Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Go Out on A Limb, or Throw in the Towel?

Writing for or directing a show with a set end date must be a mixed bag. On the one hand, the fact that a series has been cancelled and won't air after a certain date means there's not much in the way of job security to worry about. As a writer or director, one would certainly be tempted to try new things, take some chances, go out on a creative limb and just plain push the envelope. On the other hand, the fact that one's source of income is about to come to an end and that, at the end of the day, one's creative efforts have amounted to nothing more than a bunch of episodes of a television show that's about to wrap must be disheartening. I could see it being difficult to even show up for work under such circumstances. I could easily see a writer or director in such a situation becoming tempted to just phone it in. After all, what's the point?

It's clear to me that the writers and director of Guiding Light are facing both of these options right now, and are torn between the two.

The Limb

Since the official announcement that Guiding Light had been cancelled by CBS, viewers have been treated to some completely original, and thoroughly refreshing hours of television. While other pundits, who shall remain nameless here, may find themselves disgusted with the choices made during the last few months on GL, and chalk them up to some elaborate conspiracy by Procter and Gamble to kill the long-running soap, I'm of a different opinion. 

Within the last two months the residents of Springfield have been allowed to speak in ways which are much more natural and true-to-life than characters on any other soap opera. When Olivia, on hearing about Edmund's death, referred to him as a "sad bastard", my heart leapt with joy. This is just the sort of phrase a woman such as Olivia would use. She wouldn't call him a jerk, or a fool. She wouldn't describe him as a "really bad guy." It wasn't forced or phony. It wasn't a big deal. It was a strong, feisty, opinionated woman saying the first thing that came to mind. Natalia wasn't surprised: this was exactly the strong, feisty, opinionated woman she'd fallen in love with. I wasn't surprised, either - not at Olivia, anyhow. I was surprised at the courage of the writers for making such a bold choice. A few days later, Daisy referred to someone as a "douche-bag" and James called his father a "prick." Crude? Perhaps. But, then, real life is full of crude stuff. A teenaged boy who hates and resents his father isn't going to be polite about it. This, my friends, is the way real people express themselves. I rarely get through a day without a few profanities.  If it sounds strange coming from your television, it's because very little on television rings so true. 

As discussed in a previous blog, viewers also experienced television history when Olivia, in a fit of sexual frustration, went shopping for a sex toy. Not happy to leave it at a vague shopping spree where the contents of the wrapped, oblong boxes could only be hinted at, the writers of GL had Olivia and Blake engage in a lengthy discussion about the perfectly normal and healthy desire women have for sexual gratification.  

Perhaps the boldest move on the part of the writers has been the development of tension between Natalia and Father Ray. Instead of a guilty confession, Natalia made a declaration of her love for Olivia, quoting scripture to defend her decision to follow her heart and love a woman. We may have expected a timid, pious woman woman who would beg her religious leader for guidance, but what we got was a strong, confident woman whose mind was made up. A woman who was not afraid to face her priest on a human level, and remind him that she only had one God to answer to. 

Precious nuggets, really. Writers taking chances and bucking the trends. A director taking advantage of the rare opportunity to work outside of the network box. 

The Towel

Now, the not-so-great news. Brace yourself to be thrown for a loop. For months I've been one of the pundits who's gone on and on about the nature of soap opera, about the fact that the rhythm and structure soap opera are different than those of a weekly series or a two-hour movie or a novel. I stand firm on this. Soap is soap, and it's important to me, as a lover of the genre, that the writers and director get this. However. How freaking ever. Enough is enough. Time is marching on. Figure out a plan and stick to it.  

Where the writers and director were only recently giving us perfectly-timed scenes filled with hints at increased physical affection and intimacy between Natalia and Olivia, they have since become sloppy and seemingly unsure of how they want to proceed, and where, exactly, all of this is headed. We see Olivia and Natalia in the privacy of the farmhouse, unable to even share a friendly kiss hello. I'm not talking about a romantic kiss - I believe there's still a valid argument to be made for the girls not having shared a big, romantic kiss, yet. I'm talking about the fact that there's some sloppy and uneven writing and directing going on, regarding the level and type of physical contact these two characters are sharing. On the one hand, their private greeting at the farmhouse is awkward and stilted, when it should be free and easy and comfortable: you go to wish your best friend well on her first day of work, you hug her, you give her a peck on the cheek. Case closed. On the other hand, we have Natalia and Olivia sitting at a booth in Company....Natalia is not feeling well....Olivia sits inches from her and strokes her face, right there, in a public setting, in a way that only a lover would. If I walked into a restaurant and saw two women sitting in such close proximity to one another, looking at each other in that way, and touching in the way that Olivia touches Natalia in that scene, I would immediately assume the women were a couple. Their body language, their closeness, the way they look at one another - all of this screams "couple" in a way that doesn't ring true for two women who don't even - can't even - peck each other on the cheek hello when they're in private. Furthermore, it makes it all the more difficult to believe that someone such as Buzz - who knows Olivia, and knows what she looks and acts like when she feels she is being loved - would not pick up on the Otalia vibe. It is sloppy and haphazard writing and directing. 

Which is it, then? Is this a story about two women who are deadly afraid of having their secret found out, and terrified about acting on their feelings and moving forward? Or is it a story about two women who can comfortably and confidently huddle together in a very public place, share long, lingering stares and smiles, and a level of face-touching and caressing that is reserved for people in love, without giving a damn what onlookers might think? It cannot be both

The sloppiness is not reserved for Otalia, either. A recent scene had Lillian Raines - a seasoned nurse, a professional - not only inappropriately disclose a patient's confidential medical information, but basically discuss the impending death of said patient in an almost mirthful way. In what may be the sloppiest bit of writing and directing I've seen on GL in ages, Lillian receives a call from Dr. Ed Bauer saying that a patient with a terminal illness will soon be in for medication. Philip then walks in and Lillian, unaware that Philip is the patient, gleefully blurts out something along the lines of, "I'm expecting a guy any minute who just found out he only has three months to live! He's terminally ill!" If life were a cartoon, my rubbery neck would stretch out of shape as I did a double take because....say what???? 

Not only is this scene and the way it's directed completely unbelievable in every way - not just because it goes against basic medical ethics, but because viewers know Lillian as a consummate professional and a compassionate woman - but it's totally unnecessary and ineffective. The writer of this scene was both sloppy and lazy. The scene is a textbook example of clumsily spelling out the details of a story, instead of trusting the audience to work certain things out for themselves.  A much more effective and economical scene, which would have maintained Lillian's true nature and allowed Tina Sloan to remain in character would have opened with the phone call from Ed, followed by Philip walking in, and an exchange to the effect of:

Lillian: Philip...what a nice surprise. I can't really stop and talk, though - I'm expecting a patient to come in any second.

