Soap Operas: Where Did the Yearning & Angst Go?

Where Did The Yearning And Angst Go?

SoapsWEB creator Steve Frame asks where did the yearning and angst go on daytime soap operas?

 

Steve Frame is the creator and Administrator of SoapsWEB (Soap Opera Adoration & Preservation Society WEB). SoapsWeb is dedicated to preserving the history of the soap opera from its beginnings on radio to today. It is also dedicated to preserving the dignity of the soap opera genre through the preservation of the names that made sacrifices and worked to establish the genre so long ago. If you are interested in the genre and reading about it, you will find much to entertain you. Please visit at http://s15.zetaboards.com/SoapsWeb/index/.

Steve’s knowledge of and passion for the soap genre is one of great admiration and we are thrilled he will be providing TVS with his editorials. Enjoy!

As I sit here drinking my 2nd cup of coffee this morning, I am reminded of several things I have read and posted on the Internet the last few months.

On one board, I have been reading back over some posts about Bill Bell’s writing on Days of Our Lives in the 1960′s and 1970′s. It is really a fascinating discussion. Someone posed the question asking what his writing was like on Days which lead to a few more questions about the type of stories and how they took years to culminate. Then the question came — how did it feel to wait that long.

On another site I was just reading yesterday, a lady was complaining about the slow pace of older soaps and how she felt that afternoon shows should have had a quicker pace and that maybe morning shows could have been slower.

All of that has lead me to thinking about my decision in May 2008 to quit watching daytime soap operas – something that has been a big part of my life and viewing habits since 1970. And it has lead me to one conclusion, it is the lack of yearning and angst – both in regards to the stories and to my viewing. In October 2008, I did start back watching three of the current daytime soaps, but I still miss the yearning and angst.

The shows do not provide this viewer with the dramatic intensity that the older slower pacing did, and with that I don’t have the yearning to watch that I once had.

Since I started this with the idea of Bell’s Days, I will continue with that thought. When Bill Bell wrote Days of Our Lives no story ever culminated quickly and no couple was ever blissfully happy for very long. It was always about them being apart and longing to be together again. There was always some insurmountable obstacle that they had to overcome to get there too.

Take for instance Bill Horton and the love of his life Laura Spencer. Bill loved Laura and planned to marry her, but when he felt that he would not be able to operate again due to an illness he had contracted, he couldn’t handle it and left town. When he returned, Laura was married to his brother, Mickey. Bill did a bad thing and raped his sister-in-law. She got pregnant from that rape, but they all knew that Mickey would not be able to handle the fact that the son he so wanted was not his but belonged to his brother. For years Bill and Laura were kept apart. Both loved one another, but they couldn’t be together. Bill did not want to hurt his brother plus he felt guilty for what he had done to Laura.

Bill Bell hit every single story note of that longing to be together. He made Bill and Laura suffer. The more they suffered; the more they longed to be together. As a viewer you ate up every longing look from across the room. You devoured every time that their hands even touched. You waited for each moment that they could be alone together.

And you tuned in every single day to see if today was the day that Laura would finally admit she loved Bill. Or maybe today is the day that Mickey will finally learn the truth about Mike not being his son and finally Bill and Laura can be together. That did not happen until 1975. They fell in love in 1966 but did not get together and marry until 1975.

Over the years many secrets were a part of this relationship too.
First of course was the fact that Bill was Michael’s father. That was discovered by Bill in 1968; by Bill’s father, Tom that same year. Bill’s sister-in-law, Kitty, learned the truth about that same time too. But Mickey and Michael did not find out until 1976.

Second when Kitty learned the truth, she planned to use it to get things she wanted or more than anything to just have something to hold over her in-laws. Bill went to Kitty and begged for the tape. He finally found it and left. Kitty died of a heart attack, but it looked like murder. Bill was charged with the murder, found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and went to prison when he refused to reveal why he went to Kitty’s apartment that night. He spent the majority of 1970 in prison. In 1972, Laura finally discovered the truth about why Bill went to Kitty’s that night.

I of course was too young to see or to remember the years before 1970, but even as a young boy I ate up so much of what happened in those early years of the 1970′s with Bill & Laura.

They went through so many emotions from friendship in 1966 to love later that year, to betrayal when Bill left Laura, to hatred after Bill raped Laura, to guilt over the rape and the secrets, to friendship finally again in 1972 when Laura learned the sacrifice Bill was willing to make for his brother and for her, and then to love again.

It was a roller coaster ride and believe me I loved every single minute of it. Sure much of it was spent watching them glance at one another from across the room or spent listening to them discuss their feelings or explain why they did this or that.

But I can remember with great feeling how I felt each time we were given a moment of them getting to touch hands or to be alone together. I can remember how each of those times was so special, how each kiss was something to treasure. I remember how much more meaningful that marriage on December 4, 1975 was because I had waited so long for it to happen. And even more how special it was on September 11, 1976 when their daughter Jennifer Rose Horton was born to this newly blissfully happy couple.

Bill Bell did not let a note of this story go by quickly. He was like a composer of a masterpiece of music. He dotted every “I” and crossed every “t”. He made sure that his viewers got their money’s worth and he wanted them to feel every emotion that Bill and Laura did. And we did.

I think about today and how much quicker things are paced in the world of soaps and how quick that the fans demand satisfaction today. Today’s fans could not handle a story like Bill & Laura. They could not handle waiting that long to see their couple together. They could not handle it taking that long for a secret to come out. Today’s fans live in this new age of wanting everything now. They live in the drive-thru fast food world, but they do not know what they are missing.

Today’s stories fly by so fast that you no longer get those feelings of yearning anymore. The angst is not given time to build. Today’s pay offs in stories come so fast that they are not appreciated as much as they were back then.

Bill & Laura’s wedding was a big event for us. We had waited so long to see it – everything about it was so special. Every little glance; every little kiss; every little touch – they meant something.

And we were not afforded the pleasures of knowing what was going to happen either. We didn’t have spoilers. We didn’t have next day previews. We didn’t have weekly or bi-weekly magazines that told us what was going to happen. We tuned in to see what was going to happen. We couldn’t wait for the time for our show to come on. We were waiting. We were longing. We were so hoping that today was going to be the day that such and such was going to happen.

The shows had yearning. The shows had angst. In return they got yearning and angst back. Viewers yearned to see their shows each day, and they were filled with angst over what their favorite characters were going through.

Today that is missing for me as a viewer and that is why it was so easy for me to turn daytime soap operas off in May 2008. I still love many of the characters on the shows – sadly many of the ones I really love aren’t featured so I am not missing much. But sadly I am not filled with angst for them like I once was. That is because the shows are not making me care.

Things happen so fast that no real drama is built up. The beats of the story don’t play out like they once did. So much is missed and with things going so fast too, we don’t get to know about the characters and given time to feel and to love them. Without that we really don’t care what happens to them.

With today’s soap opera the only kind of yearning that I have is summed up best by one of the features of Marlena De Lacroix’s blog – it is a “yearning for yesterday”. Now that I do yearn for. It is not just a yearning to see the old soaps, but it is a yearning for that type of storytelling to return to the world of daytime soaps. I want writing that makes me care; that makes me wait; that makes me want to tune in; writing that fills me with angst and makes me yearn for the time my soap opera comes on again.

Now that I would pay good money for.

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