Copyright 2002 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved


Crank's Corner


                                           Studs, Spuds, and Suds


    My dear, sweet husband has been laid off from work since just before September
11, but I haven't murdered him yet, and he hasn't killed me, either.  Instead of fighting,
we've worked off our frustrations by remodelling the living room, eating lots of potatoes,
and getting addicted to soap operas.  Pounding nails and painting tired us out physically,
and eating heavy meals weighed us down to the point where we could only sit around
going "ugggghhhhh, I ate too much!" in the evenings, but the thing that really has kept us
on civil terms has been the soaps.  We take all of our emotional frustrations and
annoyances with each other and transfer them to idiotic fictional daytime characters who
lead totally preposterous lives.  Hey, it works for us.

    Back in 1984, an unemployed friend stayed with me for a while.  I thought it was
pretty funny, the way she had to watch her "story" every day; I worked second shift at the
time, and she'd have me take notes for her if she had to miss her soap for any reason.  The
acting was awful, and the plot was as tangled as a potful of overcooked angel hair pasta; I
couldn't believe that any reasonably intelligent person would waste her time on this
drivel.  However, after several weeks of watching the show with her, I noticed that the
acting no longer bothered me, and the plot was getting almost interesting; I took this as a
sign that my brains were slowly being washed away by the soap.  My friend got a job and
moved out, taking her TV with her, thereby allowing me to narrowly escape premature
brain death.

    Teenagers shouldn't be allowed to watch soaps; their brains haven't yet fully
developed, and they internalize the hyper-emotionalism exhibited by soap opera
characters as being the way people actually ought to behave.  Bored teens with raging
hormones see the obsessive loves and hatreds of soap characters as on a par with their
own; anyone who has ever cut off their kids' phone privileges knows that they react as
though you had cut off their ears instead.  Once this pattern gets set into their brains, they
carry it through into their adult lives.  Jealousy, deceit, rage or rapture: there is no such
thing as a moderate response in any soap situation.  Everyone jumps to wrong
conclusions, deducing guilt or innocence from tiny clues that they magnify into complete
conspiracies through the lens of their own warped perceptions.  This is fine behavior for
fictional entertainment, but it causes a great deal of trouble when you do it in real life.

    Soaps are popular with college students, too, even though one would think that all
those bright young things have more important subjects to occupy their minds.  One of
"my" soaps is also the one that is currently most popular on college campuses; it's rather
tongue-in-cheek, full of pop culture references to movies and old TV shows, with witches
and psycho killers and a house that fell into the gaping maw of Hell itself.  It's also full of
tremendously tedious tragic romances with more than their share of flashbacks and
repetitious explanatory dialogue, that I suffer through for the sake of the "good" parts.  It
takes about a week's worth of shows to advance the plot by fifteen minutes, but I have a
theory that this is exactly why the show is so popular with college kids.  I think that the
writers stagger the flashbacks and explanations in such a way that, even if someone can
only watch the show for the same fifteen-minute segment every day (say, between
classes), they'll still know as much about what's going on as someone who can watch it
for a full hour.

    Most soaps rely on a good deal of repetition to drag the story out and give the
writers time to come up with more plot twists; those flashbacks also come in handy for
those of us who are trying to get some housework done while watching the TV.  I never
worry if I miss a line or twelve of dialogue while I'm throwing a load of laundry into the
washer, because they're certain to back up and run over the same ground at least five more
times.  Hubby and I found that it's actually better to run power tools and hammer nails
while the soaps are on, because if we sit down and actually watch them, we start yelling
"get ON with it!" at the television, from sheer exasperation and boredom.

    Mondays, Fridays, and any day during a sweeps month are the best times to catch
some action on a soap opera.  Fridays always end with dramatic cliff-hangers; Mondays
are the days when the person who was shot on Friday turns out only to have fainted.
During sweeps months, even those characters who are usually so stupid that you wish
God would reach down out of a cloud and dope-slap them might get into a fist-fight with
a rival or be sucked down into the Flaming Pits of Hell.  But remember, no one is ever
without-a-doubt dead on a soap; years later, if the dramatic need arises or they run out of
other ideas, the writers can resurrect them, as young and photogenic as ever, after plastic
surgery, amnesia, passage through a time warp, or any combination of the above.

    It's sixteen years later than when I first worried that soap operas were
brainwashing me; I'm middle-aged now, and everyone thinks I've already lost my mind.
Men in general are largely immune to the brain-draining effects of soaps; after all, they've
been watching football for years, and two minutes on the clock in football can take up an
hour in real time, even without instant replays.  While his lay-off stretches into the
unforeseeable future, Hubby and I will continue to remodel and pound nails into 2x4
studs, dine upon cheap but filling meals based around baked, boiled, French-fried or
hash-browned spuds, and transfer our angers, frustrations, and anxieties onto soap-opera
characters who can absorb them into their frothy suds.  February is a sweeps month, and
I'm looking forward to it.


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