The “General Horseplay” of Today’s Soap Operas

By W. Frank Walton

Listen to the moral resolve of a spiritually-minded person: “I will set no worthless thing before my eyes ” (Psa. 101:3, NASB). To be pure, strong and godly, he will not fix his attention on base, ungodly things. Hear his prayer: “Turn away my eyes from looking at vanity” (119:37). Vanity is “all that is hallow, worthless, and trivial” (H.C. Leupold). We must closely guard our innermost thoughts and desires, for they’re the source of our character (Prov. 4:23). Evil seeks to subtly worm its way into the heart’s fortress, subverting our devotion. We become like what we choose to think about most (23:7).

What do we enjoy thinking about or watching when free to do so? To what is our heart attracted, the spiritual or the carnal (Rom. 8:6)? If our heart is corrupt, we will be corrupt, even if we go through the motions of regular church attendance or the pretense of following Jesus. What do we allow into our minds, which influences our thinking and has eternal consequences?

The Christian’s renewed, transformed mind delights in filling the mind with the pure, positive things of God. “Whatever is true . . . honorable . . . right . . . pure . . . lovely . . . of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8). Honestly now, where do today’s soap operas fit in here? Would you like it if I daily dumped a pile of filthy, stinking garbage in your den? Pew! But will you allow the Devil to walk into your mind with his muddy feet and dump moral garbage into your mind? I think the filthy “soaps” should be called General Horseplay, All My Illegitimate Children, The Young and the Worthless, Sins of Our Lives (or Days of Our Lies), As the Stomach Turns, Guiding Light, and One Life to Lust. When a billboard says, “Get Your Daffy Dose of Dallas,” we ought to be alerted to their addictive power. Why do Christians eat up the juicy tidbits of the darker, sinful side of human behavior, delighting in the hedonistic value system of tangled lives and ungodly enterprises? Dee Bowman observed, “We all pretty well show where our interests are by what we talk about. I am disappointed to be in the homes of Christians who know more about . . . soap operas than the work of the Lord” (Christianity Magazine, April 1985, p. 23).

The Originators And Thrust of Soaps

Who writes and produces the shows? Christians who’ll help you grow spiritually? Nope! Public Opinion (January 1983) surveyed 104 of the media’s elite, including many TV script writers and producers. It showed: 93 percent seldom or never attend religious services; 80 percent condone homosexuality; 54 percent condone adultery; 97 percent support women’s unrestricted right to abortion; 45 percent renounce any religious affiliation. “Two out of three (66 percent) believe that TV entertainment should be a major force for social reform,” the report said. “According to television’s creators, they are not in it just for the money. They also seek to move their audience toward their own vision of a good society.” Over 20 million people regularly watched soaps in 1977, which today would be even higher. The report adds, “This group has had a major role in shaping the shows whose themes and stars have become staples of our popular culture.”

In a recent UPI interview, John Conboy, producer of Capitol, proudly proclaimed, “The male viewer has come out of the closet. . . . Kids also are avid soap opera buffs.” The reporter noted Conboy “doesn’t mind using sex in his stories” and that “it’s love that makes the world go ’round and the ratings 90 up.'” One survey found soaps average two sex acts per hour and over 90 percent of them are between unmarried people. The Bible calls it fornication and condemns it to hell because God hates it. Should a Christian enjoy feasting his eyes on what God hates (Prov. 8:13)? A local TV show, PM Magazine, interviewed some soap stars who said, “hopping in and out of bed all the time – it’s downright racy! While not X-rated, its definitely not kiddy hour.”

Soap Opera Digest chronicles the lurid stories of wretched lives, divorce, deceit, ad nauseam. The cover of the June 2, 1987 issue has this titillating come-on: “Murder, Lust, and Love on the Run. . . Preview of the Summer’s Hottest Stories! In the March 11, 1986 issue, the inside back cover has this typical quote: “Adultery is commonplace on soap operas, but our special section, ‘TV’s Most Surprising Adulterers,’ features the most shocking cheaters!” How about this alluring tease about The Colby’s.- “Tracy [Scoggins] and co-star Phillip Brown (Neil Kittridge) steam up the COLBY’S set with their too hot love scenes” (p. 129). A synopsis of General Hospital informs us, “Alan wants to make a weekly appointment for sex…. After two sips of brandy, she heads to his bedroom. The aroused Donely follows. The phrase ‘Smoking in Bed’ acquires new meaning as they drive the mercury through the thermometer” (p. 60).

