Revisionism In Soap Operas
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 12/11/12
As an artist, writer, and critic of both, I have had a long involvement with, what for lack of a better term, can be called serial fiction, in all its forms across varied media. As a young child, I read comic books, which, as the successor to comic strips, were the most popular serial fiction of the first third of the 20th Century. Before comic strips, the serialized novel, most popularized by 19th Century titans like Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, made them into the closest thing to today’s film and music celebrities. By the middle of the 20th Century, serial fiction surged in popularity with the movie serials of the 1930s through early 1950s, and, as my father was born in 1916, I spent many an evening watching PBS reruns of old serials, from the Buster Crabbe science fiction sort, like Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, to the Western serials of Tom Mix, Gene Autry, and The Lone Ranger, to detective and superhero themed ones. The arrival of television at mid-century, however, spelled doom for that medium.
But, American television was a boon for another popular form of serial fiction, the soap opera, which saw many of its most popular shows run for decades; such as The Guiding Light, which, starting in 1937, on radio, ran until 2009, before being canceled in a wave of viewer apathy and American network indifference and stupidity that has seen the number of American soap operas dive from a 1990s peak of over a dozen, to merely four today: CBS’s The Young And The Restless and The Bold And The Beautiful, NBC’s Days Of Our Lives, and ABC’s General Hospital. The latter, after the cancellation of its two remaining sister soaps- All My Children, in 2011, and One Life To Live, in 2012, has experienced a dramatic and artistic revival since former OLTL producer and head writer, Frank Valentini and Ron Carlivati, took over the reins from the disastrous regime of producer Jill Farren Phelps and head writer Bob Guza. Fortunately, soap operas seem to be flourishing in other countries, especially in Europe and Latin America, where soaps called telenovelas are huge, whereas America seems to have forsaken the form for generic and pointless ‘reality’ shows and/or equally pointless cooking/talk shows.
I started watching traditional soap operas in the summer of 1978, when I was 13, when, as is typical of poor, inner city kids, I was left alone for the summer while most of my pals and cohorts went away on vacations and to summer camps. A few friends, who likewise were left behind, introduced me to DOOL, but there was something too, for lack of a better term, feminine about the show to sustain my interest. I had previously watched the syndicated satire of soap operas, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, as well as ABC’s own satire of soaps called Soap, and watched the first year or so of the wildly popular Australian soap opera about women in prison, Prisoner: Cell Block H (go Queen Bea!), which aired in America after prime time, on a syndicated basis. Around the same time, I also switched channels from NBC, and got whiffs of ABC’s soap operas (the aforementioned trio, plus The Edge Of Night and Ryan’s Hope), which seemed better produced and acted, even to my callow and untrained eye. Plus, General Hospital, more so than the other 4, seemed to be more masculine in both its storytelling and characters, as I started watching the show at the arrival of Tony Geary’s infamous Luke Spencer character, which brought with it an element of life that I was more familiar with in my own real life existence in the borough of Queens: the Mafia (or, as the show has always called it, simply the Mob). Of course, the Mob of Port Charles (GH’s fictive city of origin- an upstate city modeled after Syracuse and Rochester, and residing somewhere near Lake Ontario) was nothing like the real Mob, much less Hollywood’s watered down goombahs from Francis Ford Coppola nor Martin Scorsese films (after all, there were virtually NO Italians involved, and the dons were WASPy aristocrats with generic names like Frank Smith). On occasions, I would watch the two other hour length ABC soaps, AMC- more regularly, and OLTL- when stories or characters seemed to get better, but GH was always my go to soap, and, by 1980 I was watching it regularly, as Luke went on the run with Laura Webber (Genie Francis), after betraying the Mob.
That storyline, and the subsequent Luke and Laura one- The Ice Princess, wherein a mad Greek patriarch tried to freeze Port Charles and take over the world, would lead to General Hospital scoring ratings like no soap opera has done before nor since, culminating in Luke and Laura’s November, 17th, 1981 wedding, which produced the highest daytime television ratings in American broadcast history. The tales of GH’s Golden Age (the 1980s) saw the action dynamics even survive the 1984 loss of Luke and Laura (who, as many soap actors before and since, tried to find greener pastures), as GH’s own James Bond, Robert Scorpio (Tristan Rogers), took up the action and adventure slack, and became the biggest soap star of the 1980s, along with Jack Wagner’s pop star turned spy, Frisco Jones, whose pairing with Kristina Malandro’s Felicia Cummings made that couple, the equally alliterative Frisco and Felicia, the Luke and Laura of the second half of that decade. By the late 80s, silly stories (Casey the alien, anyone?) descended upon GH, and it was not until the 1991 return of Tony Geary that the show began a creative resurrection. Geary returned, though, not as Luke Spencer, but his look alike cousin, Bill Eckert- a character who, for the first couple of years on air, was the most broodingly existential (and possibly unlikable) character in the medium’s history. It was also an acting revelation for Geary, as his portrayal of Eckert, up until the writers made him a-gasp- pirate, was far more rich and complex than anything he had served up as Luke Spencer. Even Geary expressed how much he preferred the Eckert character to the Spencer one. But by the mid-1990s, with the killing off of Eckert, and the return of Geary as Spencer (along with Francis’s Laura, and their son, Lucky- played by the terrific Jonathan Jackson), General Hospital was again a critical success, even if it never regained the top spot in the soap opera ratings from The Young And The Restless. The return of the Cassadine clan and some socially relevant tales- such as the death and heart transplant of BJ Jones (Brighton Hertford) to her cousin Maxie (Robyn Richards), as well as an AIDS story featuring Robert Scorpio’s daughter, Robin (Kimberly McCullough), as the Robert character had been presumed dead for years, contributed mightily to GH’s resurrection into what can best be termed its Silver Age.