(Dramatic soap opera pause)

Philip: I know. Lillian...(Philip does soap opera "look at the floor" move, pauses, then looks Lillian in th eye) I'm that patient.

(Cut away to Lillian, whose face says it all: she's expecting a terminal patient, Philip has identified himself as that patient....fade to Fabreeze commercial.) 

Lillian knows that someone with a terminal illness is about to walk in. We know that Philip has a terminal illness. Philip walks in. Does any of us need to be hit over the head with this idea? And, really, is there any room for smiles and laughter in this scene? What the hell is Lillian so damned giddy about????

The wonderful Tina Sloan deserves a better scene than this one.

Don't Shoot the Messenger

There's no denying it - there is some sloppy and lazy writing going on, and there are questionable decisions being made by the director. Perhaps, under pressure of time constraints and the prospect of impending unemployment, there are people behind the scenes who have just given up. It's possible that there are script writers who have already moved on to other projects, leaving fewer people to cover a heavy workload. Whatever the reasons for some of the messier things going on in Springfield, one thing cannot be denied: this will have an impact on how Otalia plays out between now and September 18th.

Otalia seems to have been on one trajectory just a few weeks ago, and shifted gears, as of late, along paths unknown. A month ago I wrote about how sure I was that Olivia and Natalia would ultimately share one of those over-the-top romantic soap opera sex scenes, complete with rose petals and tea lights. Considering the time constraints and the way in which this story seems to have been derailed (Natalia pregnant? Seriously? Now???), I now think viewers may have to consider bracing themselves for the very real possibility that the long-awaited kiss will be the big pay-off, with any other sort of intimacy only implied for the off-screen future. (More on this theory in my next blog)

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dear Rafe: A Few Things For You To Consider

Dear Rafe:

I'll be frank (no pun intended) - I don't like you. I've never liked you. You've always been a whiney kid. Remember when Natalia first got to Springfield - no job, no money? She found a crappy-ass apartment that was cheap enough for her to afford. No mother wants to move their kid into a place like that, but she had to put a roof over your head. Instead of offering to pull some of your own weight by getting a goddamned paper route (or whatever it is 17 year olds do these days to earn extra money. Work as Jamba Juice?) all you did was complain about the "dump" you mother'd moved you into. When was the last time you had to figure out how to keep a teenaged boy clothed, fed and housed on a waitress' salary? You're a lousy, little ingrate.

You're not a kid, anymore, though. What I'd really like to give you is an ass-whooping, but I'll settle for giving you a talking to.

Rafe Rivera, you've just turned 19. You're not a little boy, anymore, but a grown man. An adult. Act like one. Adults don't have tantrums. Running away? That's a child's response. In an ideal world, adults deal. So deal. You don't have to like that which is happening in your mother's life, but you could at least make an effort to find out what "it" is - especially if your intention is to pass judgement. How, after all, can you possibly judge something you know nothing about? Be an adult: find out what, exactly, it is you're so afraid of. Make a decision about how you relate to your mother based on something more than a trigger response. And, really, what makes you fit to pass judgement on anyone? Part of being an adult is understanding that the world isn't always the way we want it to be, and that different people need and want different things out of life.

Speaking of turning 19, you just had a birthday. Remember that? You dropped by the farm house and found your mother baking a cake and warming up pasteles. Pasteles, dude. You've lived with your mother almost every moment of your life, so you know damned well about what it takes to make pasteles. Or have you forgotten? Let me refresh your memory, then.

Making pasteles is usually a team effort, and almost always the team is made up of women and girls.

One woman has to peel all the root vegetables and plantains and green bananas. Have you ever peeled green bananas? It's hard work. They're not ripe, yet, so the skin is thick, and bonded to the flesh of the fruit. It's not so much peeling as prying loose the skin, when it comes to green bananas. And they produce a sort of sap that oozes out when you peel them. It stains a person's hands black. The black doesn't wash off, it wears off - usually after a week or more. The only way to avoid staining is to continually rub vegetable oil on one's hands while peeling the bananas. It works, but it makes peeling them even more difficult.

One or two (or more) women are responsible for grinding the peeled fruit and veggies by hand, using the scary side of a cheese grater. Not the side that gently shreds cheese into little shards. The side that grinds things into a sort of mush...the side that grabs at one's knuckles with a thousand, tiny, upturned, star-shaped blades.

Another woman is in charge of combining all the mushed ingredients with milk, in a giant pan or vat, blending it, and making sure the balance is just right. If the balance is wrong - too many plantains, not enough taro... - the pasteles won't work. This woman's job is important, and dull. She spends an entire day blending and stirring, pouring out milk, looking for lumps, and calling out for "Una yuca mas!"

At the stove, there's a woman making the pork stew that will serve as stuffing for the pasteles. It's a savory stew, made with pork that has just the right amount of fat to be tender, but not enough to be greasy or chewy. The stew has pork, olives and chick peas. Earlier today, this same woman chopped up all the ingredients for the sofrito used as a base for this stew: green peppers, onions, garlic, recao.

This is just the prep work.

Later - maybe the next day, even - the women and girls form an assembly line.

One woman passes down the cooking parchment or banana leaves to the woman in charge of coating the paper or leaf with a thin veneer of achiote-infused oil. This is important - it will keep the pastel from getting stuck while cooking.

The oiled sheet is then handed off to a woman in charge of spooning out exactly the right amount of mush (or "masa") for each pastel. Too much masa will make a pastel impossible to tie up securely for cooking. Not enough masa will mean the pastel will be loose, and not hold together. It's an exact science, even though the only measuring tools are the eyes of a woman. Don't fool yourself - these eyes are as fine tuned as a laser.

The next woman doles out exactly the right amount of pork stew into the center of the mound of masa. Again, balance is crucial. No one wants a bare pastel (un pastel ceigo) or one where too much meat keeps the masa from forming a tidy dumpling. Also, no one wants a pastel with 8 olives and one piece of meat. Balance. This woman eyeballs it, to make sure there's balance.

The next woman folds the sheet (or banana leaf) into a tight parcel. It's one of the most important jobs on this assembly line, and it's a difficult one. A little girl will never be trusted to do this. It is almost always a seasoned veteran who is entrusted with this job. The folds have to be exactly right. the tension has to be perfect.