Do we make heroes and idols out of soap stars? They’re good-looking, well-dressed, suave, lead exciting lives, have plenty of money and the “good life.” Yet these “beautiful people” never need God and seem to lead a fulfilling life without priority placed on the Spirit. Those models of “success” are the opposite of what. a Christian should admire. The above issue of Soap Opera igest had an interview with Shannon Tweed who plays Savannah Wilder on Days of Our Lives. What kind of role model is she? She was a Playboy centerfold and Hugh Hefner’s “lover.” She said if she wanted a baby, she didn’t care if she had it out of wedlock. She wasn’t at all embarrassed posing nude or autographing her centerfold because she only did it for the money (pp. 9-11). Ruth Warrick (Phobebe Wallingford, All My Children) said, “I think sex is glorious…. I probably might have been a quote-unquote bad girl” (p. 127). “I’m so grateful to God, the spirit, whatever you call it that created this incredible playpen for us” (p. 138). How can Christians idolize such godless, irreverent actors?

Critics Other Than “Rabid” Preachers

If soaps are your “sacred cow,” you might think I’ve an ax to grind or this is mere “preacher talk.” But in The National Review (July 26, 1985), Aram Bakshian Jr. wrote “Soap and Sympathy.” He said soaps are a “reliable guide to popular contemporary morals” featuring weekly outbreaks of love, lust, larceny, adultery, deceit, passion, voyeurism and greed such as on ” The Young and the Restless … given the amount of partial nudity it indulges in, might better be called The Young and the7Dressless” (p. 51). He observes “soaps have replaced clan and community gossip. What Cluppies once saw through the keyhole they now see on the TV screen.” He thinks the stories are “trite, tasteless and predictable. . . . Most inmates of contemporary Soapland still make love the old-fashioned way, result being frequent pregnancies, and tangled ones at that. . . . In such a topsy-turvy world, it is a truly wise child that knows its own father.”

He quotes William Raspberry’s observations from the Washington Post. “Since housewives, children, and nitwits are bound to watch rubbishy television of one sort or another anyway, . . . the soaps may be the rubbish of preferences.” Mr. Raspberry believes soaps are filled with “pervasive immorality and too-explicit sex.” In an editorial, Jonathan Yardley of the Washington Post chides parental neglect when their “kiddies came home from school and, with milk and cookies in hand, gazed their way through soap operas not much less explicit than what was once shown in movies thought to be scandalously ‘blue.”‘ Will a Christian be addicted to what is a reflection of modem, ungodly morals, described as “rubbish” featuring “pervasive immorality”?

Elizabeth Joneway wrote “Soaps, Cynicism, and Mind Control” in Ms. (Jan. 1985). She admits “the powerful teaching tool of television” influences our character. She deplored “the lack of any sense … that events have consequences, and that people can and do influence what happens to them and to others. What I saw . . . was a consistent, insistent demonstration of randomness, a statement that life is unpredictable and out of control . . . no one, friend, kin, or lover, is really trustworthy” (p. 118). The Bible teaches we can take full responsibility for our lives. Do you justify their sinful behavior by situation ethics? We rationalize: “Poor Susie has had such a hard life. Chad, her no-good, rotten husband, is so mean and stingy. She deserved that romantic one night stand with Hugo. I’m glad Hugo punched Chad’s lights out when he caught them in bed, after blabbermouth Blanche told him about the affair. Anyway, Chad’s running around with that low-life Dixie, so it serves him right. But I hope Susie doesn’t get too attached to Hugo, since he’s a drug addict, psychopathic killer and now thinking about a sex-change operation. Really, Kyle is just right for Susie. She nursed him back to health at Lonely Hearts Hospital, after he fell out of that 20-story building escaping the police when he smuggled heroin for the Maria. When their eyes met, it was true love! All Kyle has to do is divorce his two wives, Rachel in Slitherville and Ginger in Slimetown. Kyle and Susie will live happily ever after for at least a week, or until they find someone else better.” What a heart-rending scenario!

But Wait, There’s More!

I believe soaps can desensitize us to sin, blurring the boundary of right and wrong. It can warp our priorities and distort our value system and moral standards. Tania Modleski in Loving With A Vengence.- Mass-Produced Fantasiesfor Women terms soaps as “liberal” in portraying life. “And in soap operas what concerned us was … the way it necessarily deviated from the norm in order to appear fulfilling” (p. 112). The soaps alter perception with illusions of reality. “Soap operas invite identification with numerous personalities” (p. 88) and “encourage women to become involved in – ‘connected to’ the lives of the people on the screen” (p. 99).

