Vintage Generation: Why Soaps Should Play on Character History

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Photo: ABC

Watching a soap opera should feel like borrowing your mom’s old go-go boots for a night of clubbing or curling up on your couch under a hand-knitted afghan that your grandmother gave you. The draw of nostalgia is something that should not be overlooked, especially in soaps.

As the saying goes, “what is old is new again.” Go to any hip coffeehouse and look around.  You’ll probably see people in black plastic-rimmed glasses and vintage dresses that they bought on Esty. And if you listen, their topics of conversation will seem vaguely familiar. Feminism is back in style (may it never go out of style again) and NPR is now cool.

Why can’t this new flare for yesteryear spill over into soap land? Many aspects of soaps do need some modernization. When it comes to storylines and characters though, gaining inspiration from the glory days of soaps could be the best way to actually attract a young audience.

Storylines seem to work best when they take inspiration from the pasts of veteran characters. General Hospital’s recent adventures from Faison’s masquerading as Duke (and the subsequent melting mask) to the frozen Cassadines were well received for a good reason. These are the type of stories that today’s twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings watched with their mothers and grandmothers when they were younger. They were our entertainment during the dog days of summer when it was too hot to play outside. The fantasy they provided seemed like fairytales when we were younger and still managed to be thought provoking. The edginess that soaps were so keen to implement came from sensationalism.

My suggestion for today’s soaps would be to utilize the shows’ vets in major storylines that are reflective of the character’s popular pasts. This doesn’t mean that shows should be all vets all the time. If soaps are to maintain longevity, they need to create new vets. The younger cast of characters should follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. Instead of Disney Channel style teens and twenty-somethings, give me innocent good girls with misunderstood bad boys, knights in shining armor, manipulative gold diggers, and bitches with hidden vulnerability.

These types of characters were a soap opera tradition for many years for a good reason. They work well for a genre that is about escapism. All My Children has a great cast of new younger characters that is working really well. I believe it is because the characters are designed with classical soap character arch types in mind; giving them a familiar feel for the audience. They don’t seem out of place when woven into storylines with the veteran characters. If a young character is good, give them a lead role, but don’t have separate storylines for each generation.

AJ Quartermaine’s recent return to General Hospital has given the show opportunity to utilize a multi-generational cast while revisiting the story of Michael’s parentage. Sonny and Carly used AJ’s downward spiral into alcoholism as a means to gain custody of baby Michael. While Sonny and Carly’s actions were done out of grief from losing their own child in a tragic accident, their actions were pretty ruthless. After hanging AJ on a meat hook and taunting him with a bottle of booze, Sonny was able to force AJ into signing away his parental rights. Michael never knew the truth.

When Sean Kanan brought AJ back to life last year this story was also resurrected. Michael learned the truth and as a result, grew closer to AJ. AJ and Monica learned about some of the awful things that happened to Michael, causing them and the audience to wonder what it would have been like if Michael was raised Quartermaine. Sonny and Carly had to deal with the fear of losing Michael as their past caught up with them. This story is rooted in the shows past and still seems very relevant.

Many young viewers probably remember watching General Hospital with their mothers and grandmothers when the battle over Michael first began. I remember watching it with my gal pals while we painted our nails and talked about boys during the commercials. I think that is why this storyline and ones like it feel very meaningful now. They feel modern, yet, manage recall what it is that originally drew us to the genre. It gives a chance for fans to reminisce and as a result, creates some great discussion. This can be appealing to young audiences.

I think the reason why some prefer vintage to brand new is because of the comforting, familiarity of a time that once was. These well-traveled items have a clearly defined identity that makes them feel more important than other things. They seem to have more value to them because of the sentimental reasons.

Soap operas should be the same way. They should appeal to use both intellectually and emotionally. Soap operas should feel like home.

About The Author

Jenn Bishop is TVSource Magazine's Soap Editor. She's a thirty-something fan girl of soapy television and anything involving Joss Whedon. She began sharing her views on daytime soaps in 2012 with her blog Save Our Suds. A former philosophy major, she loves discussing different view points with fellow TV addicts and aficionados. When not watching television, she enjoys art, live music, exploring the Midwest food scene, and drinking too many lattes. Follow her on Twitter at @SourceJenn.

  • Michelle

    Overall I just love good storytelling and great actors. I can’t speak on the old because I’m a new generation viewer who just do happened stumbled upon Passions while being home on a school day. The storyline that was playing out hit close to home because I too was conflicted about talking in love with my best friends boyfriend. Since then i grew to love passions and their quirky stories. After passions left nbc, i stopped watching soaps until i found out the big three moved to dool. Then i feel in love with the complicated and riveting story of ejami. To this day i still don’t know all of Salem’s history.