Speaking of Ken Burns and his myopic white liberal worldview on race, Camille Pagila writes about All My Children in her latest Salon column -- page 3 of the long ass piece. Now don't get me started on All My Children. I have been a loyal viewer of the ABC soap since sixth grade. How badass, I thought, that the famed cultural critic was turning her gaze on my fave soap. Too bad the admiration lasted only, like, three paragraphs.
AMC has always had a rep of dramatizing so-called controversial social issues of the day. Erica's abortion back in the 70s, her daughter Bianca's coming out as a lesbian, and a mid 80s story about Cindy, a saintly AIDS infected mother. Seems Camille's been tuning into the show lately (as have I, coincidently enough) because of the soap's latest issue-oriented storyline...
My partner Alison and I have been recording and watching ABC's "All My Children" for several months now. Daytime soap operas, which I used to adore, have been declining in quality and importance for over a decade, and I gradually stopped monitoring them. But "All My Children" (on its best days) is currently being written with a speed and intensity that are remarkable.
We were lured back by publicity over a pioneering transgender theme, which was unfortunately treated with sometimes cartoonish hamminess and excessively ideological sermonizing.
Fair enough. But then Paglia doesn't know when to stop, and goes on to reveal her embarrasingly retro ideas on race in this country...
One huge problem, however, is that "All My Children," like most of the other major daytime soaps, has a deplorable record of integrating African-Americans into the cast. What the hell is the matter? Black actors are made to play to cliché (lily white or sassy street), and they're whizzed in and out of the plot without making a dent in it.
Considering the popularity of soaps with the African-American audience, it's grotesque that the entertainment industry, for all its vaunted liberalism, is lagging so far behind social changes in the United States.
How freakin' old school is that? While Paglia certainly has a point, patrinozing as it is, what's equally grotesque for me -- sad, really -- is the academic's limiting and tired Black-White view of race relations in this country. It's the same worldview that afflicts Ken Burns. The guy truly seems bewildered by all the fuss regarding his doc's exclusion of Latinos in the narrative, as if his cursory inclusion of Blacks in his WWII story is enough of a gesture to address that pesky race issue.
Anyway, like I said, don't get me started on All My Chidren. And if Paglia really knew her AMC soap history she would've remembered the Chicana character of Maria Santos, from way back in the day. Maria's short lived prominence on the soap was radical and a harbinger of some of the same issues of media representation we face today.
For a bit of latino pop culture history, this from an old SF Bay Guardian article of mine...
Once upon a time, and not a very nice time it was, Pine Valley, PA, pretty much resembled all the other imagined towns of daytime network TV -- placid, Cheeveresque burgs with corny names like Genoa City, Oakdale, Port Charles: communities all White; of way above average incomes; some with the occasional family-less Black detective character lurking about investigating the latest high profile millionaire on millionaire murder.
As for any permanent citizens of color living there, the resumes of countless New York actors -- “Drug Dealer” / One Life to Live; “Misunderstood Adopted Inner City Youth” / The Bold and the Beautiful -- belied a longevity that for them was rarely delivered.
March, 1993, Dr. Maria Santos (played by Eva LaRue) walks onto the set of the Pine Valley Hospital as the hot shot new neurologist. In a New England town populated by Trevor’s, Brooke’s, Tad’s and Wallingford’s, Maria, and her ongoing succesful presence, represented something completely novel and different from the retro gringo demographics of Pine Valley. Not so much that she was a strong woman (Since Daytime TV’s audience is mostly female, a major convention of daytime soaps is the strong professional woman) no, the novelty here was that Maria was a strong, Brown woman.
But as for myself, a loyal AMC fan since the sixth grade, Maria’s inclusion resonated beyond just another Raza’s well-deserved integration: Maria, like me, was Mexican American; her character, like me, was from San Antonio; and while Maria was a “Professional,” (nothing, I’m afraid, even remotely like me), the self identification, the recognition, was complete.
But like most Latino forays into the pop cultural mainstream (Livin' La Vida Loca anyone?), Maria's presence didn't last. By late 1997 she was gone.
Soon, the role of Maria apparently wasn’t enough for the ambitious Eva La Rue. Pursuing the dream of all daytime actors hoping to “graduate” to prime time and/or film, Eva left Pine Valley for a job on a sitcom. But unlike fellow AMC alum Sarah Michelle Gellar who hit the big time as Buffy on the cult TV hit “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Eva ended up on some now forgotten UPN sitcom set in Miami, which seemed mainly to consist of jokes about her breast size.
Maria’s sitcom, not suprisingly, disappeared.
The story, of course, does not end badly. I mean, it may have taken ten years, but where would Ugly Betty be without Maria Santos and All My Children.