TURNING ON AND ON AND ON IN THE LONG, LONELY AFTERNOON
TURNING ON AND ON AND ON IN THE LONG, LONELY AFTERNOON
We are pure. Our virgins sing folk songs with perpetual smiles. Our sweaty heroes play hockey. The social reformers sit about discoursing on ecology, the American take-over and urban blight. Canadian TV is utopian; it tries to show us not who we are but who we ought to be. There’s not much sex on TV.
Sex, in the profane language of television executives, means obscenity. We can’t put obscenity on the air, they say, because it’s breaking the law. If you point to current books, magazines and movies, there is a second argument on which they fall back triumphant. We can’t have sex on television because children may be watching. After a lot of shouting, they may agree to show a documentary about abortion or homosexuality late at night, but technical reasons are usually found why the film cannot be shown at all.
I was in Moose Jaw on a Sunday afternoon watching Paul Newman with his shirt off in A Long Hot Summer when the whole system of moral censorship and segregation became clear. It was a long hot movie, the language raw and the lust so heavy you could touch it — a good show and the raunchiest thing I’d seen on TV since I was 13 screaming at Elvis. I decided I should watch more afternoon TV. I was right. As Geraldine would say — Wooooo!
Afternoon television is a little garden of delights, three-and-a-half wonderful hours (with cable) of erotic fantasies starting with As The World Turns through Guiding Light, Bright Promise, General Hospital, The Doctors and on into Another World. The atmosphere is quiet, desperate lust. Sarah is in jail for murdering Martha who was having an affair with Sarah’s lover John who is married to Audrey who is divorced from but still in love with David who is making love to Martha’s daughter Jackie who is secretly pregnant by Jim who has a child by Elizabeth who is insane. The men are all cool and handsome, the women beautiful, urbane and frequently pregnant — there are lots of passionate embraces in dark corners. Emotional tension is near hysteria; sex is an obsession.
Soap opera is an extraordinary new art — pornography for women. The purpose of these shows is simply to suggest sexual fantasies to the women watching. That’s why there’s no plot — each woman invents her own. Doctors are particularly strong in female porno. There is an aura of blood and pain about them; women are vulnerable, helpless in their hands. It’s not De Sade, but it’s close. Doctor and patient are always in love, a passion triggered by an ambience of beds, nakedness and hurt. Shows like Medical Centre and Marcus Welby have been expurgated for the evening audience but it is the same masochistic fantasy that draws women to them — a strong odor of death and suffering, a delicious shiver down the spine. The long pauses are a coloring book for you to fill in. Soap opera, like all pornography, never ends. Each episode triggers infinite speculation and that most exquisite of all feminine sexual pleasures, anticipation.
The action is a cat fight in a woman’s universe — the house. Men, stereotypes of limitless and complex virility, are victims or rewards. In two current serials, women are on trial for murdering other women; usually the warfare is verbal and waged through gossip, slander, lies, innuendo and all the other weapons women are good at. The women are cruel, clever and predatory — a race of Amazons and witches. This suggests another powerful sexual fantasy at work — women seeing themselves as sensual, brutal, manipulative, in control. Usually they are older, rich and tough — black widow spiders or white goddesses — depending on what kind of woman you’d secretly like to be. The CBC has kindly made this whole process explicit in Paul Bernard, Psychiatrist, a half hour of Freudian fantasies based on real case histories supplied by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
For women who find this stuff a bit strong, ABC provides lighter titillation with The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. They both snigger a lot, like little boys in the bathroom. The pitch for Dating Game goes like this: “A lovely young miss takes her pick of three eager young bachelors! They are ready to reveal their most romantic thoughts and feelings!” All the questions have a double meaning: a clean one and a dirty one. The contestants usually think of both; the trick is to be as suggestive as possible without being thrown off the show. The viewer can be as crude as imagination and education permit. You could call it adult spinthe-bottle. The lucky winners get a fun-filled weekend for two in a fabulous resort. Chaperoned, of course.
On The Newlywed Game, questions like: “What do you want your wife to give you that she hasn’t given you enough of lately?” are drowned in gales of titters and giggles from the contestants. “What is your husband doing when he’s most vulnerable?” Hee hee! Answer: “Taking a shower.” Ha ha! The newlyweds are really turned on by it all, jumping up and down and blurting out intimate little details of their lives. It’s television for amateur voyeurs, especially dirty old men. The big moment comes when the grand prize is announced — a refrigerator! — and the ecstatic couple fall into each other’s arms.
Refrigerators as sex symbols brings me to Let’s Make A Deal, an incredible orgy where men are replaced by blenders, irons, sofas and electric brooms. These objects are virtually raped on stage by a horde of aroused housewives. The emotion is raw: greed and longing and joy just hanging out there for everybody to see. It’s one of TV’s most powerful shows.
Why are these shows on TV? Because the children aren’t watching. There’s nobody here but us women, alone, in the twilight, on a very private and seductive trip. We feel a little guilty, so we don’t tell anybody about it.
In fact, I’m being disloyal writing about the soap operas. They’re a well-kept secret. The afternoon ghetto is, after all, only “women’s programs” and therefore ignored. Maybe now some vigilant moralists will decide they should be taken off the air. Can’t have a lot of wild women wandering around in the afternoons. Too bad. I’d miss you, doctor. ■
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