Daytime’s true colors aren’t shining through

Yesterday, for the first time in years, we had a black leading man highlighted on daytime: U.S. President Barack Obama, on The View. Yes, folks, in order to have a full hour devoted to a black man in daytime programming, to have a voice and tell a story on the front burner, he has to be the most powerful elected official in our country. “Post-racial,” my ass!

This was the absurd series of thoughts that was running through my head this morning…that soaps are a truly fascinating microcosm of society and yet, the seven shows we have on air do not represent current American society in the least. A genre that helped women realize they had places outside the home and validity outside the traditional two-parent household, that featured integration and AIDS education and cancer awareness…has fallen behind in mirroring what this nation has become. We have one significant leading man of color: Maurice Benard as General Hospital‘s Sonny. One. And his half-Cuban (God forbid he be wholly Cuban!) character is an unrepentant mobster. Um…whoo-hoo? Yay? All My Children‘s Hubbard family, The Young and the Restless‘ Winters and Days of our Lives’ Carvers barely rate airtime unless they’re in scenes with white characters. Latin characters are few and far between as well: Days‘ Hernandez family will soon be losing a member, when Arianna is written off; AMC jettisoned the Santoses, and Y&R‘s Rafe holds the trifecta of being Latin, gay and seldom seen. And Asians…? Please. In the 32 years I’ve been watching soaps, there has been one contract Indian character on soaps…Dr. Saira Batra, and she was on GH: Night Shift. Can you imagine CNN telling Sanjay Gupta he could only have a significant role after 11 PM? GH‘s Kelly Lee is a glorified dayplayer. Y&R‘s Ji Min Kim was killed off. I mean, I could go on and on listing the examples of diversity fail…but listing it does no good. Someone has to change it.

What’s been interesting to me is that there is a huge push to increase LGBT representation. And, God knows, I’m all for it…but it’s white, Christian LGBT diversity, which I think is just symptomatic of the same overall issue. Before I get jumped on for being reverse racist or anti-gay or whatever (both of which are completely unfounded arguments, by the way), consider this: Where is the push for more Rafe on Y&R? Why, when all the gay characters were written out of OLTL‘s Llanview, did no one go, “Hey, what about Amelia and Delphina?” Why, when discussing the diversification of daytime, is Passions always left out of the conversation? Passions had six characters who fall under the LGBT umbrella — Chad, Vincent, Simone, Rae, Mrs. Wallace and Norma — and yet it’s always, always ATWT and AMC that are talked about in terms of moving daytime forward. Why? Because Passions wasn’t “serious” enough to laud? Because it’s embarrassing to admit that the kooky show with witches and mermaids had the most balanced canvas in the last 15 years, outside of GH: Night Shift? (It should be noted that Mrs. Wallace and Norma were married in 2008, a year before AMC‘s Bianca and Reese…but, hey, they’re oooold and Not Hot, so who cares, right?)

I applaud and adore the strides ATWT made with Luke, Noah and Reid. But why name a character “Noah Mayer” and then not flesh him out by making him Jewish? I mean, in my head, he is absolutely Jewish, but wouldn’t it have been nice to have him and Luke celebrate Hanukkah together instead of Christmas? Wouldn’t it have added a fascinating element to the Ameera arc if she, a practicing Muslim, had to marry a Jewish man to stay in the country? (Of course, given the epic fail that was that whole arc, I’m pretty sure that element would’ve been equally mishandled.) Bringing in a new love interest for Luke was a great choice this year. I’ve not been shy about saying Eric Sheffer Stevens is a great find…but did Reid have to be white? No. As this beloved show wraps up, it’s the least racially diverse it has been in a long time, and that makes me sad. (When B&B — which I also love, flaws and all — has more people of color on it than you do, you need to take a hard look at your show!)

People talk about how the era for soaps is waning…and I honestly think it doesn’t have to be. The genre just has to catch up with the increasing richness of the world we live in. I mean, we elected President Obama, isn’t it about time we had the black version of Victor Newman or Ryan Lavery on daytime? Characters like Neil Winters and Jesse and Frankie Hubbard could easily be in their respective shows’ top tiers. Yes, we can!

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4 thoughts on “Daytime’s true colors aren’t shining through

  1. ATWT is embarassingly white.And while some daytime shows have okay diversity in terms number of minorities in the cast when you look at the stories they get they are mostly on the backburner or largely supporting players.

    “(It should be noted that Mrs. Wallace and Norma were married in 2008, a year before AMC‘s Bianca and Reese…but, hey, they’re oooold and Not Hot, so who cares, right?)”

    Weren’t they married while Passions was on Direct TV? That isn’t really network television like ABC is. Maybe thats part of the reason why people made a bigger deal out of Bianca and Reese.

    “What’s been interesting to me is that there is a huge push to increase LGBT representation. And, God knows, I’m all for it…but it’s white, Christian LGBT diversity, which I think is just symptomatic of the same overall issue.”

    It seems like in this particular area its better in primetime. In the past few years at least half the primetime lesbian couples I’ve come across have included at least one non WASP character. And I can also think of at least a couple of significant interacial male couplings that have existed outside of daytime.

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  2. Diversity can also be a bit more subtle.

    For example, I would argue that although OLTL got rid of its gay storylines it maintains a “gay sensibility.” There are over-the-top divas, shirtless hunky guys and stories are driven by traditionally female values – after all intimacy is far more valued than financial success in Landview.

    As a gay man I don’t ask to see a direct reflection of my daily life in the television that I watch – but I do want those shows to be respectful of the fact that they also serve a gay audience. There are sitcoms that get laughs out of having men kiss or having a character being mistaken for gay – this is far more disrespectful to me.

    I also wanted to offer an alternate hypothesis on the vanishing soap opera audience. – there are no new soaps. If you didn’t grow up in a soap home, the soaps are not that welcoming to new viewers. Much like people said about the final season of Lost – it is tough to jump on board to a genre where most of the fans want the past. Every time people talk about how to “save soaps” the conversation always winds back to bringing back old favorites. But, if you were in the workplace 15 years ago while Brenda was hiding a wire on Sonny, her return is kind of meaningless. In the 60’s new soaps were established all the time – perhaps the current generation of fans held on to the past for too long and didn’t allow the art form to move forward. (You may now commence laughing at the fact that I called soaps an art form)

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    • Oh, I wouldn’t laugh at soaps being called an art form. I absolutely think the term applies!

      I don’t know that I’m satisfied enough with a “sensibility” standing in for actual diversity. Probably because it doesn’t necessarily translate across the board, you know? You can have the over-the-top divas, the camp, the emotionality standing in for outright gay representation, but you can’t do that with racial representation. What would the equivalent be? Langston and Starr listening to Jay-Z and getting henna tattoos? Because that becomes more about cultural appropriation than fair representation.

      And you’re right about not growing up in a soap home contributing to decline of the genre. Most of us who watched them growing up watched them with stay-at-home parents or grandparents. That’s a phenomenon that younger generations are less and less familiar with. I think the insistence upon looking to the past and not preparing for the future and the next permutation of soaps is definitely a factor as well.

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  3. “I don’t know that I’m satisfied enough with a “sensibility” standing in for actual diversity. Probably because it doesn’t necessarily translate across the board, you know? You can have the over-the-top divas, the camp, the emotionality standing in for outright gay representation, but you can’t do that with racial representation. What would the equivalent be? Langston and Starr listening to Jay-Z and getting henna tattoos? Because that becomes more about cultural appropriation than fair representation.”

    Your right. Sensibility doesn’t really work for racial representation and in the case of gay people I don’t think it comes close to actual representation in the effect it has on both gay and straight people.

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