Friday, September 18, 2009

Soap Box

Growing up, I loved soap operas. I mean, LOVED. From the time I was around 4 or 5, I would stop whatever I was doing at noon so that I could watch All My Children with The Mama (yes, yes, that was probably too little to be all up in Erica Kane's shenanigans, but whatever. I turned out fine. Mostly.) For those of you not old enough to remember, in the 80s, soap operas were the BOMB. They had location shoots, and people were always being blown up on jet skis, and thrown down wells so that their twin sisters could impersonate them, and there were montages set to cheesey love ballads...oh, it was glorious.

Also, people got married looking like this.

I watched All My Children over the summers (ah, the days before DVR! Something had to be REALLY good for you to bother with taping it) up until I was around 14 or so, which is why to this day, I still refer to Kelly Ripa as Haley. Then I had a brief flirtation with General Hospital around my junior year of high school, thanks to the "Cassadine family comes back to Port Charles" storyline, but I was hardly a rabid fan.

Then I went to college.

Now, anyone who goes to college is exposed to soap operas. The Husband and I joked that a working knowledge of Days of Our Lives was a pre-requisite for going to Auburn. I did the "potluck" roommate thing, so I ended up living with someone I didn't know, a girl from Arkansas named Janet (also, living with Janet DIRECTLY resulted in me meeting The Husband, as he was one of her friends. So do not turn your nose up at potluck! It can lead to good things! Also, if it doesn't work out, you haven't ruined a lifelong friendship or anything. Okay, disclaimer over.)

Janet was a CBS soap person. She watched Bold and the Beautiful, Young and the Restless, and Guiding Light. I don't know why she skipped As the World Turns, but there you go. I'd never watched any of those since I was an ABC soap person. But it was her TV, so I didn't complain. For the most part, the soaps were just background noise while I read or slept or worked on school stuff.

But a weird thing happened to me Winter Quarter. Maybe it was the cold and short days, or that I had lame classes, or that, since I'd started college a quarter early, I was just burned out. Either way, I fell into a HUGE funk. I mean, it was epic. I still refer to it as "The Winter of my Discontent." All I wanted to do was lie on my bed. I cried at the slightest provocation. I stopped wearing make-up, which, for a girly-girl like myself, was a big deal. I've since learned that this is a very common thing, especially for young women, but at the time, I felt really isolated and yucky.

And that's when Guiding Light saved me.

I was watching it with Janet one day, just kind of half-paying attention like I usually did, when something caught my attention. There was this blonde girl standing on a dock with a dark-haired guy, and he was pointing a gun at her, and she was crying, and they were both yelling, and since it was all intense and extreme, I was intrigued.

"What's their deal?" I asked Janet.

She explained to me that the blonde girl was Michelle Bauer, the sort of goody-two-shoes princess of Springfield (where GL was set), and that she had killed a scumbag Mafia drug dealer named Mick because he tried to rape her. She and her friend had tried to cover up the crime, but his brother, Danny Santos (the dark-haired guy with the gun), had come to town to find out what happened. Along the way, he developed a major thing for Michelle, not knowing that she was actually his brother's murderer. But now he'd found out, and even though he was kind of in love with her, he was going to have to kill her, what with him being in the mob and all.

I may have mentioned *ahem* a time or two how much I enjoy things that are over-the-top and extremely angsty, so it's no surprise that once I heard THAT back story, I was like, "Yes, more, please."

And just like that, I was hooked on Guiding Light. Danny and Michelle's story got progressively MORE awesome: Since he didn't want to kill her, he married her! Because then she'd be in "The Family" so he COULDN'T kill her! But she was in love with someone else! And she kind of hated Danny! So they snarked and fought and had insane sexual tension all while trying to convince his family that they were in love! Because if they didn't, Danny's mom would straight up murder Michelle! And then Michelle worked with the FBI to bring the Santos family down! But by then she was kind of in love with Danny, too! And it was OMG THE ANGSTIEST THING EVER!

Danny, Michelle, and his mom, Carmen. You can FEEL the angst, can't you? Or at least smell the hair product.

But it was more than just the sweet, mafia-tinted angst that brought me out of my funk. Watching Guiding Light helped me bond with Janet. We'd been good roommates during Fall quarter, but by the end of that Winter, we were actual friends, so much so that we ended up living together for the next three years of college (which, again, led to meeting The Husband).