The folded parcels are stacked in groups of two, and passed off to the woman in charge of tying them up. Earlier, someone - probably a little girl - has cut hundreds of pieces of cooking twine to exactly the same length. The woman who ties up the pasteles is a master. She can tell, by eye, if the lengths of string will make it all the way around the two pasteles lengthwise, and then widthwise, twist, and have room to spare for a good tie-up. With the right length of string, this woman works quickly, flying through the tying up of hundreds of pasteles in a few hours. She's careful not to tie them too tightly - they need some room to beathe as they cook. She's careful not to tie them to loosely - not enough tension, and everything will come pouring out during cooking, ruining a day or two of work on the part of so many women.

And, Rafe, the cooking hasn't even begun! Pasteles take two full hours to cook. Two full hours of boiling. You cant walk away while they cook - not far away, anyhow. You need to make sure there's always lots of water in the pot. If the water dries up, if the pasteles are not fully covered in water for the entire two hours....you might as well scrap the whole thing.

This is the process your mother went through to make your birthday meal. Except for one thing: Natalia didn't have a room full of aunts and grandmothers and sisters. She did this alone. For you.

Most women reserve this huge culinary ordeal for once a year: Christmas. Most women think that only the celebration of the birth of Christ, Himself, warrants the time and effort that go into making pasteles. Natalia made them for your birthday. She honored you, you numbskull. Even though you act like a little shit, she honored you.

We Puerto Ricans always say that making pasteles is a labor of love. A labor of love. Think about that phrase. It's not an accident that we refer to childbirth as "going into labor." For the first nine months of your existence as even just an idea, Natalia was your house. She didn't just make you, but she kept you, nurtured you, and made you the center of her life. She could have looked at you as a mistake. She chose, instead, to look at you as a happy accident.

What bigger gift could your mother have given you? Life on the day you were born. Pasteles on your 19th birthday. Think long and hard about what gifts of love such as these mean. Think about the open heart that offered them. And then think about how much more open your own heart could be.

Being with Olivia makes your mother happy. Is happiness too much for her to strive for? What, if anything, would it cost you? And, even if it costs a lot (which I'd love to hear you explain), don't you owe her at least that much? Man up, Rafe Rivera.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Dream Team, Or Why CBS Should Have Called On Fans For Help (With apologies to Sofia Petrillo)

My friend, Robert, and I have been soap fans for many years and, as such, I consider us to be sort of experts on the subject. We don't just know a lot about the characters, the plot lines, the family histories in Springfield, Genoa City, Oakdale, etc....but we know about how soap opera works, as a genre. We know the shape and structure of daily soap. We know how it differs from, say, the structure of a novel or a weekly series. We know how the pacing works, how important character development is and, mostly important, we know that soap is a genre that can't afford to ignore the needs, demands, and memory of its audience.

Discussing the sad demise of Guiding Light, and what seems to be the inevitable demise of As The World Turns, Robert and I got to talking about the missed opportunities, and what could have been - should have been - done to save these shows. We both came to the conclusion that, among other problems, soap writers have failed to make use of some of the resources at their disposal: the well-established, strong female characters that fans like us have loved so much for so long. A few years ago, All My Children took a stab at establishing a woman-centered world (via Fusion) that has never looked like anything more than a failed attempt at bringing the chick-lit vibe to daytime. Instead of making the most of strong, established characters such as Erica Kane, Brooke English, and Dixie Martin, Fusion revolved around a new generation of Pine Valley women, and has never amounted to more than four chicks sitting in an office, arguing about their love lives, working out on a stripper pole, and entertaining the occasional transgender rock star. (Can we erase Zarf from daytime history? Please?) And what was their big business venture? Cosmetics. That was the big endeavor for a woman-run business empire? Way to push the gender role envelope, AMC!

If only TPTB at GL and ATWT had given me and Robert a call! As actual soap fans (Robert and I are convinced that few people writing soaps these days are actually fans - and it shows) we're pretty confident that we have what it takes to put together a pretty, little package that other soap fans would by into.

It's All About The Women

Picture it: Springfield, 2009. Dinah Marler, no longer satisfied with being a big fish in a small pond (did any of us believe she could be happy as such, for so long? The woman was married to Roger Thorpe, for heaven's sake.) decides that being owner and general manager of a local tv station just won't do. She wants something bigger. She wants everything. And she wants to do it on her own terms. No old boys club for her. And nothing so limiting as television production...not when there's a whole world of ever-emerging new media out there for the taking. But Dinah Marler doesn't want a website. She's not talking about just setting up a chatroom or hosting a podcast. True to form, Dinah Marler wants to play with the big boys. She wants to get rich and be powerful. The Dinah Marler that GL fans love will build a new media empire. A woman-centered new media empire that covers all the bases and knocks any competition out of the running. The four-woman office that is Fusion? That's for sissies who don't even know how to wipe their own asses, yet, and for whom developing a new shade of lipstick constitutes a giant challenge. How boring.

Now, Dinah is nobody's fool. She doesn't have what it takes to launch such an empire on her own. She knows that a project of this scope requires two vital components if it's ever going to get off the ground, let alone succeed: investors and expertise. Dinah has some money, and some knowledge about successfully managing a local tv station, but that 's about it. She needs start-up money - a lot of it - and she needs real know-how accross a broad business spectrum. She knows exactly where to get both, because Springfield and Oakdale are teeming with talent, and wealth just waiting to be invested. Here's the team she puts together (queue up Goodfellas soundtrack):

Holly Lindsay - Who knows media better than Holly? Holly has about 30 years' experience in radio, print media and television - not just as a journalist, but as an owner, manager, producer, editor, etc. And her experience isn't just local, but on an international level. I suspect she's already got her hand in new media. She's been on an extended stay overseas, after all, and we know Holly can't stand to be idle. A woman of substantial means, among this group of financial heavy hitters, she's the closest thing this dream team has to a pauper.

Vanessa Lewis - Vanessa has all kinds of experience running huge conglomerates such as Spaulding Enterprises. She stepped in as CEO of Lewis Oil when Billy's drinking made him a liability. She ran WSPR for years. And she has a conscience.

Alexandra Spaulding and Lucinda Walsh - Soap royalty. These two feisty broads could teach Donald Trump a thing or two about the art of the deal. Both of these powerhouses have had to fight the old boys club tooth and nail to get their due, and both have emerged triumphant. They're both tough as iron, and neither one of them is happy unless she's trying to take over a little bit more of the world. Lucinda has all sorts of PR nous, and few people have Alexandra's experience managing a diverse multi-national business empire.

