Monday, August 15, 2011


When I mentioned a little about my own background while urging people not to watch Russian Dolls last week, it prompted a reader to Tweet me: You should write about this; at the very least a series of posts on the blog. I'd love to read all about it.

I was going to write back and say I didn't think my past as a seven year old Soviet Jewish immigrant traversing Europe by trains and buses sometimes guarded by the Jewish Defense League on motorcycles mounted with machine guns, was particularly compatible with a blog dedicated to remembering and keeping quintessentially American soap operas alive, and instead planned to invoke a soap character that was most like me for reference.

But, then I realized there was no soap character like me. Ever.

As the mom of three kids who are interfaith, inter-cultural and interracial, I am constantly advised by experts in the field that it is imperative my children have fictional characters in books, movies, and on television that they can relate to. The implication is that these characters must be similarly interfaith, intercultural, and interracial.

Well, guess what? That just ain't going to happen.

At the moment, my two younger children are deeply into He-Man and She-Ra (you can thank their mid-30s uncle for introducing those 1980s cartoons into their lives). My oldest loves Diary of a Wimpy Kid and The Hunger Games.

At no point, did anyone say, "Gosh, Mommy, I sure wish He-Man were a Jewish African-American like me!"

While there have been periodic Jewish characters on daytime (OLTL's Nora, GL's Drew and DOOL's Robin the most prominent), I certainly didn't let their scarcity keep me from a lifelong love of daytime drama.

For me, soaps - all of TV, really - was less about seeing a reflection of myself (I learned very early that wasn't going to happen; during my childhood, the only Russian-speaking characters on TV were either evil or foolish KGB spies) and more about finding characters I wanted to be like. (GH's Anna Devane. I really wanted to be GH's Anna Devane. And fight those evil/foolish KGB - no, sorry, DVX - spies while swinging my gorgeous, waist length, raven hair and looking fabulous in a pair of impossibly tight jeans.)

Which, in a long-winded way, leads me to the question I wanted to ask today: What does it mean to "relate" to a fictional character? Do you seek out favorites who are identical to you in external ways? Or is something else more important?

Tell me in the Comments below!


Ron Klopfanstein said...
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Ron Klopfanstein said...

In fiction, as in real life, it's not always possible to tell why we relate to someone (character or person). We often have initial interest in someone or begin an acquaintance because of external reasons, but really relating or becoming attached to a character are for reasons much more deep and complicated.

That's exactly what "the powers that be" lost sight of in recent years; which is why veteran beloved performers and characters were pushed aside in favor of those who specifically fit the narrow demographic group the shows thought they should be appealing to; and it's clearly been a disaster.

Having said that, a viewer is a consumer (or a customer) and, speaking for myself, if I feel disrespected I withhold my support. As someone who is gay, I withheld my support by not watching any soap operas at all from the time Santa Barbara ended to the beginning of the "Luke coming out" storyline on As the World Turns. I didn’t always identify with him, sometimes I found the extremely conservative way in which the story was told almost offensive, but I faithfully watched until the end of the series.

Along the way, I grew to love "Barbara", "Emily", "Carly", "Susan", I had a TV-crush on "Dusty" and "Paul"; also I was utterly captivated by Eileen Fulton's frustratingly rare appearances as "Lisa". In any good work of fiction, the audience should be able to identify with some part of all the characters. With As the World Turns I most certainly did. However, I never would have unless it was for their decision to finally bring daytime out of the 1950's (or 60's perhaps) and respect, and reflect, the real world by including a character that was gay like me.

I hope that soap operas survive, so I'm giving All My Children the benefit of the doubt for now (they do have lesbian characters) and watching so that I can follow it to the Internet. Nevertheless, unless they fully integrate and add a gay male character to a core family-no matter how much I identify with the other characters I will never be loyal to the show because I've come too far in my own life to spend an hour a day in a fictional world where I am invisible.

-Ron Klopfanstein

Twitter: @ronklopfanstein


As an addendum, since I was the Tweeter who suggested you write about your story I still think it would be interesting to read. More interesting than the repetitive stories replayed ad nauseam on the soaps themselves. How many marriages, divorces, re-marriages, re-divorces, doppelgangers, "who’s the daddy?" stories, DNA switches, and people coming back from the dead can we watch? It may be too late, but if All My Children and One Life to Live don’t evolve a little before they jump to the Internet- there won’t be any more soaps coming back from the dead.