Real Life Just Dictated That Soaps Address Head On the Issue They’ve Been Avoiding For Years
If not now, when?
In 1973, only a few months after the Supreme Court’s Roe vs. Wade decision, All My Children‘s Erica Kane became one of the first women on television to have a legal abortion. It was a historic moment… and yet not completely shocking to viewers of the soap, which had become known for taking on controversial topics. Under headwriter Agnes Nixon, the show tackled everything from drug addiction to protests surrounding the Vietnam War.
Credit: ABC/Courtesy of the Everett Collection
“There was no preaching,” Erica’s portrayer, Susan Lucci, told ABC in the wake of Nixon’s death. “She was too busy to preach. She told stories and told everybody’s point of view. She was inclusive.”
Ironically, even as the country moved forward in the decades to come, the medium once known for bravely telling “issue” stories slowly began to back away from anything at all topical. Doppelgängers and mobsters replaced the aspirational and inspirational characters of yore, with social issues becoming as tough to find on soaps as a have-not.
But it might be time for daytime to revisit the glory days in which they told stories which reflected the lives of viewers. Shouldn’t the fact that Roe vs. Wade has been struck down — a move which impacts every single woman in the country — be something that is discussed by their daytime counterparts?
For years, as soap ratings have declined, those behind the scenes have asked themselves what might be causing their audience erosion. Might it be that the storylines being told no longer strike a relatable chord with the audience for whom they’re supposedly being written? While it’s likely that few viewers have to decide whether to marry the CEO or the COO of an international corporation, you can bet that many of them will be having discussions in the days and weeks to come about abortion, no matter where they fall on the topic.
Are modern daytime writers afraid to tackle big issues for fear of turning off the audience? Or have they simply forgotten how to do it? Imagine the drama to be wrought from a tale in which a young woman reveals to her family that she has made the difficult decision to abort her unborn child. Her family is divided, with various members taking sides. Do those against the idea change their mind upon finding out that the child was the product of rape or even, God forbid, incest?
These are the conversations that will be happening all around the country in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling. Yes, they will sometimes be painful… but isn’t that what makes it important that we see them dramatized? Shouldn’t soaps reflect, on at least some corner of the canvas, the real world? Surely amongst the glitz and glamour and romance there’s room for something… deeper?
One need look no further than successful international soaps such as EastEnders or Hollyoaks to see how successfully real-life issues can be woven into the more typical larger-than-life fare of a soap. And maybe, just maybe, by addressing difficult issues head-on, daytime might once again manage to make itself relevant and even appealing to the hard-to-reach younger viewers they’ve long struggled to bring into the fold.
There are those who say they don’t want to see the real world intrude upon the fantasy world of their soaps, and perhaps that’s a valid argument. But surely there can be a happy medium?
The entire country is having these conversations. It’s a shame that daytime seems determined to forget its own past and give up its seat at the table.
Daytime has told its fair share of controversial storylines over the years… including the ones featured in the below gallery.