But, the seeds of the soap’s Lost Decade of 2001-2011, were sewn as early as 1993, with the arrival of a charismatic young actor named Maurice Benard, fresh off of a genre star making run as AMC’s bad boy/organized criminal/rebel Nico Kelly. Benard was cast as a criminal once again, and, a Mobster wannabe, to boot. He was Sonny Corinthos, a Bensonhurst thug with ‘a heart of gold,’ suffering from a palpable Napoleon Complex, who wanted to reduce violence in his ‘business,’ thus playing into the faux mythos that real life gangsters never lowered themselves into drugs nor the seamier sides of organized crime. This did not stop Sonny from a career as a strip club owner of The Paradise Lounge, with the strong implication that he was also the top player in the Port Charles prostitution racket, even if he was, at the time, subordinate to other older gangsters and Families. Sonny’s protégé was a young thug named Stone Cates (Michael Sutton), who was a drug user and pusher who died of AIDS, and passed it along to Robin. Early on, Sonny was regularly portrayed as a sleaze, as well as a coward and physical weakling, especially in comparison to the wannabe boxer character established as his WASPy rival- AJ Quartermaine (Sean Kanan), the alcoholic scion of Port Charles’ richest clan- the Quartermaines- who memorably pulverized the little Mobster in a boxing match, as well as Stone’s older brother, Jagger (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), who tried to pry Stone away from Sonny’s vice. Then, as his character took off, after Sonny was paired up with Vanessa Marcil’s popular Brenda Barrett character, Sonny was retconned into a ‘protector’ of women and honor- more noxious stereotypes and lies from the real life Mob. By the late 1990s, Sonny Corinthos had displaced Luke Spencer, and become the show’s main character, flanked by his shrewish wife, the vile, scheming, and mentally ill Carly (played by the brilliant Sarah Brown), and newest protégé and hitman Jason Quartermaine Morgan (Steve Burton)- the other whitebread scion of Port Charles’ wealthiest family, the Quartermaines, who suffered brain damage in a drunk driving accident with his brother A.J., rejected his aristocratic roots, then plotted with Carly and Sonny to steal AJ’s son with Carly, Michael (Dylan Cash).
Hence, came the decade of ethical darkness that saw Sonny, Jason, and Carly, who on any other show would be portrayed as the villains they are, become the ‘moral center’ of the Port Charles universe. Let me repeat that. The ‘good guys’ of the show were a mass murdering, serial raping (yes, this is so, and I’ll probe this anon), adulterous Mob boss (by then Sonny had ascended the criminal ladder), his brain damaged and amoral hitman, and his psychopathic, mentally unhinged and equally faithless wife. Even supposedly ethical characters, like Robin Scorpio and Elizabeth Webber (Rebecca Herbst) were written as apologists for the murder, mayhem, and violence that made Port Charles into a smaller version of 1920s Chicago. Gone were the good guys of the 1980s and 1990s, who always defeated the bad guys: Robert Scorpio, Anna Devane (Finola Hughes), Frisco Jones, and company had all left the show, and, to make the descent into the lamentable ethical abyss complete, not only were the bad guys made to be the ethical Gibraltars, but the good guys were subsequently retconned into being ignorant deadbeat dads (Robert and Frisco) or self-obsessed careerists (Anna). Thus, viewers got Sonny and Jason terrorizing Port Charles while supposedly protecting the citizens (mere vassals in their fiefdom) from supposedly worse evildoers than they were, leaving a bodycount in the dozens, if not hundreds. Things got so ethically skewed in the early part of this century that it wasn’t until the latter part of the last decade, though, that GH even showed the results of Sonny’s and Jason’s brutality and violence onscreen, in a gruesome musical montage where they slaughtered a previously unknown rival family’s soldiers onscreen, in what was inarguably premeditated murder.
But, the ethical slide of the show did not begin in the 2000s, nor with the arrival of Sonny Corinthos, in 1993. It actually started almost three decades earlier, in 1979, when Laura Webber was married to Scott ‘Scotty’ Baldwin (Kin Shriner), a long time character whose romance with Laura had, in 1978, helped save General Hospital from cancellation. Producer Gloria Monty and head writer Pat Falken Smith were not satisfied with the wildly popular Webber-Baldwin romance and marriage, and in true soap style, they wanted to break the couple up. The idea was that if Laura was popular paired up with Scotty, then ratings would rise higher if she left Scotty for Luke- the show’s other ratings driver, whose character had long outlasted his original planned 13 week run in 1978. Luke had come on to the show as an employee of Frank Smith’s and was a con man, grifter, and hitman. While we never saw Luke kill anyone for money onscreen, this part of his character was well established. The problem was how to make a hitman palatable enough to pair up with a teenaged Laura?
By late 1979, the Monty-Smith team decided to have Luke rape Laura at the campus disco he owned, as a Mob front. Now, this was certainly not the first time a female character was raped on a soap opera, but the problems soon arose when Luke became even more popular AFTER the brutal act. At shopping mall appearances, Geary lamented the fact that hundreds of women would chant to him that they wanted Luke to rape them. In response, the GH team retconned the rape into merely being a seduction, and that Laura had ‘wanted’ to be forced into sex by Luke. I won’t go into all the narrative outflow from that decision, just that the decision to retcon the rape, which turned Laura Webber from a ‘bad girl’ to a ‘mother goddess’ sort of character, paved the way for a wave of soap opera rapes that followed the same formula over the ensuing decades: bad girl comes to town, causes trouble- up to and often including murder, wreaks havoc, then is raped by an even ‘worse’ male character, gains sympathy, is portrayed as ‘misunderstood,’ rehabilitated, and the rapist is pilloried and punished- often by death. All My Children did this a number of times (the Ross Chandler and Will Cooney characters come to mind), as did other network soaps. GH even revisited this formula with Luke and Laura’s own son’s girlfriend, Elizabeth Webber in the late 1990s. The problem was that, for almost twenty years, GH never publicly admitted to what had been broadcast on national television- that Luke actually raped Laura; it was not a seduction. And, while Laura metamorphosed into a mother goddess, Luke also became heroic, saving the world from a number of megalomaniacal supercriminals before leaving the show for seven years.
