Friday, February 23, 2007

AMC's Havins and's Coleridge tackle uncomfortable soap paradox

A new soap star Q&A with's Daniel Coleridge features an interesting touch on the industry's mixed messages regarding the treatment of women. ALL MY CHILDREN star Alexa Havins ("Babe Carey Chandler") is currently in a popular pairing with Jacob Young ("J.R. Chandler"), despite the fact that the alcoholic J.R. frequenly subjects Havin's character to verbal abuse, and has plotted to kill her.

Coleridge, also author of The Q Guide to Soap Operas, points out that in a separate, more issue-oriented story, AMC clearly condemned domestic violence, but wonders why the show appears so supportive of the similary abusive J.R./Babe coupling. Havins notes that despite the presence of a white-knight alternate suitor for Babe (and an equally chivalrous ex), the fan base remains solid for J.R./Babe.

ABC in particular, has seen the unpredictable rise of "anti-leading" men, including two wildly popular characters with rapist pasts: Anthony Geary's "Luke Spencer" on GENERAL HOSPITAL and Roger Howarth (later Trevor St. John)'s "Todd Manning" on ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Is it the appeal (or at least promise) of "redemption via a good woman's love" or the age-old affinity for the "bad boy," that draws the primarily female core audience to these characters so strongly, despite their prior violation of women? Even with the standard suspension of disbelief required for soap viewing, it's a difficult paradox. (Uncomfortability with the paradox is rumored to be one of the reasons Howarth jumped ship from OLTL to AS THE WORLD TURNS earlier in the decade.)

Havins mentions that she checked into the possibility of accompanying the story with a PSA message on domestic violence, an idea ultimately rejected by the show's brass.


Samsterwheels said...

I think you hit it right on the head when you speculate as to whether this whole paradox originates in the "bad man redeemed by the love of a good woman" ideal. I think it absolutely does. While Todd Manning and Luke Spencer have retained a certain edge (and could hardly be called "heroes"), they are better men for the love of the women in their lives and deeply regret the rapes they committed. Additionally, the audience believes that, no matter what else they are capable of, these men will never, ever, commit violence against women again. In that sense, and for that crime, they are redeemed...ideal fulfilled.

Anonymous said...

I actually support AMC's decision not to do a PSA on this particular topic. It would not be appropriate to undermine the story, which is not about verbal abuse.

If they decide to make J.R.'s facing his verbally abusive ways (and the pain his words have caused) a social-issue story in the future (which would be a much overdue one, actually, for any show), then a PSA would be warranted.

J.R.'s trying to kill Babe (and her forgiving him) is a soap staple (Alan and Monica on GH, anyone?) so I'm not too worried about that one!

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