Is there anyone who quarantined at home who has spent every waking hour on productive, fulfilling, altruistic pursuits to make life easier during the pandemic? Well, maybe there is, but psychology professor Mary Kay Jordan Fleming, while locked down in her home in Crescent Springs, Kentucky, near Cincinnati, decided she would be the first to admit that she’s not one of them. She has at least one guilty pleasure.
The COVID-19 pandemic has upended everyone’s daily routine. Survival involves everything from learning to work remotely to learning to sew face masks. I’ve kept stress at bay by returning to a guilty pleasure of decades ago: watching soap operas for an hour each weekday.
The beauty of daytime drama is that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been away, or whether you’ve ever watched before.
The dialogue immediately catches you up and reels you in. “Hey, Brother, remember when you dated Anna without knowing she was our long-lost cousin who was switched at birth? Good thing you broke it off with her stepmother!” (Spoiler alert: He didn’t.) Every conversation is peppered with familial connections and backstories. “I’m making Chicken Kiev for Mikhail, my mail-order husband from Russia.” Subtle.
Unlike our uncertain reality, the soaps forecast each arriving or exiting character and plot twist. New cast members are filmed from the knees down for a few episodes to build suspense (cue the skulking music). Or someone mentions, out of the blue, a loved one long gone or about to croak. “We haven’t seen Bridget for a long time” indicates she’s on the next bus into town. “I hope nothing happens to Nana; I don’t know what we’d do without her” means granny’s a goner.
Resurrecting and recasting beloved characters happens so regularly it’s cliché. All My Children once reincarnated a dead guy with a new face, ethnicity, and accent. Right now, Days of Our Lives has a handful of characters running around with chips in their brains that turn them into other people. Some have aged by decades, one is a princess, and another has a totally normal eyeball despite his host body losing it in a knife fight decades ago.
Medical procedures are among the more amusing events in Soapville. A couple of weeks ago, a Days physician— coincidentally the same one who does cardiac surgery— removed a chip from the frontal lobe of her ex-husband whose body was inhabited by the show’s long-dead villain. She achieved this feat in two minutes from the back of his head while standing ten feet away without shaving one hair or making an incision. After slicing through the front of the brain from that vantage point, I’m not that impressed with the regrown eyeball.
My husband tries to ignore my weekday escape, but he can’t help himself. “Is that the psychiatrist who was possessed by the devil?” he’ll ask casually.
“Not anymore. Now, she’s two different people.” By Week 3 of quarantine, he already was completely unfazed by this revelation.
Everyone right now needs effective methods of managing stress. Considering the possibilities, I guess my guilty pleasure is pretty tame. Still though, it’s not publishing poetry, cultivating orchids, or learning Norwegian, so I’d appreciate it if you’d keep it our little secret.