Until the early 1990s, the Luke as rapist (and lest we forget, his backstory as a hitman makes him an even more despicable character) tale was probably the most famous rape story in soap history. Then, in 1993, One Life To Live upped the ante when it debuted the Todd Manning character (Roger Howarth, who, after the cancellation of OLTL, earlier this year, migrated over to GH), a college aged jock and serial rapist who raped the show’s popular Marty Saybrooke (Susan Haskell) character- yet another ‘bad girl’ redeemed by a rape storyline. Manning had led a gang rape of Marty, but, like Luke, became so popular he was soon retconned more sympathetically, and, like Luke, had hordes of female fans begging to be raped by his character. Earlier rape claims were somehow forgotten, but, at least, Manning was not able to obliterate his past the way Luke Spencer had- possibly because of the facial scar he received in a second attempt of violence on Marty. Luke, however, never got redemption since the retcon had washed away his most notorious- by soap standards- ‘crime.’ That was until the late 1990s, when his son, Lucky, finally found out about the rape of his mother. Unfortunately, even the revisit never properly grounded the 1979 rape, and no realistic explanation for Laura’s so-called ‘falling in love’ with her rapist has ever been offered, although Luke and Laura are long since divorced. Yes, the character of Laura has spent decades suffering from mental ills, and was raped by other men, but that still does not explain her initial love for her first known rapist (although legally, she had been statutorily raped before Luke- no need to go into all that here).
So, the Luke rape of Laura proved to be not only a pivotal event for the fictive drama of the soap opera it occurred on, but a seminal event- even an archetypal one that has permeated the culture of serial daytime fiction for almost three and a half decades now. Even worse, it set the stage for the later total skewing of the ethical compass of General Hospital, because, in 1993, the year that Todd Manning raped Marty Saybrooke on OLTL, an even more vile rapist than Luke or Todd (who raped one, and one to possibly three women) appeared on the scene of General Hospital, and that villain was none other than Sonny Corinthos- the aforementioned dimpled Mobster.
Now, anyone with a brain knows that the worst crime that a human being can do to another is murder. No one has ever returned after being murdered, in real life, although many real life rape victims have lived healthy and productive lives since. This goes against PC and Feminist doctrine, but it also happens to be true. Nonetheless, soaps have always portrayed rape as the ‘worst possible crime.’ Character’s lives in soaps are cheap, and villains dispatch secondary and tertiary characters routinely. But, rape stories are usually front burner tales for months, as they involve a female character’s ‘soul,’ especially when serving in the redemption of a bad girl mold.
This is where Sonny comes in. When he arrived in Port Charles, like Luke and Todd, he had a violent backstory. In Luke’s case it was as a Mob hitman, in Todd’s it was as a serial rapist. In Sonny’s case it was as a Mobster, but also a serial rapist; except his form of rape was not violent, as Todd’s nor Luke’s had been, but of the drug induced date rape variety. To recap, Sonny appeared as the owner of a strip club called The Paradise Lounge, and Stone Cates was his flunky. Later, when Stone got AIDS from a former girlfriend, it was revealed that Sonny had been her drug supplier, which gave the later rationale that Sonny was against drug dealing since he had indirectly caused the death of his protégé. But Sonny had had a more direct involvement with drug use, in his first months on air. It was revealed, via Stone, and others, that Sonny’s background included him slipping drugs into the drinks of his often underaged strippers, then having sex with them. As Stone commented, Sonny ‘liked them young,’ meaning he was legally a pedophile, and technically an ephebophile. While this was established as part of Sonny’s backstory, we were never shown these ongoing rapes onscreen, unlike Luke or Todd. They were either referenced as occurring in the past, or Sonny would be told he had a ‘meeting’ with a new ‘applicant,’ or some such device- code words that he was going to ‘interview’ a stripper applicant, slip her drugs, and do to her what he wanted. For months this scenario unfolded, until the writers decided to take another troubled Port Charles female character, Karen Wexler (Cari Shayne, the long lost daughter of Scotty Baldwin), girlfriend of Stone’s older brother Jagger, and have her end up as a stripper. The details of the storyline are not so important, as is the outcome: that Sonny Corinthos raped Karen Wexler, as part of a plan to break her up with Jagger, so she would work for him. And, like the rape of Laura, this was broadcast on national television. The only difference was that the scenes elided over the sex act, and the clip linked to occurs AFTER Sonny has gotten Karen drunk and high on whatever his rape cocktail was, and raped her.
Yet, in all of this, the fact of the matter is that, unlike Luke Spencer and Todd Manning, the character of Sonny Corinthos has managed to avoid his troubling serial rapist past, as the many retcons of the characters have even tried to portray this amoral, psychopathic, serial raping, mass murdering crime lord as somehow a protector of women, and virtue, in general. Yet, still, on many GH websites, blogs, and chatrooms, newby watchers of the show, and those fans of Maurice Benard, do not want to acknowledge the character’s disturbing history, even going so far as to condemn Luke by comparison, and bemoan the arrival of ‘rapist’ Todd Manning to GH, in February of 2012, while not acknowledging that, by any criteria, Sonny Corinthos is a far more evil character than either Luke or Todd. The same might also be said for the Jason Morgan character, who was recently ‘killed off’ of GH, but, as he had brain damage, it is just as easy to acknowledge that he was used by the Sonny character, hence, as another of Sonny’s victims, all of his crimes go back to Sonny’s plate.
