Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What I Learned From The Soaps: General Hospital (Soaps Blog Hop)

The first time I turned on General Hospital, Laura Webber Baldwin was being wheeled into General Hospital after a violent rape. Her husband Scott Baldwin was beside himself, and she was in shock. As viewers knew, the perpetrator was none other than Luke Spencer, the man Laura had a crush on. I was only six or seven when I saw this, but I'm not the only one who knew that this was a messed up situation presented in a messed up way.

Plenty of people were getting raped on television in the Seventies and Eighties. But General Hospital took a big risk by romanticizing the rape and making Luke, the rapist, a reluctant anti-hero. The emotional subtext of the situation was that Laura, who had always been somewhat fragile, couldn't commit to her feelings for Luke without being a "bad girl" and breaking her vows to her husband Scott.

Luke literally forced the situation- but even he was given an out because he committed the rape when he was very drunk and convinced that he was going to be killed. As Scott's frustration grew both with not finding the rapist and with his knowledge of Laura's feelings for Luke, he became corrupt and twisted, thereby validating Laura's "choice".

File:General Hospital Luke Laura Wedding 1981.jpg
Luke and Laura in their swelling 1981 wedding. For years, they were the supercouple of daytime television
Just a few years later, Luke and Laura were married in a swelling, romantic ceremony that was watched by millions, and for about a decade it was the soap opera to beat, although other "super couples" soon took Luke and Laura's place. As bizarre as that might seem, there were plenty of romance novels in that period- and before- that included a rape, and many times the heroine married her rapist. The difference is that the novel ended, but the soap opera did not. Happily Ever After between a rapist and a victim may be possible to believe after 300 or so pages, but it's a much harder sell if you're watching year in and out. Indeed, Luke and Laura as the happy couple raising two children seemed to collapse under the history of what had happened between them. Thirty years later, for better or worse, Luke and Laura were unable to sustain their happy ending and have since divorced.

The lesson: if you're going to tell a controversial, long-term story, think all of the beats through.