Sunday, February 04, 2007

Checking In

Well, I've more or less abandoned the post I was working on. The longer it took me to finish it, the less I thought it worth posting at all.

I will be posting about something other than gay soap opera characters on this blog, for those who are wondering. I have many interests outside of this particular topic. With that said, this post is going to be about... gay soap characters.

So, things do seem to be looking up a bit for Luke on As The World Turns. He still doesn't have his own storyline, but for the first time since last fall, he's at least getting involved in other storylines. On Friday's episode, Luke seemed to put the pieces together and realize that his younger sister, Faith, is developing an eating disorder. It was great to see Luke in scenes with his sisters and to see Van Hansis have something to do besides stand in the background. It looks like his involvement will continue into next week, at least, and as I posted the other day, he should have a love interest of his own by spring!

Meanwhile, I haven't commented yet on All My Children's groundbreaking new character. Zarf is a male rock star who has accepted the fact that he is a woman trapped in a man's body. She is now going by the name Zoe and finding varying degrees of acceptance and rejection all over town. While daytime has had a trans character before (the defunct soap The City had the honor of daytime's first trans character, Azure C), this is the first pre-op trans character and really a far more groundbreaking storyline in that sense.

I'm not a usual AMC follower, but I have started taping it recently to see how they're doing both with the Zoe storyline and with the newly returned character of Bianca, daytime's first lesbian character from a core family.

Now, I came late to this storyline, so I don't have all the facts at my fingertips just yet, but from what I have seen so far, Zoe seems to have found true acceptance from Babe, a leading character on the show, while also finding it in varying degrees from other female characters like Colby (a teenage character who this last week said she was "totally down with the whole trans thing"). Some of the male characters seem to be trying to remember to say Zoe instead of Zarf and she instead of he, though only one, Joshua, seems truly comfortable with it. Others, most notably Adam Chandler, refer to Zoe with disgust as 'It', 'that deviant', 'that freak', etc, etc, and Adam and his son J.R. seem intent on using Babe's friendship with Zoe as grounds for her being an unfit mother to J.R. and Babe's son.

It doesn't help that there is a serial killer knocking off the women of Pine Valley and Zoe is a leading suspect, of course. When I first tuned into this story, Zoe was in a prison cell. But there seemed to be quite a bit of animosity towards her from male characters who believed she was guilty, and yet a lot of their feelings were expressed in ways that seemed based on her being a person who is preparing to undergo gender reassignment, as if that makes her such a freak that of course being a serial killer of women would only be one step away!

Another twist to this story is that Zoe is in love with Bianca, the show's lesbian character. Since transgendered people aren't necessarily gay or lesbian, I think the show is making a strong point with the fact that even though Zoe was born in the body of man, she's attracted to women. Many would assume that because Zarf 'wants to be a woman', he's attracted to other men. I think the show is making a strong point here that that's not necessarily the case and that gender and sexuality are two separate issues.

Bianca recently returned to Pine Valley after her lover, Maggie, cheated on her. Maggie has returned as well to win Bianca back and there was an interesting confrontation this last week between Maggie and Zoe in which the character of Maggie demonstrated that bias can exist even within the glbt community, especially towards people who are transgendered.

Maggie: Bianca couldn't love you. I know all about you. Zarf, Zoe, gay, straight -- whatever. The media is very clear about your disorder.

Zoe: It's not a disorder.

Maggie: Ok, well, I'm a med student, and it's in my psych manual. Gender dysphoria.

I waited for Zoe to point out that not so long ago being gay or lesbian was considered to be a mental disorder according to those same textbooks, but she didn't. Still, I thought it was a good scene that demonstrated that prejudice does exist within the glbt community just as it does anywhere else. I think in general, the show is doing a good job of not backing down showing the sort of prejudice that comes from all sides for transgendered people.

It will be interesting to see where this storyline goes, if the show has the guts to stick with it. There is a lot of hype that in the coming week, AMC will feature daytime's first man on man kiss, between Zoe and J.R. Chandler. I take issue with this. First of all, though played by a male actor, the character of Zoe is essentially a female. Second of all, J.R. Chandler is a straight male character. Thirdly, Zoe is in love with Bianca and J.R. is married to Babe. So, whatever the circumstances behind this kiss, I don't accept it as daytime's first gay kiss, though I guess it will be the first time two men kiss on screen. Groundbreaking in its own way, but still not quite what I'm looking forward to, which is two male characters who are attracted to each other kissing.