What brought all this up was my coming across a recent post at a GH website, titled History, Memory, And The Disappearing Woman: General Hospital’s Rape Problem, written by an anonymous contributor. While the piece makes a few good points, which I will freely acknowledge, it also deviates into some massive retconning of its own, as well as some flat out factual errors and egregious bigwordthrowingarounding of ideas and concepts the author clearly does not fully understand, as well as political extremism. Nonetheless, it’s worth a read, and my evaluation/rebuttal.
I admit that, as a feminist soap opera viewer (okay, I only watch General Hospital), I balance a delicate paradox: I am often both within and without the narrative, appreciating the long-ranging story and its feminine applications/implications while at the same time balking at its often reactionary views of gender, class, and race/ethnicity. But I’m not particularly comfortable with binaries in general, so I live inside this paradox, comfortably vacillating — often multiple times in a single viewing — between a concentration on story structure, theoretical concerns, and raw entertainment.
In many years of watching this soap, I have witnessed a rape or two. A
rape attempt or two. A rape threat or two. Rape is noted by most feminist
scholars to be the most effective form of male hegemonic dominance: it
penetrates a woman’s being physically and emotionally, and it creates a sense
of fear and uncertainty. The reality of rape and its threat as a reality of
women’s daily lives is further problemetized by the existence of rape
narratives — fictions that often attend to the harsh realities of rape but
that also can create and reinforce the myths that surround it. Soaps, a form
that is viewed largely by women, are drawn to the rape narrative because it
provides a forum for dramatizing the very real fear that women live
with/experience first hand, but it is not nearly as clear why soap operas so
ubiquitously participate in the perpetuation of rape myths.
Notice all the capital F Feminist gobbledygook. Interestingly, GH has strayed outside the myth that the author perpetuates- that rape is merely a female problem, for, last year, Michael Corinthos (now played by Chad Duell)- the son Sonny stole from AJ Quartermaine, was raped in prison. In fact, male on male rape, and even female on male rape (ironically, Todd Manning’s character, years later, was raped by a woman- only to have the story retconned that ‘Todd’ was really Victor Lord, Jr. (played by Trevor St. John), Todd’s long lost twin- don’t ask, it’s too convoluted) is only now getting media coverage. Nonetheless, she plows forward:
First, let’s back up a bit. I am operating from a basic assumption:
rape is unequivocally different from other forms of violence against women,
even, often, murder. This is for two reasons: rape is an act of power and
violence that is about survival as much as about victimization (rape and murder,
when both are employed, are always mentioned as a pair and indicate not only
wholesale violence against a woman but erasure of the witness); rape is about
naming and proving a particular reality in a world where men’s voices are —
still today — louder than women’s. Rape on General Hospital
deals with these two issues explicitly.
Note how the author falls into the trap that I earlier mentioned: that
rape is somehow ‘the ultimate crime’ (this is Feminist dogma- for the
Politically Correct it’s racism, at least on soaps)? Then she uses, as proof,
the Feminist myth that rape is a crime about power and violence, not sex.
However, many studies of forced sex in the animal kingdom invariably show that
‘rape’ is a natural evolutionary outgrowth and strategy for reproduction.
Now, reread that carefully. I am not arguing for rape in humans, just that
coerced sex is a natural evolutionary and mating strategy in many animals, and
to deny this is to somehow suggest that humans are Biblically apart and above
all other creatures. We are not, in most ways. Of course, animals lack the ethos
that humans do- which includes the recognition of the self as a volitional
being, hence, coerced sex, in the minds of many addled theorists, HAS to be
about sex and power. These sorts even deny that females have rape fantasies-
even as both Tony Geary and Roger Howarth could acknowledge this is patently
false, given the mobs of Beatlemania-like young women in the 70s and 90s who
wanted to be raped by their characters. In short, the Feminist ideas about rape
are mostly invalidated because they a) lack a penis, b) lack testosterone
surging through their veins, and c) are based upon dogma divorced from reality.
This does not deny that power and violence play a part in SOME rapes, but
not in ALL rapes. In many, SEX is the prime, and often only, objective.
The stereotypical loser hiding behind the bushes is an archetype of this.
No psychologists have ever denied nor even really quibbled with the
realistic portrayals of the Luke and Todd rapes of Laura and Marty, only the
egregious retcons. While Todd Manning’s gang rape clearly was motivated by the
character’s use of violence and power to try and bolster his own lack of self
esteem, Luke’s case is vastly different. Yes, he was a hitman, but, as often
happens in the soap world, that is ‘mitigated’ by the old (and wrong)
stereotype that Mobsters only kill their own- meaning that the people murdered
‘deserve it,’ the same rationale often used by rapists against their
victims. But, while he forced himself on Laura, he clearly was not trying to
hurt her. As written, the character thought he was a dead man, as he was marked
for murder, and wanted to express his love for Laura. Yes, it’s sick, but
there was no desire for power and there was not the violence that Todd Manning
and his frat boy peers employed. This, however, brings me back to Sonny
Corinthos as serial rapist. If Todd Manning fits the author’s stereotype, and
Luke Spencer is borderline, Sonny Corinthos smashes it beyond recognition.