Olivia Spencer - Liv knows all about making something out of nothing. If you're looking for someone with the know-how and momentum to get a start-up off the ground, it's Olivia. Challenges make her happy, and she's not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get dirty, if it means getting the job done. She also gives great face, and can talk anyone into anything with nothing but a martini and a couple of olives. And, yes, tokenism is bad...but it exists, and having one of the women in charge be a woman sharing her life with another woman would be pretty damned awesome.

No, seriously...picture it

Imagine the possibilities for a show that brought forth the best and the brightest women of Springfield and Oakdale, and placed them front and center of the action. Not a bunch of 20-somethings with little if any background, and not an ounce of business acumen...but seasoned, mature women who know their way around a board room, don't have time or interest in installing a stripper pole in the work place, and are interested in bigger things than creating the next shade of eye shadow. I'm not suggesting a world where men don't exist - just a soap that focuses on women whose lives don't revolve around men. They'd have men in their lives, and men working under them...but business decisions will not be settled over "who does Ryan Lavery really love this week?" Nor am I painting a picture of hard-assed business women who have been neutered - does anyone believe Olivia or Dinah would be here if I were? When she's in the zone, Lucinda can be sexy as all hell. Alexandra is an attractive woman. And don't even get me started on Vanessa.

CBS should have called me. I would have told them to lose the dead weight. I know there are zones on the internet where speaking ill of an actor or character's shortcomings is verboten. This is not one of them. If CBS had given me a call (I'm in the book, dammit!) I would have told them to get rid of Reva, Josh and Jefferey (boring, played out)...ditch Remy and Christina (lame characters and really, really bad acting) ...play down the whole Bill and Lizzie thing (entertaining to some but, ultimately, it has nowhere to go)...kill off most of the Coopers (they serve no purpose and, seriously, does anyone not find them annoying?)...and blow up Oakdale, killing off most of the its residents (I like the idea of keeping Barbara, Paul, Kim, Tom, Margo and maybe Craig...but everyone else is expendable.) And then I would have told them to read the above and invent a whole new soap opera, centering on a woman-run new media empire, using the best talent they already had at their disposal. A whole new soap based on tried and true soap elements: strong characters, history, power struggles, relationships, good vs. evil, work world vs home life. And, yes, attractive women....at least one of them being a woman who shares her life with another woman.

People would watch this.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Secret's Out - Rafe Gets a Clue

This week, Guiding Light viewers were treated to something we've been waiting for, as Rafe confronted Natalia with his discovery: that Natalia and Olivia are more than just friends. True to form, the writers have not sold us down the river, or sold out. 

Rafe's Reaction: Forgive Him, He Knows Not What He Does

Some Otalia fans are bound to be furious about Rafe's reactions to this revelation: he starts out confused, moves to anger, and eventually storms off in pure disgust. As someone championing Otalia, this was difficult to watch. Who, after all, isn't ready for Natalia and Olivia to have more than one or two moments of happiness together? The course of true love never runs smoothy on soaps, though, and Otalia face more profound hurdles than most struggling couples. 

From the very beginning , one of the most attractive things about the Otalia story line has been the fact that writers haven't taken any short cuts. The truth is that, in most places in America,  it is not easy for two women to enter into a romantic relationship without there being repercussions - from family, friends, neighbors, etc. Rafe's reaction to the news that his mother has fallen in love with another women is painful to watch in part because it's realistic.  Few 19 year old boys would welcome such a revelation with hearts and flowers. The fact that Rafe has been raised in the Catholic faith only serves to intensify his feelings of revulsion, and his righteous indignation. He looks for logical explanations to assuage his fears: Olivia has forced Natalia into this....Olivia is holding something over Natalia....Natalia is in love with the idea of Gus' heart. His final grasp: Natalia has needed care and security that Olivia has been able to provide while he's been in prison - but he's out,  now, and ready to take charge of the situation and take care of his mother.

Rafe's reaction is painful to witness, but it's honest and, more importantly, there's a certain legitimacy to it. And by "legitimacy" I don't mean "correctness." I mean his reaction comes from a legitimate place - from the only place he has. The heart of Rafe's reaction lies in his statement/question about the many hours spent at church, the candles lit, the time the Riveras have spent on their knees, praying.  Rafe's reaction is ugly, but it makes sense. Given his background and his upbringing - it is, really, the only reaction we can expect from him. 

When Rafe asks about "the man" he's "supposed to be", he might as well be saying to Natalia: You made me...you made this...you raised me to believe in certain things: the sanctity of male/female relationships, the importance of following church doctrine to the letter, the concept of a son becoming man of the house and taking charge....you poured all of this into me, and now you've pulled the rug out from under my feet. You have betrayed every single thing you've ever taught me. 

Imagine you have been raised vegetarian for ethical/animal rights reasons, and that you have never even tasted meat because you feel that killing animals for any reason is wrong. Imagine then that one day, when you're 19 or so, you're eating a sandwich and discover a slab of beef hidden in it. Wouldn't your mind naturally fill with images of the abattoir? Wouldn't you be confused by this unfamiliar food? And then angry at having been secretly fed flesh? And then repulsed by the idea that an animal had been slaughtered in order to make that sandwich? Wouldn't you curse the sandwich maker, and get as far away from them as possible?

Rafe Rivera has just been served a big, old lesbian sandwich the likes of which his Catholic upbringing has not prepared him for. He reacts in the only way he can react because he has been raised within the narrow confines of a church that has no room for same-sex love, and has provided him with little room for critical thinking. A sad, painful reaction to witness, but a realistic one.

More worth noting, in my opinion, is Natalia's part in this confrontation.

Natalia's Response: Hold Fast To That Which is Good

I've read several posts from people who found the Rafe/Natalia confrontation worrying. They worry that Natalia will cave, that she'll give in to her guilt, and acquiesce to her son's angry pressure. While it may be true in the short term that Natalia will wrestle with the price she may be asked to pay for declaring her love for Olivia, her words and actions tell me that she has every intention of staying the course. 

"Oh my God" : On realizing that her secret is out, these are Natalia's first words. It's true that Natalia has dreaded this moment, and found ways to avoid telling Rafe the truth, but it's also true that she's been incredibly bold in embracing what she has found with Olivia. Remember - Olivia gave her every opportunity to walk away and pretend their feelings for one another didn't exist. When Olivia retreated, it was Natalia who teased her out of hiding and basically declared that pursuing and embracing the gift which the world has offered them is the right thing to do. How many times have we heard Natalia talk abut how "God is love"? She's said it to Olivia. She's said it to Father Ray. It's this very concept, and her faith in it, that gives her the fortitude to go forward and pursue happiness with Olivia. Her "Oh, my God" isn't, in my opinion, an indication of shame about her relationship. It's an expression of regret - regret that Rafe has found out in a way that she hasn't planned. Natalia has hoped for a gentle, loving atmosphere in which to tell Rafe about the best thing in her life. His discovery has destroyed any possibility of this, and turned what could have been a sweet, intimate family moment revolving around the happy miracle of love into an abrupt, seedy expose' of what Rafe obviously perceives as an ugly secret.  "Oh, my God", indeed.

