by Mike McHugh
They say that as you grow older, you become more like your parents. I don’t know who “they” are. Somebody once told me it’s the Merchant Marines. I don’t know about that, but whoever said it, they’re awfully wise.
It didn’t take long for me to pick up my father’s habits, particularly since they involved drinking beer and watching televised sports. But my mother’s side—well, that’s taking a bit longer. A few things came easily, like screaming at the kids about how the living room is not a rugby field. At the other extreme, I don’t think I’ll ever get around to grooving on Barry Manilow.
Still, slowly but surely, I find myself doing more of the same things that my mother used to enjoy. One example is crossword puzzles. My mom would wear out a crossword dictionary every six months or so, mainly by whopping me across the side of the head with it whenever I’d do something like play Frisbee using my sister’s Monkees records. (“But, Mom,” I’d protest, “She can play my Frisbee on her record player if she wants.”)
Recently, I crossed another line, and a sobering one at that. I caught myself taking an interest in soap operas. Now, don’t get the wrong idea; this was not a premeditated action on my part. It just so happened that I was walking past the television one afternoon, minding my own business when there, on the screen, were these two attractive young ladies really having it out with each other. And like any self-respecting adult male, I never pass up the opportunity to see a good catfight, and the hotter-looking the combatants, the better.
The program, of course, was a soap opera. The altercation didn’t really impress me, as the people who make soap operas are not particularly good at staging fights. I mean, they’re nowhere near what you’d see in a decent Bruce Willis movie. I wanted at least to see some good, old-fashioned hair pulling, but these two gals looked like they were engaged in not more than a raucous game of Twister.
Still, after watching a soap opera for only a few minutes, you can’t help but get drawn into THE STORY. The story is what these programs are really all about, and they are quite complicated—so complicated, in fact, that I’m not even sure the writers themselves know what is going on at any given point in time. The producers must use the same writers that also draft federal regulations. There are usually about seventeen different subplots occurring at the same time, all involving couples who are either getting into or breaking off relationships with each other, often doing both at the same time.
This all makes for an intricate series of connections among the story’s many characters. With all of the divorces, remarriages, adoptions, and faked paternity tests, your typical soap opera family’s tree looks more like a map of the New York City transit system. And as nobody can really be sure who is related to who and how so, it takes six weeks for the story just to progress through Mother’s Day. A character in one soap was actually revealed in a sudden plot twist to be his own stepbrother.
Soap opera characters never seem to age, either. None of them appear to be older than forty, not even the matriarchs who have supposedly been in the story since the 1970’s. And there are never any ugly people in a soap opera. They all look like gods descended from Mount Olympus, or at least somewhere that does not have any fast food restaurants. The women all appear as if they spend twenty-three hours a day in the hair salon, the men as if they spend a similar amount of time doing ab crunches.
The writers fully exploit this angle for the benefit of their predominantly female viewers. They make sure to include at least one scene in each episode where a male character removes his shirt. If the entire episode took place in a courtroom, they’d add a sequence where the district attorney would say to the witness, “Sir, could you please remove your shirt so that the jury can see the marks that were inflicted by the perpetrator?” And this would be for an embezzlement trial.
I still like my soap opera, though; despite the fact it doesn’t even pretend to portray how things are in real life. To that end, it would be nice if the producers did a little something to make the stories more real, like maybe include an ugly character or two. A hunchback would make for an interesting twist.
As long as he keeps his shirt on, that is.