Monday, September 12, 2005

The Trouble With Today's Soap Operas...

...It's the hair.

When I was a little child in the mythical, magical '80s, soap operas were these terrible things I was never allowed to watch, even when I was home with a fever. One time I was home sick and I happened to catch an episode of a soap opera where some schmucky kid was playing with a gun and wound up shooting himself by accident. As I recall, the gunshot was heard at the end of the act, and when they came back from a commercial, his parents (or they might not have been his real parents; this being a soap opera, probably not) discovered him with blood all over him. It was the first time I had seen blood on TV, and it so horrified me that I started to cry, and my parents, discovering what I'd been watching, advised me never to watch such things again. Whether the kid was actually dead -- the character, I mean -- is something I never waited around to see, and which I will never know.

But the point is, the fascinating thing about soap operas back then was simply the hair. The late '70s and the '80s were of course the golden age of TV hair, with all the men groaning under the weight of ten tons of the stuff, and feathering it to look like they had rare pre-historic birds dying on top of their heads. And the epidermal horrors perpetrated by the women, while not up to the standards of the men (women were more into fashion horrors, like shoulder pads), still gave us plenty of fright wigs that weren't actually wigs, not to mention the whole wholesome punkish coiff that suggested that Jem and the Holograms were going into high society.

Yes, the '80s were a hair paradise, but nowhere was hair more plentiful, or more magnificently arranged, than on soap operas. Oh, there were memorable hairstyles in prime time -- Gary Sandy, Jeff Conaway, and prime-time's hair king, the Hasselhoff -- but in hair, as in dealing with controversial issues, prime time shows were generally behind the curve. Soap operas took the lead in creative male hair styles, just as they took the lead in dealing with sex.

Now soap-opera hair is bland. It is lifeless. All of TV hair is pretty lifeless now, but the soap operas are expected to be pioneers here. Some may say that the decline of soap operas has come about because cable TV shows have come along to do the controversial material before prime-time broadcast shows do it -- thus usurping what was once the main fascination of soap operas, that they were more daring in terms of content than the more timid prime-times stuff. That's true to some degree, but cable has little to offer in terms of hair. So soap opera producers, trim your casts and use the money to hire some great hairstylists instead. Only thus can you achieve your former pre-eminence.

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