"I can't tell you that" : When Rafe demands that his mother tell him that her relationship with Olivia will be over soon, Natalia is gentle but emphatic in her refusal. How much easier wouldn't it have been for Natalia to calm the waters by giving in to this request? She cannot and will not do this, though. If there's one thing we know about Natalia, it's that she's true. She's not the type of person to pay lip service to anyone or anything. If she believes a thing, she doesn't just say it - she lives it. She does, however, believe in the power of words, and that, once something is said, it can't be unsaid. She and Olivia discuss this after Olivia's graveside confession. Natalia will not appease her son by saying that her relationship with Olivia will be over soon because she doesn't believe in saying that which one does not truly mean. She has no intention of ending her relationship with Olivia or turning her back on her own feelings. She can no more promise to end things with Olivia than she could recite marriage vows to Frank. 

"It's not weird - it's love": This may seem like a minor statement, but remind yourself that it's coming from a woman who, just a few months ago stood in the gazebo and said, about her feelings for Olivia, "Whatever this is...this doesn't happen in my world."  The same woman who, minutes after confessing her love for Olivia asked,  "What is it that we're feeling?" In both real time, and soap time, Natalia has shifted from confusion and uncertainty to a quiet sort of steely resolve: what she feels for Olivia (with whom it "feels right", and who she "needs") is most definitely not weird. It's love. It's a simple declaration, but a profound one. 

There will certainly be a rough road ahead, and I suspect Natalia will have a good deal of guilt to deal with. However, I'm not so sure her guilt will be around the love she shares with Olivia. If it is, I'll be disappointed: the writers have already laid this to rest by having Natalia sit in church, holding Olivia's hand and "being together"....by having Natalia counter Father Ray's arguments with scripture....by having Natalia say, out loud, "I don't want to give up anything - I want all of the things that people in love share." 

No-  if the writers stay the course, and continue to present a story that challenges and provokes, the guilt Natalia faces will revolve around the narrow parameters she has allowed Rafe to grow up within, and the part that her parenting choices have played in his being so judgmental and self-righteous. This is not to say that Natalia will or should turn her back on her faith, but that, if this plays out the way I hope it will, she will find herself wishing she'd raised her son to embrace his faith while still following his heart and his instincts. There is a difference, after all, between having faith and allowing someone else to do all of the thinking.

 © 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Embracing My Inner Soap Geek

Inner? Who the fuck am I kidding? There's nothing closeted about my life-long soap addiction/devotion.

Anyhow, when I first set up this blog, it had nothing to do with Otalia. And the name - Superhero Lunchbox - had nothing to do with Otalia or "freakin' superhero", either. I named it long before there ever was an Otalia, on account of my somewhat geeky penchant for making lunch boxes devoted to cool topics. The best lunchbox I ever made was one devoted to great women authors. It featured Flannery O'Connor, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker, and a bunch of other cool literary chicks. And a Willa Cather thermos. I made that for my good friend, Nickie, who still uses it almost 20 years later.

But, really, who better to devote a lunchbox to in 2009 than the women of Otalia? My latest creation:

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We Interrupt Scheduled Programing for a Short Plug

I'm a big fan of Patrick Erwin, who writes the A Thousand Other Worlds blog.  IMO, Patrick just about always gets it right. I almost always agree with his analysis of soaps, actors and characters,  and I like to joke that he and I are twins who were separated at birth. (I'm not sure which one of us is Frannie and which is Sabrina...or should that be Vicky/Marley?)

Patrick's recent piece, The Ripple Effect, addresses a significant issue that has virtually gone ignored: the economic implications, across a wide spectrum, of shutting down production of Guiding Light.  I've been thinking for a while about the folks behind the camera, the food services people, the transportation people, the cleaning crew, etc. Patrick delves, further, though...and discusses the economic support soaps provide to actors who do important, but low-paying stage work...stage work that is so important to NYC's tourism industry. Well done, Patrick .

The Ripple Effect is a great read for anyone interested in theater, television production, economics, or just plain, old pop culture. 

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Other Shoe Drops

The sound you hear is the other shoe dropping, as Crystal Chappell confirms that she has signed on with Days of Our Lives. The first shoe, of course, fell on April 1st, when CBS announced the cancelation of Guiding Light.

Possible Pick-up

From the very start, the possibility of GL finding a new home was slim. As I've written about in the past, there had been significant problems with GL for a while - a long, long while. Problems that didn't necessarily have anything to do with Ellen Wheeler or the new production model. In fact, the saving grace of GL during the past 18-24 months has been an Ellen Wheeler initiative:  the Olivia/Natalia dynamic that has come to be known as Otalia. If GL had a bargaining chip, something to attract a new home on a cable network, it was Otalia. The story was (and is) fresh, original, engaging, thoughtfully written, and beautifully acted by two leads who share glorious chemistry. Otalia looked  and felt like nothing else on television. It was (and is) tender, funny, sexy, and thought-provoking. If Lifetime or any other network were ever going to pick up GL, it would have taken take a hell of a lot more than Bizzie, or the stale Reva/Josh saga. Even the wonderful Gina Tognoni's Dinah wouldn't have been enough of a commodity to sell this show. 

For GL, the ace-in-the-hole, the jewel in the crown is Otalia. Otalia is the outdoor kitchen that made my parents' home so easy to sell, the silk lining that made that jacket a must-have, the cheesecake that keeps New Yorkers going back to Junior's. Without Otalia, there is nothing to pitch, nothing to sell. Now that one half of Otalia has locked herself into contract with another program, there is no bargaining chip. No outdoor kitchen. No silk lining. No cheesecake. Quite simply - Otalia is Crystal Chappell and Jessica Leccia.

The writing is on the wall: Guiding Light will be no more.

Nothing New Under The Sun

Many of us who are long-time soap fans have been through this sad tango before: with Ryan's Hope, Edge of Night, and Another World, among other long-gone gems.  Television shows come and go. It's nothing new. Sad, yes, but nothing new. 