Yes, he employed psychic violence against Karen Wexler and the other strippers he raped, but no physical violence (see the scene in Taxi Driver, where Harvey Keitel’s pimp character, Sport, uses seduction on Jodie Foster’s character to ensnare victims like her- this is a more explicit version of the character Sonny originally was). And, while one can argue that the use of the drug was about power and control, and do so convincingly, it’s also clear that, as a strip club owner, Sonny clearly and simply wanted, in the vernacular, poontang. Lots of it, and even his dimples could not secure enough of it. In fact, by any measure, later years and retcons have shown the Sonny Corinthos character to be a virtual, if not actual, sex addict- a trait that is even more pronounced than the character’s manic depression and bipolarity, which were only written into the character to appease his portrayer, Maurice Benard. Like it or not, GH, which currently houses three main character who are rapists (with only Todd a convicted one), scrambles, if not completely destroys, the author’s biases- including the very telling omission of Sonny Corinthos as rapist (see below):
I’m not going to go back and discuss the characters Luke and Laura and
redemptive rape and all of that except to say that, in addition to a few
contemporary rapists and accused rapists running around, General
Hospital currently provides cover to two
redeemed rapists: Luke and Todd Manning (previously of One Life to
Live). I really like both of these
characters, but they serve as a reminder of where rape myths can become
excruciatingly problematic: both of these men are not merely forgiven for their
rapes, but they are reminded semi-regularly that those crimes were committed by
“a different man” — that they have, over time, somehow let go of their
crimes through their other actions, and that, despite their persistently murky
ethics, their brand of bad is no longer “rape” bad — it’s coded as
rakish, not predatorial. While this is not insignificant, these are also
characters whose redemption occurred during a different historical moment. Part
of the awesome/horrible reality of soap stories that take place over the span of
decades is that the storytellers have to live with the choices of their
predecessors and find ways to ameliorate the impact of more troubling messages
from earlier moments of cultural and social understanding (though, admittedly,
both of these redemptive rapes stories were lambasted by feminist media scholars
when they aired).
As mentioned, the most interesting and illustrative thing in this passage
is how the author, like so many others, utterly ignores Sonny, the third and, by
far, most active and vile of the three rapists on the show. When he or she
writes, ‘the storytellers have to live with the choices of their
predecessors and find ways to ameliorate the impact of more troubling messages
from earlier moments of cultural and social understanding’ the irony is
that he/she is engaging in the very same act of ameliorating the Sonny Corinthos
character’s sex crimes, by utterly ignoring them, that the writing teams of
soap operas experience. Looking past his or her oversight, though, the author
does make a good point as to why soap opera characters are so convoluted,
Now, we get on to the crux of the article: two newer ‘rapes’ that occurred or were referenced on the show, but which likely never took place, in either case.
I am interested, instead, in the implied or presumed rapes of the characters Sam and, in particular, Kate. Their experiences are wrapped in unknowing, which ties both women to a lengthy history of rape: the role of memory and rapist identification in the overall conversation of rape. To be sure, there are many women who cannot properly identify their rapists, who may take care to conceal themselves. But the problem of “accurate memory” is more about questioning both the victim’s ability to know what she experienced and her motives for knowing what she knows, and there is a long history of questioning the victim around this meme: how can you be sure you were raped if you do not remember it? Or, even more insidiously, how can we (the Royal We) be sure you were raped when your judgement is somehow subject to question? Kahlor and Eastin (2011) provide concise insight into the perpetuated myths about rape: “Rape myths refer to false but persistent beliefs and stereotypes regarding forced sexual intercourse and the victims and perpetrators of such acts. Rape myths suggest women fabricate rape when they regret consensual sex after the fact, and that women who claim rape are promiscuous, have bad reputations, and dress provocatively.” Because of these long-embedded beliefs, the perpetuation of rape myths on soap operas carry additional weight.
Now, here is a perfect example of Feminist rape mythologizing. In the last decade and a half, with the onset of better and more prevalent DNA testing, one of the biggest rape myths exposed has been that YES, a woman who is raped often utterly confuses who her rapist is, and many men have been falsely convicted of rapes they NEVER committed, and which, scientifically, they could NOT have committed. In fact, DNA tests are forcing higher standards than just the word of the victim, especially in ‘non-violent’ rapes. One need only Google to find dozens of cases where women demonstrably and falsely accused men of rape when there was either no sexual contact, or there was consensual sexual contact. And, the number of released convicts, or men with cases dropped due to contra-evidence, falsely accused of rape, in the USA alone, now stands in the thousands. Let me repeat that: the THOUSANDS. In short, men falsely convicted of rape, often by the alleged rape victim’s claim alone, is NOT a small legal problem.
Now, I am not one of those noxious, deceitful, and unmanly Men’s Rights types. I find them weasely and parasitic- almost as noxious as capital F Feminist apologists. But, both sides are guilty of mythmaking, and the ideas that ‘all rapes are about power and violence, not sex,’ or that ‘no woman would lie about being raped’ are simply and demonstrably- and more importantly, scientifically false.
Secondly, I am also very interested in the fan reaction to these rape
narratives. In particular, I drawn to (and somewhat astounded by) the role of
the viewer in the re-imagining of the rape narrative and the cultivation of the
rape myth. And I do not wish to tip-toe around this: I do believe that, with the
problematic “maybe” rapes of both Sam and Kate and the fan response to both
the women and their rapists, we, as a participatory group, are perpetuating rape
myths about women’s lack of objective agency, problematic memory, and the
re-victimization of women through their de-victimization. I find this to be
particularly troubling not because rape stories shouldn’t be told — they
should — but because the way they are told carries on a narrative history that
is as much about the language of male hegemony and the subjectification of women
as it is about mere storytelling in the traditional sense. While I am a huge fan
of complex stories in which paradoxes are explored and binaries break down (see
re: I like soap operas), I do not see the “did it or didn’t it happen”
exploration of rape as one of these gray areas. In fact, such stories are part
of a very black and white history, one that persistently and continuously
devalues women’s agency by questioning the validity of both their memory and
their (sexualized) bodies-as-victimizable.
