Though the number of soap operas on television has dwindled since their heyday (heydecades, really), they’re still a remarkably popular genre. Millions of people watch The Young and the Restless, General Hospital, The Bold and the Beautiful, and Days of our Lives. More people watch Y&R and B&B than watch Hannity. For now.
Patrick Bella Gone’s video series, Painted Dreams, looks at soaps through a personal, academic, and queer lens. Originally, producers pitched the radio serials to housewives in the 1930s. They served largely as a vehicle for selling household goods—including and especially soap—and their televisual babies more or less fulfill a similar function. But for people like Gone and their grandmother, the daytime stories offered something much more than an especially dramatic transition between soap commercials. "I would curl on the carpet next to her, and she and I would leave this world," Gone writes in the introductory episode. "Eric and Stephanie. Brooke and Ridge. Taylor and Thorne. Divorce and marriage. Genders and dreams bled together. Endings were beginnings. Love was real."
Gone's second season of the series, presented this month in collaboration with Seattle press Gramma Poetry, is hard to describe. It's funny but it’s not a joke. There are assertions about soap operas but no real central thesis. It's a soap opera in and of itself. But not really. And I cannot confidently advance any argument for Gone's use of Disney figurines in these videos except to say that I like what’s going on here between headless He-man and Mr. Charles E. Cheese:
My favorite so far is Season 2 Ep. 2. In the video, Gone argues that, unlike war movies, soaps find all their drama in the domestic realm. They’re interested in the ways family fucks us up, which of course can have geopolitical consequences. And yet soap operas almost completely omit parenting from their storylines. Characters have children, sure, but they rapidly age off-camera “until they’re of love triangle age" says Gone, referencing a soap-world phenomenon called SORAS (Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome), a term coined by Soap Opera Weekly's Mimi Torchin. To account for this omission, Gone turns to queer theorist Lee Edelman, who they say might see SORAS as a reflection of the way the majority of the straight world already operates, having babies "not to enable change but to perpetuate sameness, turning back time to ensure repetition."
The rest of the episodes are just as wild and illuminating and strange as that one, especially Season 2 Ep. 3, which compares sports fans to soaps fans. Enjoy the dream.