Thursday, February 26, 2009

All My Children

When I was growing up, my mom watched the television daytime soap opera All My Children and, so, like I think is the case for many U.S. kids who have grown up over the last few decades, I developed a soap opera allegiance based on the soap opera that was on in my home … that is, while I was home from school during summer break to actually see the soap opera. I, thus, became a fan of All My Children and while I haven’t watched it, other than a passing glance here there while switching through channels, in around 15 years, I would still call it my favorite and defend it against other soap operas … especially that weird-ass Days of Our Lives show that NBC runs at the same time as ABC runs All My Children. I mean, I actually still have a complete set of All My Children trading cards from the early 1990s.

My first real attachment to the show came in the summer of 1984, when I was eleven years old. I can still remember becoming engrossed in the story of romantic couple Jenny (played by Kim Delaney, of later NYPD Blue fame) and Greg, which ended in tragic irony with Jenny being unintentionally killed by a man who had a crush on her, while he was attempting to kill Greg. (See here and here for clips.) I distinctly remember ABC would break from coverage of the 1984 Summer Olympics in order to show us our “favorite day time soaps” and I was as excited to watch All My Children as to watch swimming, gymnastics, and track and field.

I lost track of All My Children when school started again in the fall of 1984, but I would return to it every so often, most prominently in the early to mid-1990s, when my college roommate, whose mom also was an All My Children fan, and I would watch the show while eating lunch between classes whenever we got the chance. I think I may have even taped it once or twice to find out the latest on characters like Tad and Dixie, Edmund, Brooke, Maria, Dmitri, and, of course, the show’s most famous character, Erica Kane. I suppose I reached my all-time high as an All My Children fan in the spring of 1994 when the creator of the show, Agnes Nixon, gave a keynote speech at the Popular Culture Association conference in Philadelphia. I attended her speech, met her, and got her autograph for my mom, which I have to my mom later that year as a gift. It was a pretty cool experience during what was a memorable trip (after all, I did also get to meet Robert Redford by complete chance during that trip as well).

When I met Ms. Nixon, I thanked her for years of wonderful television programming and, of course, as a fan of All My Children, I meant it. My comment, though, goes beyond simply my own fan’s attachment to the show and last week witnessed a perfect example of what I mean. During the Monday, February 16, 2009, telecast, the characters Bianca Montgomery (Erica Kane’s daughter) and Reese Williams got married, marking the first time in daytime television history in which two gay women have been married. This isn’t the first “first” for the show either. In 2003, the show also featured daytime television’s first lesbian kiss. And this is nothing new. In the mid-1990s, the show featured the character Michael Delaney, an openly gay man, and took on topics of homophobia and discrimination based on sexual orientation in storylines involving Michael. In the 1980s, when many in the United States, including the Reagan administration, continued to misunderstand or ignore AIDS, the show addressed issues involving the disease. Indeed, the interest in addressing social issues is a hallmark of the show, dating back to its first few seasons in the 1970s, when storylines revolved around issues of abortion, race, and the Vietnam War.

All of this is not to say that the ways that All My Children are above criticism. Like all media representations—and television representations in particular—the show has its limitations. I mean, for instance, even with one gay wedding, the show is still dominated by heterosexuality and heteronormativity. It is, in essence, a liberal kind of program and, thus, has some limitations on how progressive it is, in line with that liberal perspective. Yet, I tend to think that, despite its limitations, the show is worthy of recognition for not only its willingness, but its determination, to address social issues and offer moments upon which progressive movements can build. I suppose this might just be the voice of a proud sometime fan of the show, but I feel pretty sure that it’s not just me. And, so, I suppose the time is high to express my thanks to Agnes Nixon once again for her contributions to television programming and popular culture in general.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Not So Far Out in Left Field (or, Should That Be The Bullpen)?

Some further evidence that there's a case that Jesse Orosco deserves Hall of Fame consideration: He's apparently become synonymous, at least to some people, with longevity in baseball. According to starting pitcher Mark Buehrle, "Some people say they want to pitch till they're 50. ...They say they want to be like Jesse Orosco, even if it is getting one out at a time. I won't be around until I'm 40. I can guarantee that." Surely, being named like that as representative of an admirable career characteristic such as longevity should count for something ...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Feeling Fine

So, while reading about Alex Rodriguez all over the place and seeing images of his face from his interview with Peter Gammons time and again, all of the "all is lost" discourse has a certain R.E.M. song running through my mind for the second time in a month.

Then, while watching the video for "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," I couldn't help but wonder what ever came of the kid in the video. Well, his name is Noah Ray and here's one account of what happened in his life post-video. Wouldn't some really cool project be to document the lives of people who have made these kinds of appearances and then fallen from the national popular culture consciousness? I'm sure I can make a link to scholarship in there somewhere ...

Of course, my next question is, "What ever happened to the dog in the video?" Given the typical dog's life expetancy, I'm sure he's long since passed away, and as one who finds endless room in my heart for so many dogs, I'm so often so sad that they don't live as long as people. This is certainly one of those cases. He's so cute, especially when he puts his paw on the kid in the video. What a much more pleasing image that is than A-Rod's "sorry" mug (pun entirely intentional)! As even President Obama is using language that channels an "End of the World" kind of vibe, I must say I do feel fine, because the only world that's ending in this ongoing saga of performance-enhacing drugs in Major League Baseball is an idyllic world that many have believed in, but that never really existed in the first place. Baseball is still baseball and it's still enjoyable. So, I've still got that ... and good music (like R.E.M.) and dogs ... and so much more ...

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Fabricating A-Rod's Fall

For some really good points about this past week's report that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, see Michael Butterworth's comments about it here. For an overexaggerated jeremiad about the same thing, see Jayson Stark's column about it here. For a much better account than Stark's (i.e., an account that keeps a good measure of perspective), see Rob Neyer's column about it here. I assume that, based on my descriptions, you have a fair idea where I stand on this. Two things that I think bear mentioning:

1. Don't accounts like Stark's really reinforce the mistreatment that Manny Ramirez gets? With Rodriguez now tied to performance-enhacing drugs, shouldn't Manny Ramirez be mentioned alongside Ken Griffey, Jr., in discussion of who has put up big numbers and not been connected to steroids, etc.? And isn't it incredible how quickly the media turn to the "all is lost" narrative despite Manny, simply because Manny is seen as a problem child? I think ignoring Manny because of what he is purported to signify illustrates how much the discourse on performance-enhancing drugs is predicated on mythologies of baseball's innocence and purity that are fabrications in order to promote the game to begin with. So the jeremiads about how baseball has been spoiled are part of that fabrication, trying to reclaim the lost past that never really existed to begin with ...

2. Anyone who is younger than the Baby Boom generation should be outraged by accounts like Stark's and the dominant trends in the media coverage to paint this "all is lost" picture. If what Stark says he thinks will happen actually happens, then a whole generation of baseball players is going to be nearly excluded from the Hall of Fame. And, in the annals of history, it will be as if our generations didn't contribute and our experiences are illegitimate. Of course, this feeds right into those narratives of the lost past as well, while also reinforcing the fabricated cultural authority of the Baby Boomers and the generations that came immediately before them. Neyer's last couple of sentences hint at this when he acknowledges that these players aren't unlike the generations that preceded them.

I don't have a completely "so what" attitude toward the use of performance-enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, but I tire of this overblown reactionary nonsense that dominates discourse on the subject. Thank you to folks like Butterworth and Neyer for helping to counter those dominant perspectives.