Yet, as stated above, one of the very myths that the new millennium has dispelled is the old Feminist claim/ideal that rape is black and white and that all women have an objective ability to step back and analyze not only IF a rape occurred, but WHO that rapist was. Again, this is not even arguable that it occurs, or THOUSANDS of wrongly accused men and wrongly convicted male rapists would not have been released, in America alone, over the last two decades, were this not so. The important lesson that science has brought to the crime of rape is that EVERY case or claim or rape is individualized. There is no broad statement that can be made- be it by the smug old boys club mentality that says ‘she was asking for it,’ because she’s loose or wore provocative clothes or came from a line of loose women, etc., nor by the equally morally smug Feminists who claim ‘every man is a potential rapist,’ ignoring the fact that every woman is, too.
In short, these stories participate in a sort of re-raping of the woman,
attacking her both mentally and physically; however, this narrative re-rape is
far more insidious for its pretense of being mere character exploration. Perhaps
it could be that in isolation; however, hundreds of years of rape myth history
make such stories impossible, even irresponsible to tell because they
participate in an historical blindness that presumes gender relations, rape
narratives, and patriarchal hegemonies exist in some sort of narrative vacuum,
and that each story can somehow be created anew. It can’t.
Again, look at all the fallacies and myths the author engages in. It’s as if the author wrote this article in 1972 or 1982, not 2012, and, frankly, not only are her claims anachronistic, but they are intellectually and ethically embarrassing.
Sam and the problem of the asympathetic victim
Sam’s rape problem is unique because the question is not who she was
raped by — it’s whether she was raped by him. There is no argument over
whether or not Franco was/is (dead?) a complete psychopath. That much is known.
What remains murky is the question of whether he raped her at all, as the entire
act/performance sustained a mind game Franco had been playing with Jason. There
are two layers of rape mythologizing going on here: one is that Sam was
unconscious for the event (a mere receptacle), leading to the invariable
question of whether it actually happened; the second is the implication that the
rape of Sam was not an act of violence against Sam at all — she was merely the
object, but Jason was the real victim, given that Franco’s game pre- and
post-dates the rape/non-rape event.
For the uninitiated into GH lore, Sam is the character of Sam McCall
Morgan (Kelly Monaco), wife of hitman Jason Morgan, who was drugged and then
possibly raped by the serial killer Franco (‘guest star’ James Franco), who
was later revealed as Jason Morgan’s fraternal twin, bent on torturing his
brother, who later killed him. In the storyline, Franco followed Jason and Sam
on their honeymoon to Hawaii, drugged and locked Jason up, then forced him to
watch a video where he drugged and presumably raped Sam. Naturally, in pure
soapy fashion, Sam got pregnant, and had a baby, later stolen and switched, by
Todd Manning and long time GH psychopath Heather Webber (Robin Mattson), with
another dead baby. Heather also played with a DNA test, to make it seem that
Franco, not Jason, was the baby’s father. Jason was later killed, Sam found
out about the DNA switch, and is now, in December of 2012, questioning whether
or not she was raped. Some of this storyline has played out since the author’s
article was posted.
Kudos to the author for at least the offhand recognizing that the rape or
not of Sam was NOT the crux of this storyline, and that Jason was the intended
target, with Sam being a mere collateral victim, rape or not.
This trope doubly strips Sam of her
agency — she can neither rely on memory nor be the sole recipient of the act
that was presumably committed against her. She and Jason are portrayed as equal
victims, when Sam’s victimization is portrayed at all. [Watch the “rape”
Who is the victim in these scenes? Who
suffers?]. Taking cues from decades of soap opera rape myths, Sam’s past plays
at least some role in her rape narrative. She’s never been prudish about her
sexuality or sexual desires. Sam’s history (created as backstory at some
point, and it’s not really clear why) is familiar: she married men for their
money and then robbed them blind. Her past actions complicate her victimhood in
startling ways, adding to the problematic trope of the women who are raped who,
on some level, have put themselves in the position to be raped, consciously or
This is truly one of the most insidious forms of rape myth, and it is
further problemetized by the trope that often follows: rape as a positive
experience that “transforms an evil woman into a sympathetic one” (Dutta,
1999). Now, certainly Sam is not and has never been portrayed (at least
consistently) as wholly evil or wholly good, and, of course, there seems to be
no real indication in the narrative that her presumed rape will somehow change
her in some profound way; however, it is interesting to note that, while Sam was
once narratively deemed unready for motherhood, she now seems “prepared.”
Not only is she prepared (because she will one day learn that her baby is alive
and that Jason, not Franco, is the father), but she has somehow earned this
Here, the author points out that Sam seems to fit the category of ‘the bad girl raped into being a good girl’ trope, except that, by the time of the rape/non-rape, Sam was long since redeemed of her many crimes, so the rape, if it occurred, actually does NOT fit the aforementioned trope.
The fact remains that it is unclear whether Sam was raped, whether she
can trust the holes that were filled in by Jason’s eyes and the implications
of what he did not see. This lack of empirical evidence has led to a certain
amount of freedom in the attacks leveled against her by fans. Since her rape is
not verifiable — in the parlance of our times, “legitimate” — she is
fair fodder for judgment. A number of viewers on fan boards have questioned why
she didn’t visit the hospital directly following the event, even implying that
her not-knowing status was somehow her own fault — she could have had closure
had she merely “followed the rules.” What’s more, posters argue that she
would have handled being raped “better” had she visited a therapist —
again, had she followed the rules. This implies two equally problematic things:
1) there is an appropriate and inappropriate way of responding to being raped;
and 2) Sam’s lifestyle as one who tends not to follow rules in general has
somehow led to her current circumstances. Interestingly, Tamborini, et. al
(2010), in their study of the way that consistent soap viewing has strong
implications for the way an individual perceives morality vis-a-vis social
convention, quote Zillmann’s (2000) study: “Zillmann states that viewers act
as untiring moral monitors whose dispositions towards characters are influenced
by the perceptions of the morality of character actions. In other words, the
extent to which a character is judged as being virtuous or wicked will influence
the perceptions of their subsequent behaviors as being moral and immoral,
respectively.” Regardless of whether I agree with this sort of effects-style
behavioral research (I generally do not), it is interesting that, in Sam’s
case, some viewers use her past behavior as a basis for judgment of her supposed
rape; furthermore, the fact that whether or not she was raped remains in
question seems to embolden this response: it’s her own fault that she does not
have that answer.
