I’m very interested in soap operas and I’m also captivated by examples of racism. I’m not captivated because I enjoy racism, but I do find it interesting that in this day and age, racism still exists. My love for soaps and my interest in the subjects of race and culture led me to picking up Victoria Rowell’s Secrets of a Soap Opera Siren. It’s a story based on Rowell’s life as a soap opera star. I will admit that I don’t know exactly what went down some years ago when she was on the top-rated daytime drama, Young and the Restless. I don’t think a person can assume that everything in the book happened in real life, and I’m not sure Rowell is implying that, but I think that some generalizations can be made about racism in the world of soap operas.
I remember reading one thing in Rowell’s book that I read years ago in another place, although I can’t remember where. I think it was an article in a soap magazine. Anyway, it said that the reason soap editors don’t put African Americans on the cover of their magazines is that those copies don’t sell. I believe that editors have had this attitude because I see racism all the time. The reasoning behind this editorial decision is suspect, to say the very least. For one thing, science has taught us that correlation does not necessarily mean causation. A relationship between two variables does not mean that one variable caused the other one. Just because sales of an individual magazine cover where people of colour were featured were not as high as other issues, it does not necessarily follow that it is because of the content of the cover that the sales were disappointing. I think the underlying message is here is that editors gleefully took advantage of lower sales, which could have other causes, so that they did not have to feature black actors on the cover. Or perhaps, giving editors the benefit of the doubt, executives above them ordered that there be no more African Americans prominently displayed on the cover.
Racism occurs all the time in America, and of course, other countries. Perhaps the most egregious example in Rowell’s book of racism is her final scene, where the fictional character Emmy uses a racial slur and proceeds to spit on her soon-to-be-terminated costar, Calysta. If this were to happen in real life, which it could have, it says something truly disgusting about an actress who would permit herself to behave in such a deplorable manner. Apparently, according to the book, Emmy derives her power from the male executives she sleeps with. So Emmy is a victim of sexism as much as Calysta is a victim of racism. And although the book does not go into this side issue, it appears at least to me that if there ever comes a time when Emmy no longer serves the purposes of the behind-the-scenes bigots, she too will be dispensable. That is what some people never realize. When they are mean to someone, they are not only pursuing their own personal agenda. Especially in business, and show business in particular, they could be the serving the agenda of someone whose only concern is money.
That leads me to my final point, one that I think is ironic. Calysta, an African American actress, was responsible for high ratings for her fictional soap opera. A good portion of the audience apparently liked seeing someone on the show with whom they could identify. So the racist behind-the-scenes maneuvering of which she was a victim does not even make sense from a financial point of view, let alone a moral one. Her show’s ratings were sinking fast, and it seems to me that they should do all they can to accommodate an actress who helped bring the numbers up. Daytime is a dying breed. Although there are many reasons for this, reading Rowell’s book has demonstrated very clearly one more. There is racism in the genre. And it is a racism so profound that it even blinds executives and actors to the reality that they are committing genre suicide.