Here’s some advice for soap fans — don’t feed the pig!
I was an “outside” sales person for a long time, and years ago my territory included some extremely remote areas in the hills of West Virginia. I made biweekly excursions along desolate winding mountain roads (suitable only for goats) and on one of these trips I happened upon a beautiful old farm house nestled in a clearing among the hills. As I admired the picturesque view and the sunshine glistening off of the crops, I was startled by movement in my peripheral vision and when I turned to see what it was, I was stunned to see the biggest pig in the universe. I swear this pig was as big as my Ford Taurus! Now you might think I am embellishing the facts to promote a good story, and I admit I have no qualms with exaggeration or even outright prevarication if it’s entertaining. That’s what soaps are all about, right? However, in this specific case, my assessment of this particular pig’s magnitude is wholly accurate and my husband, who is not a soap fan, and is probably the most level-headed, pragmatic individual you could possibly encounter, will verify the truth because I made him go see this pig so he would believe me.
I’ve often wondered how on earth that pig became so enormous. Clearly there was some heavy chromosomal cocktail working and the pig was genetically predisposed to be big. Genetics alone, however, cannot explain how this pig was allowed to grow so incredibly huge. There is absolutely no practical purpose for a pig to become that size. The average city dweller might look at the pig and think “Dayum! That’s a lot of bacon!” but in actuality, the pig was too large to get on a truck to take to a slaughterhouse, and I don’t know how, if you killed it yourself, you could manage to get the carcass loaded or transported for processing. Furthermore, as far as livestock goes, pigs are very smart, and very vicious. They are one of the few mammals actually known to eat their live young. A gigantic, intelligent, vicious pig is not a desirable creature to have hanging around your home. I’ve come to believe this pig grew so large because its owners just absent mindedly kept feeding it until one day they happened to notice it outgrew its usefulness.
When her husband sat at the table to eat breakfast Ma asked “Pa, did you feed the pig?” Pa promised he would, but later when Ma went to hang clothes on the line to dry, she thought “I better go feed that pig just in case” so you have two people feeding the pig. At first they make sure to feed the pig the right food, but eventually they just start feeding it whatever. Ma feeds it leftovers from the table. The kids throw candy bars and melting popsicles in the trough, never noticing that the pig eats the wrappers and sticks too. Additionally, they just keep delaying sending the pig to be slaughtered, so it just keeps getting bigger. Finally, the pig gets so big it eats whatever the hell it wants. One day the dog is gone and everyone just assumes it ran away, but really the pig ate it. Neighbor children go missing and everybody searches far and wide not realizing the pig ate them. All the while, Ma and Pa can’t figure out what in the devil they’re going to do with this monstrous pig.
Now that I’ve told you far more about pigs than you ever needed to know, you probably wonder what this has to do with soap operas. Well, I admit this pig has become something of a symbolic figure for me. My own personal Moby Dick. He/she (I never determined its true gender for obvious reasons) has come to represent all of those elements in life that simply grow larger than any practical purpose should permit and beyond anything manageable and as they grow they also consume far more resources than they will ever return, all of which sometimes happens without conscious thought or design. I find a lot of “pigs” in the soaps. One recent and probably the most glaring example is the Todd and Marty rapemance on One Life to Live. Let me be clear. I am completely dispassionate about this story. I feel nothing but apathy for Marty, Todd, John or Cole. I find nothing remotely interesting about it other than the extreme reactions from the fans. But, I saw this pig growing from the beginning. I watched as the online community initially fed this pig with titillation and intrigue and, in some cases, tacit encouragement for the writers to tell the story as long as they didn’t cross that line and take the story down a full blown romantic path.
As soon as Todd became Marty’s caretaker, every discussion of One Life to Live became focused on this story, and anything else that was happening on the show became little more than a sidebar. As the story developed and edged closer and closer to that line in the sand, the furor increased, the columnists and magazines became obsessed with the pig and the pig grew ever larger while it continued to feed upon the fascination and controversy. By the time it became evident that the story would forge full steam ahead into that territory few believed it would ever go, the pig had grown so large it would feed upon anything and everything, including outrage, horror and disgust. Everyone should have seen this behemoth pig coming for miles. This phenomenon occurs over and over and over again, and we never seem to learn that screeching and gnashing our teeth in protest practically guarantees they’re going to plow straight forward and tell exactly the story to which we most strongly object. We’re partially responsible, because we just keep feeding the pig every step of the way until it becomes this enormous, vicious, grotesque pigasaurus that eats everything in its path.
The lesson is twofold. The first is for the viewers. If you are vehemently opposed to a story, the most important thing you can do to avert it is avoid “feeding the pig” with any attention whatsoever, including the negative. Close your eyes and pretend the atrocity is not happening. Ignore it completely. Stop posting about it. Stop writing letters to the executives and soap magazines. Stop calling the comment line. Don’t even whisper about it with your friends, because apathy is the only thing that does not seem to consume voraciously. The second lesson is for the creators of the stories. If you’re going to create a “pig” this hideous, this grotesque, this repugnant to so many viewers, don’t you dare try to wrap up in 13 weeks or so and tie it with a bow flourished with a “Ta Da!” payoff complete at the end. “Not. Enough. Lipstick. In. The. World!!!!!!!”