This post originally appeared on the MIT Convergence Culture Consortium Weblog on May 21, 2008.
I have written some in the past about the continued development of the Luke Snyder coming out storyline on As the World Turns, a story which has engaged new viewers to that portion of the soap opera audience and attracted some mainstream attention due to ongoing controversies about the way the show has handled the gay storyline and resistance from conservative groups. The story started with Luke's coming out, complete with an online transmedia extension in which fans could read Luke's blog.
From the beginning, there was a broader audience who started watching the soap specifically through Luke's scenes, as I wrote about back in June 2006. That energy grew significantly when Luke eventually met and had his first gay relationship, with Noah Mayer. For instance, back in August, considerable attention was given to the first kiss between the couple (seehere).
Then, there was no kissing for quite a while, and the show started getting protests, not from conservative groups but rather from online fans who were impatient to see the couple kiss again. First, there was the scene under the mistletoe at Christmas, in which the couple looked to be about to kiss, only to have the cameras pan out. Then, there was Valentine's Day, when Luke and Noah were the only couple featured on the episode not to lock lips.
The class I've taught on soap operas this spring has been particularly interested in the development of this storyline. A couple of students are completing their term papers this week on soap opera viewing through YouTube, with one project in particular focusing exclusively on how people watch only the "Nuke" storyline, as the couple is called, through the video sharing site. (See more on this here.) The students wrote at the beginning of the semester about the frustration fans were feeling about the lack of kissing from Nuke. (See here.)
As the protest from viewers who wanted to see more on-screen romance from Nuke grew, it started getting mainstream attention. Only after that mainstream attention did conservatives really start to take notice. There was this from Showbiz Tonight, and then there was the the PGP poll to get viewer feedback about the storyline (see here and here).
Then, the American Family Association got into the mix. One of my students, Laura Boylan, is on the AFA mailing list, and wrote this post about the various e-mails she's been getting from the AFA about the storyline, claiming that PGP has a homosexual agenda in depicting the couple's lives through the show, to desensitize viewers to an immoral lifestyle. Now, the rhetoric has been that PGP/TeleVest will begin treating Luke and Noah as they would any other couple on the show, in regards to the amount of kissing they will feature from them.
All of this has culminated in a significant article in the arts section of The New York Times last week from Ginia Bellafante. One of my students, Nick Shearer, wrote of the article, "It's great to see articles about ATWT in the mainstream media, but it's not so great to see one that seems to be going somewhere really interesting but then kind of cops out at the end." Nick's post, and both his and Ernest Alba's projects in my class, look at soap opera viewing on YouTube and what it might mean for viewing of the full text of the shows themselves.
Lynn Liccardo, one of my thesis advisor and a longtime soap opera critic, writes of the article, "One of the television critics for this country's newspaper of record (at least east of the Mississippi) writes about soaps, primetime and daytime. What she writes suggests her familiarity with and affection for soaps. A fan, no? Yet, she undercuts her expertise with condescending prose; I suspect describing her as a fan would not sit well either."
This is all background for a piece I'm going to post later today, directly focusing on my reaction to the recent New York Times piece.