Also, something about my love for that storyline sparked a writerly fire in me. I wrote about 200 pages of a romance novel that quarter. It didn't go anywhere, and it wasn't very good- it was perilously close to fanfiction, actually-, but I learned a lot from writing it, and it got me back in a writing groove. And even now, I think those six months I spent watching Guiding Light continue to have an impact on my writing. I don't know if this is true for every writer, but sometimes when I see or read something, it just clicks with me in such a way that I know I have to explore that idea in my own writing.

Through Danny and Michelle, I learned that one of my favorite love story tropes is something I like to call, "I Hate That I Love You Because My Family and God and Man Say I Can't Love You, BUT YOUR HAIR IS SO SHINY GAH!" Basically, while I like forbidden love, I especially like it when it's internal things keeping the couple apart as opposed to "my friends don't like you." I like when real things are at stake to the characters if they choose to be together, and that's definitely a theme that's carried over into the HEX HALL books, as you'll all see in March! ;-)

I stopped watching Guiding Light around my junior year of college. The Danny and Michelle story lost steam once they got together, and then OriginalRecipe!Michelle left the show, and I was never as fond of her replacement. Still, I was so sad when they announced Guiding Light's cancellation back in April. The last episode airs today, and even though I haven't tuned in since 2001 (and Danny and Michelle haven't been on the show in years), I'll be watching. So thanks, Guiding Light, for pulling me out of a really yucky place, for being a conduit for a great friendship, and for restoring my writer mojo. You'll be missed.

Also, I Tweeted awhile back about how my greatest wish was for HEX HALL to become a TV show so that someone might make an overwrought YouTube video of clips set to a Richard Marx song. This video of Danny and Michelle was the inspiration behind that new career goal. It is lulzy in the extreme due to, again, the ooooverwrooooouuughtness of it all, but I still had to share. (Also, it contains clips from that infamous dock scene that first made me fall in love with GL).


Anonymous said...

I'm sad about GL ending too. I watch As the World Turns, but I was raised on a steady diet of CBS soaps. My mom's taped every episode of Y&R since she was on maternity leave with me 29 years ago. I do think you can learn a lot about storytelling from them.

Also, I ♥ your "I Hate That I Love You Because My Family and God and Man Say I Can't Love You, BUT YOUR HAIR IS SO SHINY GAH!" trope. I can't wait for Hex Hall!

Chantel said...

I concur with the awesomeness that is the soap opera, except for me, it was the telenovelas on Spanish tv. The angst level there is Ay, mi madre!

Lydia said...

I am so glad someone is finally stepping forward about Soap Opera addiction. I haven't watched Guiding Light since I was a kiddo, but All My Children is on a daily timer in my DVR! My mom was in turmoil about Guiding Light this week, so she probably feels your sadness!

Shelli said...

hilarious - I loved bo and hope and used to try and skip high school to watch it. especially to see if Stephano was alive!

Sara said...

Some of my first memories are of GL and As the World Turns... my mum was a big fan. I watched GL through a couple years of high school before I had a job and was mildly obsessed. I'll admit to wanting Michelle to be with Danny's cousin (I think he was a cousin), but that was after you stopped watching I think... :) But whenever I had a craving for cheesy romance and drama - I tune into GL. I can't believe it is being cancelled though, I kind of felt like it would always be there...

I'm more even excited about Hex Hall knowing that GL was an influence!

Paula said...

I'm so glad I ran across this post! You perfectly described my fondness for soaps. Like you, I grew up watching them at around age 4 or 5, at least that's the earliest memory I have of them. I was all about Bo & Hope back in the day! And you are right that the 80's were in fact THE era for soaps! They had big budgets, big storylines, and big hair! lol! These days a lot of soaps seem to use their smaller budgets as an excuse to turn in less than adequate material, which is a shame because I still have a lot of love for this genre and hope that something can and will be done to save it. Oh, and by the way, love that you included Manny in this post! I watched Guiding Light for a lot of years but was never more into it than when the whole Danny and Michelle thing came around. I was glued to the set every time they were on! :)

Paula of "Paula's Soapbox": The Soap Lover's Forum

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