What is new, and what is so distressing to many of us, is that this is the end of an era. It is not just the end of a television show, but of an American icon and a significant piece of broadcasting and story-telling history. This is not Passions of Generations or even Loving or Santa Barbara....this is Guiding Light, the mother of all soaps. Irna Phillips' own baby. The show that has been so innovative and daring, in so many ways, for 72 years. 

As I've written far too many times - I fear that the demise of GL is only the beginning. TPTB are interested in low-overhead programming, and there's a prevailing idea that people under 35 - the most attractive demographic - are not likely to become invested in a continuing drama in such a way that is needed for a soap's success. (TPTB obviously have no idea how invested people under 35 are in Heroes, Lost, Dexter, Mad Love, or Mad Men.)  I hope I'm wrong, but I expect the end of GL to be only the beginning of a domino effect when it comes to soap opera. If GL is disposable, expect ATWT to follow....and we can expect the sad momentum to build.

What Could Have Been

There were so many different ways to save GL, or preserve its strongest aspects - one has to wonder why some of the obvious solutions weren't pursued by CBS. As The World Turns is a Proctor and Gamble show, just as Guiding Light is. A crossover would have been easy to set up: Natalia and Olivia Oakdale to open a second Beacon Hotel in Oakdale....Philip Spaulding carrying out a hostile take-over of both Springfield and Oakdale's television stations and merging them, leading to key characters moving to Oakdale to work with Kim Hughes. If both ATWT and GL had been stripped of their fat, and all the best elements of each merged into one show it would have featured something of a daytime dream cast: Crystal Chappell, Roger Howarth, Cady McClain, Jessica Leccia, Ellen Dolan, Gina Tognoni , Jon Lindstrom, Elizabeth Hubbard, Forbes March, Liz Keifer,  Grant Aleksander, and Collen Zenk (please - someone make good use of Colleen Zenk!!)  Now, that would have been impossible for die-hard soap fans to ignore. Sort of like soap's version of the Beatles reunion that never was. Too bad we'll never get to see it. 

 © 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Breaking Ground, Until the Bitter End

If you watched Guiding Light on June 10, 2009, you didn't just watch Olivia Spencer walk into a store and shop for a vibrator. You watched a television milestone.

Think about it - when was the last time you turned on the television at 3pm, and watched the better part of an hour devoted to a female character's sexual frustration? When was the last time you saw an attractive female character opt out of a sexual situation with an attractive man and turn, instead, to her own devices? When was the last time you watched two female soap opera characters run into one another at a sex shop and actually acknowledge that there's no shame in "taking care of one's self?" I'll tell you when: NEVER. You've never seen this on daytime television. You've probably never seen this on any television show that doesn't require a cable decoder.

Guiding Light is slated to end a 72 year run on September 18th and, true to form, the show is pushing the envelope and addressing social taboos right until the bitter end. Not satisfied with just presenting a same-sex love story that focuses on the love part, first and foremost, or posing a challenging response to the question "what is family?", the writers of GL have chosen to go one step further.

Otalia and The Noble Savage

There is a tendency, in some circles, to relegate gays and lesbians (and yes - I know this is a story without labels...but come on...it's a story about two women who are in love and who want to have sex with one another. Lesbian sex. There. I said it.) to Noble Savage status. A lot of people can tolerate the idea of two women falling beautifully in love with one another, and making beautiful, poetic, choreographed, rose-petal-covered-bed, 10,000-candles-surrounding-them, Adagio-for-Strings-as-background-music, under-the-satin-sheets, tear-inducing, serving-a higher-purpose love with one another, but they can't take it any other way. And I'm not pointing at the religious right, either. I'm thinking about the supposedly tolerant left, some misguided feminists, and even factions of the lesbian community. I'm thinking about a good friend of mine - a good, strong, progressive feminist who once said in complete earnest that, despite her undeniable sexual attraction to men, she longed to be a lesbian because, "straight people fuck, but lesbians make love." (I told her to go to NYC's Clit Club on a Friday night, spend some time in the bathroom, and think again about this ridiculous theory.)

Ellen Wheeler and Jill Lorie Hurst have wisely made the decision to avoid this Noble Savage territory. Considering the fact that Olivia Spencer is well established as a sexual being, to suddenly squash any hint of raw, sexual need in her would have been foolish, and it wouldn't have rung true. Olivia loves sex. She's rarely gone for very long without having sex with someone. When she was close to death, one of the first things she pursued to "feel alive" was sex. Spoilers indicate that Olivia will tell Natalia that sex is not something that has to happen for them but, make no mistake about it: sex is most definitely something that has to happen for Olivia. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be kissing Josh (and yes, people, she kissed him as much as he kissed her - that exchange was mutual.) If it weren't important, Olivia wouldn't be walking around looking like a lost tourist. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be groaning in frustration at upward-facing dog. If sex weren't important to Olivia, if she were some sort of Noble Sapphic Savage, completely devoid carnal desire, she wouldn't be trying to decide between the Pearl Rabbit and the Pocket Rocket.

If, as a viewer, you're frustrated about Otalia's thus-far sexual stalemate, Olivia Spencer is just plain horny. And it is not a bad thing. It is a normal, natural thing for which there are remedies. Women - all sorts of women - deal with this every day. Wheeler and Hurst want you to know this.

Pushing the Envelope

How easy it would have been to keep Olivia and Natalia on a chaste, Noble Savage trajectory! How safe! Even Father Ray could live with the idea of Natalia "having feelings" for Olivia, as long as she had no intention of acting on those feelings. This, however, will not be the case. It really can't be the case, because one of the characters involved in this pairing is someone who we know loves and craves sex. Does anyone really believe Olivia capable of entering into and sticking with a committed, monogamous relationship that doesn't include sex? She may say that she's willing to do this, but nothing we know about Olivia indicates that this is even a possibility for her.

While the big Otalia consummation scene will almost certainly be a very fanciful, poetic, choreographed affair, (this is pretty much de riguer for any soap super couple's first time - unless it's Luke raping Laura, but I digress) Wheeler and Hurst are pushing the envelope and breaking ground by visiting Olivia's sexual frustration well in advance of The Big Event. And visiting Springfield's low-rent version of Toys in Babeland, no less.

Olivia Spencer is no Noble Savage. She's just a normal, healthy, horny woman. And, between you, me and the lamppost? If she doesn't already have a Pocket Rocket, it's only because she lost it in the move.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Springfield Family Values

Sometimes we parents have to make very difficult decisions to protect our children.