Here the author ballockses different points. First, viewers, while notoriously dense and childish- witness the GH fiascos in the last year over the two Maxi Joneses (Jen Lilley and Kirsten Storms); the replacement of Lexi Ainsworth’s prepubescent looking Kristina Corinthos with the more buxom and sexy Lyndsey Morgan- which engendered much mindless rage and hatred toward the latter actress, in a real life judgmentalism that the former Playboy Playmate, who plays Sam (Kelly Monaco), has oddly never experienced- despite having her looks and acting skills often being called into question; and the recent controversies over the returns of two older GH characters who returned, Duke Lavery and AJ Quartermaine, played by their former portrayers- Ian Buchanan and Sean Kanan- they are totally correct that Sam was foolish not to report the rape/non-rape when it occurred, just as they would have been in a real life situation, and, as mentioned, Sam was already redeemed into a ‘good girl’ so her rape or not simply does not fall into the transformative sort of rape that ‘converted’ Laura Webber and Marty Saybrooke.
All of this results in one strange pattern: Sam’s rape is consistently
subordinated by her pregnancy, her baby’s supposed death, and Jason’s
handling of his newfound brother’s behavior (Franco and Jason are twins! This
is not merely silly — the implications are not always well-executed, but the
twist, at its best, works to draw attention to Jason’s role as mobster hit man
and creates gray area around a single question: did a brain-damaging accident
make Jason who he is, or is he simply who he is?). The fact that Sam was raped
at all — or that, at the very least, she believes she was and therefore
experiences the emotional trauma related to having been raped — is often
relegated to a small piece of a larger pie with which she has less and less to
do. The entire event of her rape has been subsumed by Jason, their male child,
and the drama surrounding his birth; her agency both as a woman autonomous of
her child and as a woman who has been traumatized by rape is stripped via the
prioritization of matters that are implied to be more significant. The myth of
Sam’s rape is in whether it occurred at all and whether her memory — or lack
of memory — is reliable. Because it is not, she is not allowed agency, and her
rape merely becomes an plot point in someone else’s tale.
Interestingly, the author, blinded in a Feminist zeal, misses out on the
fact that the Sam rape or not actually undermines almost all of the author’s
prior claims about rape, because if Sam was not raped, which seems to be likely
(and whether or not Jason the murderous hitman’s ethics are better or worse
than his serial killing twin’s are utterly beside the point), then it just
goes to show how easily demolished are the Feminist myths about women NOT making
up rape claims, nor being sure or not sure of rape. Yes, the circumstances are
typically soap operatic, in their details, but they do have real world
implications. If Sam was not raped, then any feelings she has in that regard are
all self constructed, and aided and abetted by Jason and others. Fortunately,
the Valentini-Carlivati team have wisely downplayed the rape aspect of this
tale, and Sam seems to have adjusted reasonably well to it all. In fact, there
have been hints, here and there, that the rape of Michael, in prison, by another
inmate, orchestrated by Franco, may still play out, psychologically, and become
a sticking point between Michael’s real biological father (AJ) and the man who
stole him, by hanging AJ on a meat hook and threatening to kill him if he did
not sign away his legal parental rights, and raised him as his own (Sonny).
The author then goes on to the second rape or not in the show’s recent history, and one which is far more gray and questionable, for reasons the author and I expound on.
Kate/Connie and the problem of ethnicity, memory, and mythologizing the tale
Kate’s rape story — or supposed rape, as it seems to be up for question in the minds of many viewers — has a number of possible outcomes, and only one of them seems capable of resisting a rape myth as part of its telling.
The one non-rape myth option is very simple: Kate was raped by Joe Scully Jr., as she remembers being, and he is held accountable for his crimes. Because let’s face it–the only viable outcomes for a proven rapist in 2012 are prison or death. I choose to believe (and I pray I’m right) that the days of the reformed rapist are behind us; the last three decades of feminist discussion of mainstream media seem to have brought this problematic trope into the light and burned it like a Vitamin D deprived vampire. This is the outcome I desire, clear justice that reinforces a few fundamental and salient points: women can trust their own memories and experiences; women who “cry rape” — knowingly or not — are an anomaly in the real world and should be anathema in popular culture given problematic contemporary attitudes that illustrate people question the validity of rape far more often than it actually occurs. To feed this misconception is to simply pedal misogynist porn.
Here the author goes way over the top and conflates many issues. First, as mentioned, the fact that men are falsely accused of rape by women is, again, a proven fact. Second, not all rapes are the same, and just like murder or any other crime, there is a difference between a serial violent rapist and a man who is drunk, and one night imposes himself (or not) on an equally drunk woman. The author willfully and stupidly lumps all rape into a single category. Then, she conflates rape with pornography and pornography with misogyny, whereas there is no equation for either, and this gets to the Feminist ideal that they merely claim to want women to be empowered to be free about their own lives, unless those empowered women want to display that power sexually, and graphically, on film, for, to the Capital F Feminist, it is wholly inconceivable that, well, some women just like to fuck, get fucked, and often do it in the most exhibitionist ways possible. In short, they want women to be empowered, but only in ways that Feminists approve of. That the author conflates these wholly separate issues with rape, and, clearly, she means violent rape, as she seems to see no distinction nor degree in the act, again, undercuts many of her claims.
