna wore, while the epitome of cool was having
side burns like Dylan and Brandon. I watched those eight teenagers go to class,
fool around and experience daily life--just as I was. Unlike the day-time soaps
where normal episodes are unimportant and hard to remember, once-a-week show
are not. One episode that sticks out in my mind is the one in which David's
friend, Scott, was accidentally killed. At my school the episode hit hard.
The previous year one of our students was killed accidentally as well, although
not in the same manner. It made us all remember and relate as we watched actors
play out what we felt.
"Beverly Hills," like the day-time soaps, did not stop at just watching
every Thursday for me. I taped every episode because my friends and I were seriously
convinced they would be worth something someday. I've only recently started taping
over them now. I subscribed to the Beverly Hills, 90210 magazine, read
all the books about the actors, and my room was plastered with posters of the
gang. Conversation at school on Friday revolved around what happened the night
before with our counterparts at West Beverly High School.
By the time I was in high school both "Dallas" and "Falcon Crest" had
ended. This left me with only one respectable night-time soap--"Knots
Landing." Knots was on from 10 to 11 p.m., but it didn't take any convincing
to let me watch it with my mom. Each soap has its own image that stands out
in my mind the most--a certain wedding or funeral or a certain couple and its
coinciding song. The "Knots" image is the beginning when the credits
roll. The beginning of a soap is generally the symbol for the soap. There is
no way I could ever forget the "Dallas" lines and faces that appear
and disappear, the hour glass that signifies DOOL or the cartoony versions
of the actors on AW. But the beginning of "Knots" is by far the prettiest
and most memorable for me. It begins with a beach scene then splits the screen
to show pictures of the actors on the top and their names (alphabetically)
in reverse print on the bottom. The camera shot pans from one actor to the
next. At the end you see the words "Knots Landing" written in the
sand. I never missed the opening credits.
I've spent my life watching soap operas, and they've spent their time influencing
me. They are the topic of endless conversation. When I started college and
met new people who watched my soaps, I immediately had something to talk about
with them. They are old friends I know will be on five out of seven days each
week unless pre-empted by the news. I still tape two hours everyday (although
being here in Madrid it's a little hard to keep up. I have my friends and family
sending me updates. This is the first time in eight years I haven't seen every
episode!). I've seen myself grow through the soaps I've watched--the day-time
ones I've always watched, the adult ones I watched as a young teenager when
I only wanted to be an adult, the teenage ones I watched in high school when
it was cool to be in high school, and now I'm just back to the old standbys.
These soaps, these images on TV, have influenced what I wear (trying to look
like your favorite soap star or wearing a shirt that reads "Beverly Hills,
90210" although in my town we wore them that said West Orange, 07052),
what I read (soap magazines and books written about soap stars and how the
shows are made), and they've influenced how I've decorated my room ("90210" posters,
center-spreads of characters or poems about soaps). In reality all these soaps
are images someone else has created for me to see. The stories are no one's
real life (maybe spun from real-life occurrences though). They are what someone
else wants me to see. They've been a release--a world away from reality into
which I can escape for a few hours everyday. They are all glitz, glamour and
fantasy--a world I think people sometimes dream about living in. Watching soaps
is like never losing your Ken and Barbie dolls--it's a fantasy world you can
escape into and out of at anytime. It's make-believe for adults. It's make-believe
that I will never give up.
March 9, 1997
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