- Alan Spaulding

In creating the Otalia story line, the writers of Guiding Light have been careful to craft parallels between traditional and non-traditional. The love story, itself, has blossomed in a way and at a pace that the best boy/girl love stories on soaps traditionally unfold: conflict putting two unlikely people together, initial tension and mutual dislike turn to a reluctant reliance on one another, comfortable affection and then to love. The course of true love never runs smoothly in the world of soap opera. Obstacles abound, as do missed opportunities, misunderstandings, communication gaps, and even third parties who threaten to come between lovers who we know are meant to be together. All of these traditional elements are present in the Olivia and Natalia saga - parallels to any other great Springfield love story: Josh and Reva, Blake and Ross, Matt and Vanessa. The parallels between traditional and non-traditional do not end here, though.

Olivia and Natalia's story is not only a romance, but a story about family. In fact, the romance, itself, has its roots in the formation of a non-traditional family. When Natalia was asked to make a decision about organ donation regarding Gus' heart, her initial choice was to deny Olivia a transplant. Only after being confronted with Emma's reality - a child about to lose her parent - did Natalia decide that she couldn't live with herself if she didn't donate her dead husband's heart. Natalia's maternal instincts run strong, not just for Rafe - her biological child - but for Emma, who became something of a daughter to her long before she and Olivia developed romatic feelings for one another. Olivia and Natalia live by very traditional family values within the framework of a very non-traditional family. The writers of GL have chosen to emphasize the traditional aspects of this family dynamic, and pose parallels between the Rivera/Spencer family and other, more traditional families in Springfield.

"Poor Baby" Syndrome

With Rafe freshly out of prison, Natalia finds herself wanting to coddle her "baby." Blissfully unaware that both literal time and prison time have changed Rafe, and that he is no longer a boy, but a young man, Natalia hovers over and around him. She seems to be a few steps behind him, always, giving him no space, no privacy. She not only wants to baby him, but close her eyes to his failings, and give him a pass for bad behavior. Natalia is suffering from "poor baby" syndrome. Rafe acts like an entitled, petulant child when Olivia generously offers him a choice of jobs and Natalia's reaction is "poor baby."

Natalia is doing exactly what Beth is doing with James. Instead of looking at the terrible things James has done, and expecting him to act like a young man with a conscience, Beth chooses to make excuses for her son, talk about what a "good boy" he is, and blame Philip for James' predicament. One has to wonder - has Beth even met James? He is not a warm, sweet boy who has made a minor mistake. He's a selfish, entitled, thoroughly unlikable young man who has no problem with ruining the lives of others in order to get what he wants.

Like Rafe, James is completely uninterested in actually working to achieve success or get money. Both young men are self-centered, whiney, and quick to judge others. Both show very little impulse control. Neither one seems capable of accepting responsibility for his own situation: James thinks he's in jail because of Philip, while Rafe what he deems an unfair system for preventing him from becoming a police officer. (Newsflash, Rafe: you chose to point a loaded gun at the District Attorney. This is a little more serious than spilling Yoohoo on the carpet.You're more than old enough to know that your actions carry consequences.) Both young men have mothers whose "Poor Baby" blinders actually enable them to continue on these selfish, immature trajectories.


With the exception of the short period when Gus was in the picture, (which - let's be realistic - really was just a blip) Rafe has grown up without any traditional father figure. In a traditional soap opera family, a young man's father is the parent more likely to offer firm but loving guidance. Where a mother will tend to coddle, a father will tend to be less emotive, and be more likely to practice toughlove. (Pease keep in ind that I'm describing soap norms and traditions, and that these roles do not necessarily reflect my personal opinion or, for that matter, real life) Gus has no such person. Frank may be Rafe's official mentor, but there is more to parenting than tossing a ball around and giving a young person positive reinforcement all the time (even when he hasn't done anything positive!) So, while Frank is a court-appointed mentor, he isn't exhibiting any of the traditional fatherhood qualities. Who, then, does Rafe have? He has Olivia.

Olivia's role as dispenser of toughlove - and traditional soap dad - can be traced way back to when Rafe was first arrested. Rafe petulantly refused to see or speak to his mother, and no amount of begging or kindness would bend his resolve. Both Natalia and Frank were completely impotent, when it came to getting Rafe to come around. Olivia, on the other hand, was not interested in begging or negotiating. She went right in to Rafe, told him he was being selfish and childish and stupid, and demanded he show his mother some respect and decency. It was not a request, it was an order: cut out the wounded puppy crap and be a freaking man.

Now that Rafe is out of prison, walking around Springfield with a chip on his shoulder, acting as if the world owes him something, Olivia is once again the only person in his life who seems capable of being brutally honest with him, of doling out toughlove, of actually expecting him to shoulder the responsibility and consequences of his own actions. And thank God for this! Someone needs to unwrap the cotton wool and introduce this obnoxious young man to a little something called the Real World. Natalia won't do it. Frank can't do it. Only Olivia seems to have the gumption. She is, for all intents and purposes, the closes thing to a traditional soap dad Rafe has in his life - even if he doesn't know it.

Again, the parallels between the Rivera/Spencer family and the Spauldings surface. Like Olivia, Philip is deeply flawed. Also like Olivia, the one area he takes completely seriously, and about which he is determined to do the right thing, is as a parent. Just as Olivia recognizes the inherent danger in coddling Rafe and giving him and easy out always, Philip knows that Beth's soft touch and protection do not serve James well. In the end, neither James nor Rafe will benefit from being allowed to behave badly, or from having excuses made for them. Like Olivia, Philip ultimately sees that the best thing he can do a s a parent is be honest, even if it's difficult, and force his son to face the consequences of his actions.


Maternal sacrifice is another theme which is currently paralleled by at least two Springfield families. Natalia will always put her child first. We know this. Olivia knows this. In fact, it's this maternal instinct, this innate nurturing quality which initially draws Olivia to Natalia. It is a good, strong quality but, if it shifts from virtue to vice, it threatens the future of Otalia.

Natalia says she is waiting for the right time to tell Rafe about her feelings for Olivia. She has literally put her life on hold in order to protect her son. It's no mortal enemy she is protecting him from, but just - what? Gossip? Bad feelings? Fear? Really, she is protecting him from the unknown. In her mind, though, Natalia, sees a very real danger that she needs to keep Rafe away from. We may not agree with this, but it's important we acknowledge it: she thinks she is doing the right thing by holding off on sharing the truth with Rafe. She does this out of love - love for her son.