Since the stories of doom, gloom, tragedy and trauma never end, “the spectator, frustrated by the sense of powerlessness induced by soap operas, will . . . try to control events directly: thousands and thousands of letters [from soap fans to actors] give advice, wam the heroine of impending doom, caution the innocent to beware of nasties (“Can’t you see that your brotherin-law is up to no good?”‘), inform one character of another’s doings, or reprimand a character for unseemly behavior” (p. 91). This “consequent blurring of the boundaries between fantasy and life” is called “psychological fusion” (p. 99). Soaps can grab you, occupy your interests and play with your emotions. The soaps present the typical family as “always in the process of breaking down … it is perpetually in a chaotic state” as “misery becomes . . . the very means of its functioning and perpetuation” (p. 90). Most characters are in trouble, heading for trouble or asking for trouble. This is what addicts folks.

Attitudes of morality, based on Scripture, can be weakened. She says the soaps appeal “to the spectator to be understanding and tolerant of the many evils which go on within that family. . . . As a rule, only those issues which can be tolerated and ultimately pardoned are introduced” such as “abortions, premarital and extra-marital sex, alcoholism, divorce, mental and even physical cruelty” (p. 93). There’s a sordid cycle of people “always getting blackmailed” or “conducting extra-marital affairs” (p. 106).

As an “escapist” form of mass art, it can “offer the image of ‘something better’ to escape into, or something we want deeply that our day-today lives don’t provide. This is the utopian function of entertainment” (p. 112). Such romantic stories can make wives unsatisfied with their present marriage. Soaps can be an outlet for suppressed desires, which are titillating but forbidden as sin. Media professor R. C. Allen observes, “The soap opera becomes the prime example of ‘giving the audience what it wants'” (Speaking of Soap Operas, p. 177). He also says, “The longer the soap opera can maintain the interest of a reader whose own value system is at some distance from that of the implicit central norms of the text, the more likely it is that the reader will tolerate aspects of the text she or he finds . . . insulting” (p. 175). Soaps arouse fleshly desires, directly contradicting God’s standard of holiness. Soaps insult the Christian’s way of life by glamorizing sin. Do you watch soaps because you find what they’re doing exciting, but don’t do it yourself because you could go to hell for it? Do you want to be like the soap opera stars or more like Jesus? Flights of fantasy can only ignite a strong desire for the forbidden fruit of sin.

Guard Your Heart (Prov. 4:23)

The Bible calls us to “say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age” (Tit. 2:12, NIV). How can you say “no” to worldly desires with your eyes glued to the TV, showing the advertised “hot passion” of a “romp in the sack,” as they flop around in beds of fornication? Some might be more interested in following the soap’s tantalizing plot than studying about the wonderful, life-changing story of the Bible. Where’s the real priority if one delights in and can recite the details of illicit affairs, power plays, deception and hedonistic lifestyles, yet doesn’t hunger daily for the nourishing word of God? “Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth” (Col. 3:2). Why would one who is looking for that blessed hope want to habitually look at ungodly behavior God abhors and damns to hell? Faithfully watching soaps spoil the appetite of spiritual growth, dividing our interests. It dulls the desire for meditation upon Jesus and heavenly things. Are you pitching your tent toward Sodom?

Are we naive about the influence of soaps? “Foolishness” (Mk. 7:22) defiles our stupidity. ” It is lacking spiritual discernment or being unable to see the long-term consequence of present habits. We shall reap in our character as we have sown in our hearts (Gal. 6:7-9). We’ve “escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” (2 Pet. 1:4). We shouldn’t have an avid appetite for the filthy refuse of this rotting evil age.

What are you feeding your mind? “Purify your hearts, you double-minded” (Jas. 4:8). We must be decisively single-minded. “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust” (Rom. 13:14). We can’t afford in the war against the flesh (I Pet. 2:11), to have a “fudge factor” to tolerate a little sinful desire. Do we think we can just go window shopping for sin? “Each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust” (Jas. 1:14). Soaps can entice and draw out carnal cravings, to attract you to sin’s baited trap. Soaps can subtly seduce you to gradually condone, in certain circumstances, lying, lust, divorce, fornication, etc. The Devil tries to inflame the craving of desire.

The Best Choice

“And the world is passing away, and also its lust; but the one who does the will of God abides forever” (1 Jn. 2:17). Soap operas reflect the glitter of this transient age. We need to focus our attention with a renewed mind to walking in newness of life. Develop a greater appetite for the life-giving, dynamic word (Matt. 4:4). Exercise yourself unto godliness, by seeing the blessings in Christ and the benefits of serving God. Every day is made for the Judgment Day. One day this world and all things therein will be burned up! God is trying to get us ready now to spend eternity with Him in heaven’s bliss. Soaps will hinder you in life’s greatest purpose. Be honest with yourself and think about the evidence presented. “Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness. But according to His promise we are looking for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless” (2 Pet. 3:11,13-14). Will you turn away your eyes from looking at vanity so you can look unto Jesus and to realms above? You’ll be glad you did.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 18, pp. 564-566
September 17, 1987