Soap operas have a storied history of looking at the human condition. That used to include cutting-edge stories about AIDS, domestic abuse, abortion, and even cosmetic surgery. In their glory days, soaps pioneered these issues on daytime television.
Soaps: A Storied Past With Social Issues
However, these days, The Young and the Restless, The Bold and the Beautiful, General Hospital, and Days of our Lives seem to have far more misses than hits regarding these public service announcements and social issue stories.
Y&R tackled the AIDS epidemic in the late 1980s when Christine Blair’s (Lauralee Bell) mom Jessica Blair (Rebecca Street), contracted the virus. GH also looked at AIDS in the mid-1990s when Stone Cates (Michael Sutton) unknowingly infected his girlfriend, Robin Scorpio (Kimberly McCullough), with HIV. He died but she showed you could live a full life. The storyline brought attention to the importance of safe sex practices.
Even cosmetic surgery got the daytime treatment when Y&R’s Katherine Chancellor (Jeanne Cooper) had a facelift in 1984. Bipolar disorder also took center stage when GH’s Sonny Corinthos (Maurice Benard) dealt with it and later his son, Morgan Corinthos (Bryan Craig). Many times in the past, B&B and Y&R dealt with mental health issues too.
DAYS created the first same-sex super couple on soap operas with Will Horton (Chandler Massey) and Sonny Kiriakis (then Freddie Smith). B&B featured the first transgender character in the form of Maya Avant (Karla Mosley), who went on to marry Rick Forrester (Jacob Young). They had a daughter, via a surrogate but later divorced.
Social Issues Miss The Mark In The 2020s
More recently, soap operas haven’t been on the cutting edge of social issues, which is a considerable departure from their past storytelling. Sure, Y&R had Sharon Rosales’s (Sharon Case) breast cancer storyline, but it seemed rushed and unrealistic. While the pandemic played a role in the truncation of the storyline, it wasn’t the only problem.
Speaking of odd pandemic storylines, B&B had what seemed like a mental health issue pop up when Thomas Forrester (Matthew Atkinson) fell in love with a mannequin that looked just like Hope (Annika Noelle). However, that ended up being a medical issue due to a subdural hematoma. He had surgery and poof — he was good as new — no therapy needed.
Now, Eric Forrester (John McCook) has erectile dysfunction, but again, the storyline misses the mark with everybody jumping to conclusions and judging Eric for his choices.
On DAYS, they’re consistently missing the mark with Theo Carver’s autism since Cameron Johnson took over the role. It’s almost as if the sudser forgot. Hopefully, GH’s attempt with it with little Leo will do it justice and help people understand.
All four soaps should consider getting back to their roots and tackling these significant problems head-on in a realistic manner, doing justice to spreading awareness for different social issues and illnesses. It’s something that soaps do well and fans miss the days where daytime TV set the standard in tackling tough subjects. While the world has changed, there’s no reason why soaps can’t tell these stories effectively.