Wash Your Mind Out with Soap by Trevor Plumbly
The Birth of an Addiction
As is the case for most incipient entities, it’s tough to recall where or when they started, but I’m pretty sure they crept in silently, like ivy into mortar. One thing’s for sure, soap operas are just as damaging to common intellect as creeping ivy is to brickwork. Like most addictions, ‘soaps’ started innocently enough with the odd half-hour of escapism that developed into an insatiable daily need to monitor the movements of an utterly mundane group of people. There’s no mystery as to why they continue to roll out this crap: there’s a quid in it and hordes of half-brain-dead people watch it! But what is interesting to me is this: how do the guys that cook up this mental mush keep so many absolutely hooked? Obviously it’s formulaic, but just as with old cinema serials, if you fade on a note of scandal or peril, you can happily open the next episode with a bit of ho-hum, knowing full well you’ve got them glued to the set. But despite the monotony of the plot structure, and the transformation from dark hints about Dr Kildare to today’s mix of gays, family violence and all sorts of human mayhem, viewers’ dependence seems to have increased rather than their pants having been bored off.
Pressure on Scriptwriters/Pushers
Having an enquiring mind and a healthy sense of the ridiculous, I can’t resist imagining the goings-on in the scriptwriting department. They must have banks of monitors with split screen functions and spread sheets cross-referencing the Seven Deadly Sins with the Ten Commandments. The problem for them must be to inject interesting frailties into boring people: the wife-beater, the slut and the drunk might have been OK for a few episodes years ago, but today’s addicts aren’t that easily titillated. They need to mainline human emotions along with criminal activity and all sorts of sexual combinations, real or rumoured. So I reckon scriptwriters/pushers must be pretty stressed out, having to destroy reputations, marriages and even lives, for a daily crust. Talk about playing God! And don’t forget there are people out there who think that this stuff is real!
Imagine one of these poor sods trudging off to work with all that churning around in his thought-processor, along with the need to spice up tedium to an acceptable level. And then there are the thin-ice areas to be considered. Race, colour, religion and gender must be handled with caution along with any form of handicap. Repetition is another danger: Amber can only lose her virginity once, Albert’s fatal illness can only drag on for so long; but if he turns up alive and gossiping in another ‘soap’, would it affect the ratings? Mercifully, it’s a broad canvas and the beleaguered writer can morph Amber’s defiler into a loving husband and father; hell, he could even play Lazarus by finding the declining Albert’s long lost twin brother. In ‘Soapland’ nothing’s a problem as long as it keeps to the script and doesn’t upset the faithful.
As it stands, I don’t think soap culture will ever trap me, it’s not that I’m a super-brain gazing down from on high, it’s just the fact that I can’t get excited hearing that the butcher’s wife is getting leg-overs from the window cleaner or that the vicar is rifling the church restoration fund to fuel a gambling habit. It’s all a bit backyard washing-line for me. I want escapist thrills, not PC reality; I’ve got enough of that already, so I don’t need the second-hand stuff as well. If these guys want me, they need to press the fantasy button. To illustrate my point, the following is the closing scene of the first episode of a soap opera that I am currently penning:
SCENE: The lounge bar of an English pub.
ACTION: A dusky six-foot-tall supermodel in a state of disarray stumbles from the ladies’ toilet, hand-in-hand with a grinning, acne-riddled, club-footed dwarf.
DIALOGUE: Salvation Army Lady: “Did you see that?” Blind Bartender: “No”.
FADE TO CLOSING CREDITS.
If no more episodes of this thrilling saga appear, I’ve either been abducted to be used as a sex toy by the Ladies’ Embroidery Guild or assassinated by the butcher’s wife for blabbing.