The Great American Soap Opera
In the following years, soaps featured other romances told with richness and complexity which became hugely popular with audiences, including Jessica and Duncan on As the World Turns and Tom and Simone on General Hospital. Soaps introduced Black characters and families with their own storylines, many of them professional, intelligent, and sometimes just as messed up as their white counterparts. Every once in a while, black characters were allowed to be villains; Generations had a cast and crew that was 50% Black and featured its own "black Alexis Carrington" in the form of uberbitch Doreen Marshall. During their entire nine year run, the Russell family was allowed to be just as psychotic as any other family on Passions. It goes almost without mention that The Young and the Restless has regularly featured Blacks in front burner stories for many years. In their own ways, soaps allowed many Blacks and other people of color to, if not know whites outright, to at least feel they could know them; as for whites, the few Blacks that were allowed on soaps at a time had the same effect over time.
None of this inclusion has been perfect nor has it been consistent from show to show (not even Y&R all the time), but progress has been made on soaps, just as it has in real life. With every attempt to expand the racial and ethnic scope of the collective soap canvas, daytime dramas undoubtably have influenced millions of viewers to broaden their own horizons, if only just a little. Today, people of Latin and Hispanic descent are a regular part of almost every daytime serial compared to when they were barely seen or heard prior to the 1984 premiere of Santa Barbara. In 1983, All My Children provoked a firestorm of criticism and intense viewer backlash when Devon admitted her crush on lesbian psychiatrist Lynn, but in 2009 fans are openly and defiantly cheering for Bianca and Reese and Guiding Light's Natalia and Olivia. More astonishing, large numbers of fans are vocal and angry that a network didn't feature a love scene (sex!) between two gay male characters on As the World Turns, Luke and Noah. Lest we forget, strong, independent, forceful women are in; the put upon female victim has been out of fashion for quite some time.
The changes in our society force soaps to try to catch up with the times, but many times soaps have led the way in helping to chip away at barriers of the topical or social kind. Without Devon and Lynn, there would be no Rianca. Without ATWT's Hank Eliot, there would be no Nuke. Without David and Valerie, we don't think twice about Marcus and Steffy on B&B. We demand Days' Abe and Lexie have a quality story of their own and we hope for the return of suave, sexy and slightly dangerous RJ with his long, distinct and decidedly ethnic locks on One Life to Live. Am I arguing that The Gannons of OLTL, the Grants of GL, or the Fry's of AMC led directly to the election of Barack Obama? Of course not. However, since there are scholars who argue The Cosby Show and 24 with its fictional African American President David Palmer helped pave the way for the election of the real life first African American president, it would seem that daytime dramas — which have reached millions of more viewers of all races and ethnicities for decades longer before and after the reign of the Huxtables — deserve a little influential credit themselves. I would like to think that in their own way, soaps have helped millions of fans see beyond the surface of preconceptions or stereotypes and opened more minds than they left closed. (continued)