14 December 2007

Soap Operas

I started watching General Hospital when I was in high school. You can’t beat daytime drama for camp-ness. I remember that at one point I made a family tree of all the relationships: who had married whom; who had been divorced from the brother of the father of the third wife’s oldest child; which woman had a split personality, manifested as loving wife to the thoracic surgeon/trailer-trash hooker; and a long list of missing family members who always showed up at the most inopportune moment. I’d go years without seeing an episode, then flip on the TV one day, thrilled to see that I could still follow the story line. About a year ago, I found out that General Hospital is shown on cable in Vietnam. Granted, it is last season’s episodes, but since I had been out of the GH loop for at least ten years, it didn’t matter.

A typical day finds me arriving home from work and turning on GH. It is total, mind-numbing escapism, that frees my spirit of all the stress of work and life. Nothing like the non-stop pathos of life in Port Charles to take ones mind off the everyday hassles of life n HCMC.

And to catch up with all that has happened in the years since being a regular viewer, I thought I would see if there was a website. Well, of course there was, filled with bios on all the characters and the actors, and its own little interactive family tree. Even after all these years, many of the same characters, played by the same actors, were still part of the show. Then there were all the new people and story lines that I got hooked into within a few weeks.

So why, you ask, am I writing about an American soap opera while living in Vietnam? Let me backtrack a bit; it’s December but it is hot and humid. So when people ask me if I feel any sort of nostalgia about being in a non-Christmas country, away from family and friends, or if I plan to go to the US for the holidays, I say no. It simply does not fell like The Holidays.

Today I turned on General Hospital and was elated to find out it was The Christmas Show. Every year, although I certainly haven’t seen it in ages, they have an episode centered in the hospital’s children’s ward. There is Santa and presents and everyone in Port Charles seems to show up to join in the festivities. The highlight of the show is the telling of the Christmas story to the children. For years, the story was read by Dr Steve Hardy, Chief of Staff at GH. The actor who played the part for about thirty years, died around ten years ago. This year Dr Alan Quartermaine, the current Chief of Staff, and played by the same actor for the past thirty years, told the story to the kids and families and friends, surrounded by Christmas trees, gifts, and people all bundled up in winter clothing. As the camera panned around the room it stopped for a second on the hand of someone taping a picture of Dr Steve Hardy to the nurse’s station counter. I am embarrassed to say that I got teary-eyed. That feeling continued as a Christmas soundtrack accompanied shots of other, previously feuding characters, resolving their differences for this one day, hugging, smiling, and joy-ing to the world.

All those sorta goofy sentiments dissipated as soon as the show was over. Now I am back to life without all the holiday fanfare and, frankly, am happy for it. I can’t wait until next Monday to see if Courtney actually sleeps with Jax, or if she finally finds out that the child she is carrying really is Nicolas’; if Jason ever gets all his memory back after the brain surgery; if Sonny hooks up with Emily, who is still not legally divorced from Nicholas even though he, Nicholas is now engaged to Courtney; if Alexis is successful in defending Manny, who was a psycho-gangster-murderer, but just had emergency brain surgery and they found he had a brain tumor that had caused a life-time of aggression; or, of the utmost importance, if Laura ever comes out of her catatonic state and returns to Port Charles so that I can at least see what she looks like after all these years.

See? I bet you didn’t even know what you were missing.