Meanwhile, Reva has sacrificed her own freedom in the name of love for her son. Just as Natalia has placed her blossoming relationship with Olivia on hold, and possibly damaged their chance at happiness together, Reva has probably damaged her marriage to Jeffery by being less than honest. Both women place motherhood first and foremost, and are willing to sacrifice all other things in exchange for what they perceive as their children's safety and well-being.

Letting Go

Natalia cannot seem to face the fact that she no longer has a little boy, but a son who is a grown man. Cutting the apron strings is proving difficult for her. Her instinct is to hover, to treat Rafe like the boy he used to be. This is not all that different than the dynamic between Buzz and Frank. Frank is a grown man, but Buzz (for reasons stemming, in part, from guilt) seems unable to let Frank go. The fact that Frank's search for an apartment of his own becomes a family discussion, with Buzz suggesting they get a place together, is both preposterous and touching. Mostly preposterous. Natalia and Buzz are always just around the corner, ready to fix things and make their sons' bad feelings go away. After Frank was jilted at the alter, he responded with a sad optimism, followed by depression, a short spell of surliness, and a bit of drunkenness. All natural and reasonable reactions. Instead of just allowing Frank to go through the organic process of letting go, Buzz was always right there, in his face, tell him to cheer up, or move on, or saying he was worried about him. It was frustrating, and it made me want to scream, "JUST LET HIM BE MISERABLE FOR A WHILE!" This is exactly what Natalia is dong with Rafe. Instead of allowing him to go through the difficult-but-neccesary process of getting used to a "normal" life after time in prison, she is always there, cutting him off at the pass, monitoring his every move, scrutinizing his moods. Rafe can't even have papers in his pocket without his mother snatching them out and reading them. If Frank needs to be allowed to have his sadness, Rafe needs to be allowed to make his mistakes, own up to them, and get things right - without his mother saving the day.

Family Values

The writers of GL have chosen to focus on traditional family life and the parent/child dynamic for at least the early part of the summer: Reva/Shayne, Buzz/Frank, Philip/James, Beth/James...with elements of each relationship mirroring elements of Springfield's non-traditional family unit: the Rivera/Spencers. The parallels are no accident. They reinforce a theme which has run through Otalia from the start: that there are elements of the human condition which are universal. Romantic love is one of these. The love parents have for their children is no less universal, even when we're talking about two mommies. The cast of characters may look different, but the emotions, the conflicts, the obstacles - many of these are exactly the same.

Because Philip literally is a father, his path has less obstacles than that which Olivia is forced to navigate. Her role in Rafe's life is undefined. Where Philip can take a stand and say "I'm James' father," Olivia has nothing comparable, when it comes to Rafe. The writers, though, do not insult our intelligence by painting a picture of mother/father/son that is all rosy and impeccably landscaped. Yes, Olivia has many obstacles to overcome if she is ever going to be allowed to be the firm parental figure Rafe so badly needs, but Philip, too has his obstacles to face. His so-called traditional family is, quite frankly, a mess. Every family in Springfield is a mess. The Coopers are too inter-mingled. Reva is more honest with and close to her ex-husband than her current husband. The Spauldings are just plain ugly. The "family values" that some close-minded people claim are threatened by a pairing such as Otalia include deceit, infidelity, betrayal, abandonment, criminal activity, and violence, just to name a few. By stark contrast, Natalia and Olivia are hoping to build a life together based on mutual trust, love and affection, devotion to their children, honesty, and genuine friendship.

No wonder people find same-sex parenting so very scary.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A Good Man is hard not to like, but the Good Women are NOT all taken

We've heard it over and over, again: Frank Cooper is a Good Man. We hear it from Buzz. We hear it from Blake. Mostly, we hear it from Olivia and Natalia. But, why? Why is it so important that we, the viewing audience, be hit over the head with this message? Those of us who love and are rooting for Otalia get it: he's a good guy. We got it a long time ago. And, yet, it's still a strong theme that's prominent in this story line. What can the writers be thinking? It's not like them to bore us: Otalia has been anything but boring or mundane. It's also not like them to waste words. What, then, can they be up to?

If you're reading this blog, there's an excellent chance that you're an Otalia supporter or, at the very least, that you're open to the idea of a love story between two characters of the same sex. If you're just watching Guiding Light, though, as you have for many years, there's no such guarantee. If you've been watching Guiding Light for 45 years, and you've never met a lesbian or a gay man (or, at least, you think you never have), it might be that the Otalia story line makes you feel uncomfortable or angry. It might be that you find the very idea of a same-sex pairing repulsive or puzzling. It may well be that, like so many people who look for simple answers in a complex world, and believe that things are either black or white, with no grey areas, you've decided that a woman who loves another woman is nothing more than a woman who has never met a Good Man. Or, worse still, you might think that any woman who loves other women is, by definition, a woman who hates men.  If this sounds like you, I believe the writers of Guiding Light have singled you out as someone they really want to speak to, and this is what they have to say:

Frank Cooper is a Good Man. He's a decent man. A good father. An honest cop. The kind of guy you'd want on your side if you were down on your luck. He's the kind of guy who always does the right thing. And, guess what? No one is more aware of this than Olivia Spencer and Natalia Rivera. Olivia and Natalia like Frank, and they never get tired of saying what a Good Man he is. In many ways, they love him. They admire his decency, his loyalty, his dedication to family. Natalia likes Frank so much, and is so aware of his innate goodness, that she almost married him because, really, he has most of the qualities she's been raised to look for in a mate: Frank Cooper will never run off on some woman and leave her to raise her child alone. Olivia, who isn't the warmest of people, has such a weakness for him, that she calls him "Frankie." She thinks so highly of him that she was willing to selflessly stand by and let her feelings for Natalia remain a secret because, really, guys like Frank are hard to come by, and she thought Natalia deserved to be with the best guy in town. 

Olivia and Natalia like Frank Cooper. They love and admire him as a friend. They love one another, though, on a deeper level. Are you still reading? Because this is where the writers of Guiding Light want you to see that, in real life, things are rarely black or white. Olivia and Natalia are in love with one another for reasons that have nothing to do with hating men, or not knowing any Good Men. They know a Good Man. They know a really, fucking Good Man named Frank Cooper. And they care about him. But they're in love with each other. These two things are not mutually exclusive.  Olivia and Natalia's loving one another doesn't diminish their ability to care for and appreciate a Good Man like Frank Cooper. 

This is what the writers of Guiding Light are saying to you, gentle, close-minded viewer, every time Olivia or Natalia mention what a Good Man Frank Cooper is: when a woman loves another woman, it doesn't mean she hates men, or that she hasn't met a Good Man. Most times, it just means that she's met a Good Woman. 

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves