September 28, 2005

I always wanted to look good in hats, but I always come off looking like Truman Capote in drag as soon as one goes on my head.  That gives me a tad of hat envy and I particularly get hat anxious whenever I see someone trying to forcefully jab a hat onto someone's nog.  That could be why I hate the persistence in well-defined black and white hats on ABC soaps. I don't know if such a beast as "hat compartmentalizing" occurs on other networks because I don't watch soaps on other networks and never have.  I can, however, complain with some degree of experience about the hat cramming that goes on with AMC, OLTL and GH. 

In the history of my soap watching, I have never enjoyed the characters who are constantly shoved down our throats as the good guys when they are, in fact, really deplorable people who do deplorable things.  That being established as the obvious, the writers all but beat us in the head with them, screaming, "Like them!  Like them!  They're so damned likable!"  Erica Kane, Sonny Corinthos and Antonio Vega are excellent examples of this.  In the short few years I have been watching AMC, Erica has shown herself to be one of the most hateful, self-absorbed, thoughtless, hurtful characters ever created while being pushed for decades as the undisputed Queen of Pine Valley.  Jackson, presumably an intelligent, emotionally stable, fully functioning human male, is blinded by his love for Erica to the point of negating all of the times she has cold-cocked him, disregarding that her latest connection with him was the result of her cheating with him on her fiancÚ, Chris Stamp and completely overlooking the horrible way she treated Bianca during her pregnancy and throughout her "coming out," not to mention completely disappearing to play showgirl while her daughter went through the loss of her own child alone.  Erica is excused of any and all despicable behaviors because she's just so doggoned cute and "always means well."  I don't think Erica always means well at all.  I think she's a wretched excuse for a human being and pretty well typifies how I imagine worst case scenario rich folk to be, yet the immense affection and loyalty of an entire community, in Pine Valley and in fandom, folds around her... no...matter...what because they understand her. For me, no amount of "understanding Erica" excuses her behavior or makes her at all lovable.

Likewise, Sonny has been clearly and distinctly illustrated to be a cold-blooded killer who has zero respect for the law and who lives in a world where he makes all of the rules and all of the rules suit him and his family and no one else.  The needs of others are irrelevant and not worthy of a moment of consideration.  If you are not on "the list," you have no rights or consideration.  "The list' changes constantly, with the names written lightly in pencil and subject to immediate erasure (on the list and in life) for all crimes real and imagined.  There is no explanation, no justification and no word at all that is good enough once he has determined you have wronged him.  Innocent or not, you're off the list.  The relationships in which he engages with women are often abusive and sick with the woman losing her personality in the sea that is Sonny.  She not so much wraps her life around his, but melts whatever was previously uniquely individual to her into his many wants and needs.  Intelligent, independent, strong women who were once competent and capable are instantly transformed into lipid-eyed, weak-kneed automatrons who are forbidden from having an original thought or conflicting opinion.   Women with the deepest respect for the legal system and what's theoretically "right" and "wrong" (Hannah, Alexis, Reese) are, within a matter of minutes, tossing their ethics into the same pile as their Wonderbra and their Tuesday panties in front of Sonny's couch (the one with the hairy blanket).  Just yesterday, Sonny said, "Losing a baby before it is born is the worst thing ever."  Admittedly, this is a tragedy, but has this guy just forgotten that his wife was blown up?  Does he not remember being shown a photograph of his 10-year-old son with a bullet hole in his head lying dead in a swamp?  No matter what Sonny does, nearly everyone in town and a good percentage of the audience forgive him everything and anything.  Why?  Likely because he's so cuuuuuute and they admire someone who lives their life based on a code that is "outside of the box."  Cute gets you far with most people.

Antonio Vega was brought onto OLTL as "El Lion," the incarcerated gangster (and in fact, disavowed by his parents) brother to the angelic Cris Vega, who was Jessica's new puppy love boyfriend.  It didn't take long for Antonio to be reborn into the new Latino misunderstood hunk, innocent of all charges (despite the fact that he was in a GANG, for crying out loud) and in nothing flat, a cop (although he originally was determined to be a lawyer).  His supercoupledom with Andi Harrison (Max's sister) pushed him firmly into romantic lead and for reasons I cannot understand, there he has remained.  Absolutely the only time I liked him was for the 2.5 seconds when he was banging away at Liz, the mother of his "We were ON a BREAK" girlfriend.  I never understood the whole "But how COULD you?  With my MOTHER?" "I don't KNOW how I could with your MOTHER!  Whaaa!" argument.  They were simply two lonely people who shared a sensuous moment of great sex and it all factored down to Liz having done something wrong somehow.  Anger management has never been his strong suit (his strong suit is selfishness and double standards, much like Sonny Corinthos - do women just love self absorbed men or something?), but that is overlooked because he is so revered by the community.  Over and over he has demonstrated his complete lack of self-control and violent tendencies, yet everyone is shocked and appalled that he is not having custody of his young daughter lavished upon him by the family court judges.  It's a sad situation when Lindsay and RJ really are the best parenting choice for little Jamie, yet the whole town cries out in anguish over the wrongs inflicted upon poor Antonio.

Carlotta has proven herself to be hateful, deeply prejudiced, meddling and narrow minded to the extreme, yet she is held up as a paragon of maternal wonderfulness in Llanview.

Ryan Lavery is another great example of a character who is pushed down our throats as "the good guy," but who does unforgivable things to the people who he supposedly loves.  I think he deserves to stay dead for the one moment of pulling back his fist on Greenlee.  Jackson should freeze that one frame in the security video and put it on Greenlee's computer as her desktop wallpaper for those time when she's crying, missing her Prince Charming.  The Lavery family is not cursed or bad; Ryan is just an asshole, yet we are shown and told over and over and over that he is our romantic, action-hero lead and we must love him, love him, LOVE him.  I can't stand him.

Back to OLTL, Natalie is a leading lady who we are all supposed to love, but she spared no emotional expense in shaking her tail up to the Evangeline fence that John was behind.  She aggressively and persistently pursued a man who stated clearly, despite his mixed signals, that he was devoted to Evangeline and did not want to pursue a relationship.  Although there is a breed of female who would likely admire this on any number of levels, it breaks the Code of Sisters and is an affront to those who respect the relationship boundaries of other people.  In short, it makes her a whore.  No really does mean "no."  If a guy says no, have the dignity to walk away.  Still, we are still instructed firmly by the powers that be to love her and empathize with her through machinations such as being thrown in a hole for a few weeks after being burned at the stake. 

General Hospital has to be the reigning sovereignty of snotty, pious, "good" people who treat everyone around them as though they are imbecilic, unworthy lowlifes whose opinions on how their own lives should be run are worthless.  Instead, they are, in fact, desperately in need of divine, aggressive "fixing."  Robin, Elizabeth, Courtney and Emily are all held up as paragons of virtue and wisdom, the moral compass of the show when they have strong-armed themselves into the lives of others, making life-altering changes in situations that did not involve them at all.  Emily as Lila, my ass.  Lila was above all, human... a dear soul who was quirky and funny and loving and truly worthy of the adoration that was heaped upon her.  Emily is a liar and a cheat and an interfering, judgmental shrew who grew up from an insolent, self-absorbed little brat, the likes of which would make Paige Bowen flush with shame and roll in her grave like she was on a rotisserie.  Robin spent her final two years in Port Charles with her arms crossed primly across her tiny, perfect breasts, her accusing eyes narrowed into a pinched and hateful expression and her mouth snarled into a grimace of condemnation, yet she was seen as the moral fiber in the otherwise rampant Gomorra of Port Charles.  If she's the fiber, I'd prefer to remain constipated, thank you very much.

The same marked push of who we should and should not like is never more apparent than in the prefabricated, completely marketed supercouples  who are crammed down our throats.  We are ordered to love Nikolas and Emily, Duke and Adrianna, Jason and Sam, Natalie and John, Antonio and Jessica, Ryan and Greenlee, Hayley and Mateo, etc.  Historically, the best supercouples were the ones who developed incidentally rather than by design, like the first of all of the supercouples, Luke and Laura.  None of us saw THAT coming, given their nefarious and anguished beginnings.  Yet in their travels through Beechers Corners in their escape from Frank Smith, we saw something grow and a spark was fanned into a flame.  We are seeing that now in the very subtle and near perfect handling of Zach and Kendall on AMC.  Supercouples cannot be created.  Powers that be absolutely cannot say, "____ and ___ are our next super couple."  To do so is likely the kiss of death.  We'll hate it.  The best supercouples are a magical mixture of chemistry between the actors portraying the couple and a gradual connection that grows between the two of them as characters and as actors.  The bonding of Sonny and Carly through their first pregnancy and the loss of that baby, bringing together two characters who pretty much hated one another into a strong and passionate couple was a work of art.  Mind you, I'm not much of a Sonny and Carly fan these days, but wow, that was good stuff.  Having the seemingly "out of nowhere" passion of Sonny and Reese as a follow up to that is not only manufactured, but manufactured cheaply.  Even the clumsy, regretful pairing of Alexis and Sonny for one night of rocky and life-changing passion made more sense and "worked" better than this "because you're the one who is there" pairing of Reese and Sonny.

