Back to US Life Histories

Mee-dia (Soaps)

My first 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 point.

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 jacket.



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

Back to US Life Histories