I forced myself to record Passions on Friday for the big reveal that the character Chad is sleeping with another man. Before I get into that, I should note that James E. Reilly was fired as Head Writer of Days of Our Lives last year and in the months since the show has turned around so completely that I'd honestly forgotten (blocked out?) just how bad Reilly truly is. The slow moving plot lines filled with the same dialogue repeated by the same characters day after day after day, the constant use of flashbacks as filler, the nonsensical motivations and plot devices that litter the canvas. It's literally painful to watch, especially when you see some of the actors and actresses really trying to do the best they can with what little they've been given. I'm so glad that era is over for Days of Our Lives.

As much as I detest Reilly and what he's done to the genre of Soap Operas, I still wouldn't have wished Passions canceled outright, unless it was going to be replaced by a new soap. Sadly, it is being replaced by a fourth hour of the Today show and Days will become NBC's only soap. It really is a sad state of affairs for fans of the genre. But, as I've said, until soaps are willing to tell stories that really have some meaning, stories that are new and not the same old crap again and again, the genre is on life support and may flatline at any moment.

We need to see stories that are based, first of all, on characters and not plots. On a soap, we live with these characters on a daily basis for decades and that's what we like. We know when a character is being sacrificed for a plot, made to act in a way that character would never act. We also want to see stories about all sorts of characters, not just the 20-something straight, white characters that make up 99% of the stories we see today. Soaps have multi-generational casts for a reason, but these days any character over 45 is barely used. Gay characters barely exist, and if you're not a white character, your chances of having a storyline are vastly diminished on most soaps.

This is a genre locked into a different age and ratings are reflecting that. It doesn't have to be that way. Soaps need to get real and start telling stories that have an impact. And networks need to let them do so, which is a big part of the problem. Networks don't want to take any risks in daytime and frequently shoot down any innovative storyline that gets proposed.

It's a sad state of affairs. Soaps could still compete in a major way if given a chance to be bold and topical. Why not write storylines about the war in Iraq instead of yet another baby switch? It worked beautifully for AMC during the Vietnam era. Why not write a storyline about gay marriage instead of yet another heterosexual love triangle?

There are so many possibilities for this genre, but if they keep going down this road, there won't be any daytime soaps left on the air.

With that digression out of the way, let's get back to Chad. In Friday's episode, Chad discussed his affair with Jared, who apparently knows about it (but not, presumably, about the gender of Chad's lover), and informed him that it was just sex, that he loves his wife. Shortly afterward, Chad received a phone call from the mystery lover. Chad reminded him that it was over, but apparently Mystery Lover was laying on the dirty talk because before you could say "Closet Case", Chad was turned on and agreeing to meet 'one last time'.

The big 'reveal' came as Chad arrived at a sleazy motel with a box of condoms and a bottle of booze and waited on the bed, knocking back a drink and taking off his shirt. When the door opened and Chad greeted his lover with "Better late than never", we viewers saw a clearly male body from the neck down wearing gloves so that no skin at all was shown.

My reaction: eh. I wasn't impressed. If they manage to tell a storyline about Chad actually struggling with his sexuality, I will be shocked. Plus, when Reilly is writing you can see every twist coming a mile away because the man has no subtlety. Case in point: on Days of Our Lives, he wrote a storyline in which Hope & Bo's toddler son, Zach, was hit by a car and killed. This would have been a shocking twist if he hadn't had Hope suddenly start talking dramatically about how she'd never be able to go on if she lost a child, etc, etc, about three weeks before the accident. Yes, he's that bad of a writer.

So, I think I already know who the mystery lover must be. Earlier in the episode, Chad came to the rescue of Ethan, who was being confronted by a tabloid reporter. After the reporter, a handsome African American man, left them alone, Chad told Ethan not to worry, that he'd take care of it by 'giving him something else to chew on'. Ethan responded: "What are you going to do, throw him a bone?" I don't need to wait until February 27th, when mystery lover is revealed, to know where Reilly is headed with dialogue like that. Plus, Reilly seems to be intent on telling a 'down low' storyline, so I'm sure in his mind both characters have to African American men. As far as I'm aware, Chad is the only African American male cast member other than his father-in-law and I don't think Reilly would go there.

I want to like this storyline, I want it to be well done. But I know from experience that Reilly doesn't work that way. When finally forced to tell storylines on Days that were more realistic, he came up with stories that should have been decent, stories about the aftermath of losing a leg, about post-partum depression, about the loss of a child. And yet, they turned out to be just as badly written and unbelievable as the most outlandish storylines he'd ever done. I have a feeling this Chad storyline on Passions will go much the same way.

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