In addition to the spontaneous supercouples who combust of their own accord, I greatly enjoy the characters who are multifaceted and have more layers than onions and ogres.  Even the ones who are clearly labeled as "bad," who we are really supposed to hate are more enjoyable than the ones we are instructed to love despite their deplorable behavior.  There is a certain honesty that resonates from a "bad" character who is so unapologetically bad, yet pulls you in and makes you appreciate them purely through the portrayal by the actor.  Cesar Faison, Mitch Laurence, Carlo Hesser, Alex Olanov, Dorian Lord, Roger Smythe, Adam Chandler, David Hayward, Helena Cassadine (hell, ANY of the senior Cassadines), Roger Howarth's Todd Manning, Dorian Lord, David Vickers, Faith Roscoe, Luke Spencer... these are all really, really horrible people who deserve to rot away in jail for the things they have done, but I can never seem to get enough of them.  They are true and consistent and if you are careful, you can see exactly how and why they are the way they are.  More importantly, you can feel the tug that almost brings you into their way of thinking and makes it make sense.  They are frightening because in a twisted way, they are a quarter turn away from who we are.  They are really, really good at being really, really bad; unlike the characters I mentioned above who are really, really bad at being really really good.  The signals with these characters are not mixed or confused in the least, yet we begin to understand them and appreciate them in a really warped way that is quite delicious. 

Cesar Faison killed his own mother, David Hayward drugged an entire boatload of people, Helena Cassadine slit the throat of the woman her husband dared to dally with and did so in front of the woman's children, Todd Manning gave away his finacee's baby, Faith Roscoe killed her own grandmother... When people wonder how OLTL could dare portray Todd as the possible murderer of a pregnant woman, I have to wonder if they have actually MET Todd as a character.  Todd is a BAD man.  He might be a good dad and a loving husband, but he's a BAD man and BAD men do BAD things.  When it comes to protecting his family, there is absolutely nothing I would put past Todd.

Another breed of character that is now pretty much gone from the canvas are those like Jessie Brewer, Steve Hardy, Jim Craig, Lucille March Weeks, "Aunt" Ruby Anderson, Ed Hall, Herb Callison, Lesley Webber and Lila Quartermaine who really were good people, albeit flawed, who were worthy of the love and loyalty given to them as characters.  They created a legacy of struggling to do the right things in their own lives despite the many and varied calamities that befell them.  Over time they became matriarched and patriarched into positions of honor and reverence rather than being crammed in there by the powers that be.  We were not told to worship them (as with Emily, for instance); it just happened naturally.

As I am rereading this, I am finding that (aside from the obvious personal taste and preference) a recurring theme is that the powers that be do not trust us to make up our own minds about who we do and do not like, as characters and as couples.  We have to be told in no uncertain terms who are the good guys, who are the bad guys and to never mind that man behind the curtain who is making them look bigger or badder or better than they really are.  Gone are the days when writers would just write a good story without the underlying motivation of the writing promoting this couple or that character by directives on high.  Was EVER a character more crammed down our throats than Sam McCall?  Did we ever even have a chance to doubt that Garrett Williams was a bad guy?  Did we not HATE Angel Ellis on sight despite GH repeatedly showing us all of the ways we absolutely must love her?    It was demanded that we appreciate and sympathize with or distrust and revile these characters, regardless of how one-dimensional and uninteresting they might be.  I expect when each actor, some of the quite talented performers, walked into makeup on their first day, someone said, "Here's your sign" and they were handed an 10x10" piece of cardboard that said,  "Bad guy," "Good girl," "Relationship Spoiler," "Rebel Vixen," "Temporary Distraction," "Vastly Inappropriately behaving potential stepfather."  The writers and powers that be make it clear with how the characters are presented that they in no way trust us to arrive at a satisfactory character assessment, nor do they trust their actors to be talented enough to subtlety convey their character as a complex and interesting character that falls squarely into whatever loose categorization has been determined.

Where are the characters like Leo DuPres and Luna Moody and Stone Cates who enchant us and draw us in and make us want to know more about them and see them any chance we can get?  I found myself wanting to cheer out loud at a mere  glance of Faith Roscoe in Carly's window.  That brief glimpse was worth the past three months of GH crammed into one second.  What would I not give for a story where Luke learns that Laura's madness was actually caused by Helena Cassadine drugging her and goes on a rescue to free his angel and bring her back to normal again?  Why can't I see ethnicity more strongly represented by a return of Hank Gannon and Jacara Principal or the Hall family rather than the only black people in town being A) a criminal, B) besotted and temporarily - I hope - addlebrained and C) annoying the hell out of me?  Why can't I have Andrew Carpenter, the twisted and tormented minister, back for a restudy of the human condition?  Why could the Dragon, in a surprise move, not have been Vanessa Cortlandt or heck, Palmer Cortlandt?  At the very least, can't I find out that Noah is really alive and faked his own death to get away from Julia's incessant whining and bitching?  Sounds like she was a real joy to live with there at the end, forever complaining that life in the witness protection program wasn't the bowl of cherries she expected.

Entice me!  Inspire me!  Entertain me!  But please, PLEASE do not bore me with one dimensional characters, identified and defined only by slamming a black or white hat on their heads and telling me to love them, hate them or ELSE.  Just tell me the damned story and let ME decide what color hats everyone should wear!

Virgos hate being told what to do.

And they usually don't look good in hats.