Also, alas, many of her following posits will never be answered as, last month, the character of Joe Scully, Jr. was killed off by the returning GH supervillain from the 1990s, Cesar Faison (Anders Hove), in disguise as Duke Lavery (Ian Buchanan).
The alternative outcomes for this story have more insidious implications.
There seem to be two alternatives to the Joe-raped-Kate scenario. One is that
somehow she mis-remembers what happened to her and that Joe has been somehow
incorrectly implicated. (Watch
Kate’s visceral and violent memory of
being raped around minute 4:40 — she knows absolutely
that the assailant is Joe) The other is that Connie, Kate’s alter personality
(she suffers from Dissociative Identity Disorder), had sex with Joe willingly
and Kate’s personality “appeared” during the event and believed she was
being raped. A third possibility is that Kate has yet another personality, but,
as the implications of this are pretty much the same as scenario two, I will let
There is actually a fourth possibility, that the author seemingly does
not want to entertain, and one that is the most likely; and that is that Connie
has lied about the rape all along. In fact, since the author’s article was
posted, Connie has blackmailed Johnny Zacchara (Brandon Barash) into marriage,
after phonily threatening to cry rape against Johnny, to have Sonny kill him- a
key point neglected by the author, but which occurred before the article was
posted. Also, it has come out that Kate Howard was, as many suspected, the
actual alter-ego of Connie Falconeri, not the other way around.
Now, these developments, post-article, have some profound effects on many
of the author’s thesis, and point out how willfully blinded to this likelihood
she is by her own political blinders. First off, is the fact that the actress
who portrays Kate/Connie (Kelly Sullivan) has suffered many bitter barbs about
her acting style and quality across assorted GH chatrooms and blogs, and the
fact that she replaced a fairly popular originator of the role (Megan Ward).
Most acknowledge that Ward was good as the ice queenish Kate, but doubt she
could have handled the flamboyant Connie. Sullivan handles her well, but even
her fans have nitpicked on her so-called ‘overacting.’ In doing so, these
viewers have totally misread the situation. It is not the real world actress,
Kelly Sullivan, who is overacting as Connie, but the diegetic Connie who
is overacting as a wild woman in front of the other characters, and a
close watching of the scenes wherein Connie is alone and with other characters
bears this out. Alone, Connie is fairly normal, but, around others, she is an
over the top hellion. And it’s clear that the character does this as a
smokescreen to throw her enemies off guard, and underestimate her. Look how
it’s worked like diamonds with Johnny, Sonny, Todd, and Carly.
As for the three other scenarios? It’s certainly possible that Joe Jr.
raped Connie, who then developed into Kate. But, the whole idea of Kate’s DID
or MPD, in the real world, negates this. Let us put aside the fact that there
may legitimately be no such condition, but, even accepting it on all its claims
means that the likely personality split had to have occurred at an earlier
trauma- perhaps childhood molestation? Plus, Joe, Jr. was wrenched back into
Sonny’s life by Jason, after decades of being out of it (save for financing
his son’s Mob Princess reality show on Sonny’s daughter, Kristina).
But, the portrayal of Joe Scully, Jr., by the terrific Richard Steinmetz, seems
to argue against this. Joe is a bad guy, but the soapy sort- he may have
murdered John McBain’s (Michael Easton- another OLTL actor who moved to Port
Charles after that show’s cancellation) retconned sister (although Sonny
remains the likelier suspect), he provided thugs to Jerry Jacks (Sebastian
Roché) in the Metrocourt Hostage
Crisis a few years back, and he willingly helped Jerry in his terroristic
poisoning of the Port Charles reservoir, but these are standard soap opera
crimes of supervillains like The Cassadines, Faison, Domino (Joseph Mascolo),
and the like. Feminists do not write obtuse treatises on freezing the world.
Also, Steinmetz’s Joe Jr.’s loving relationship with his and Connie’s son,
Trey (Erik Valdez), seems to negate the likelihood of him as a violent rapist.
But it’s a possibility.
The second option is that Connie seduced Joe, willingly, to get back at
Sonny, for some reason- perhaps because she found out he was boffing strippers
(whether she knew he was raping them is another matter entirely) and then Kate
appeared mid-coitus and cried rape. This may be the likeliest option, and the
option that best ‘splits the middle,’ but if Connie is, indeed, acting a
part in her life, and has shown that she is more than willing to falsely cry
rape (as she did with Johnny, to blackmail him into sex), and this occurred pre-
the article’s posting, it is not likely a realistic scenario. The third or
more personality does, indeed, complicate things more, meaning the two likeliest
options are that Kate appeared mid-consensual coitus or that Connie lied. Given
Connie’s history, and what we know of Joe, the show clearly painted this-
Connie’s lying- as the most likely option.
But, let me briefly digress here, to analyze some things, and also rail
against the character of Sonny Corinthos, whose history and backstory have been
rewritten to the point of absurdity. I have no inherent problem with an
occasional rewrite as clarification, but when it wholly obliterates aspects of a
character or story already shown and told, then it’s troublesome. Part of the
troubling aspect of Sonny’s retconning (aka whitewashing) is that the very
character of Sonny should make for his being one of the all time great soap
opera villains. Instead, the rewrites have all been made to try to turn him into
an antihero; of which Luke Spencer was arguably the first one in soap opera
history. But, Luke is a less complex character than Sonny, with far less
rewriting in his pedigree. Also, both pre- and post-1990s admission of Luke’s
rape of Laura, Luke always owned up to his flaws, and offered little or nothing
in the way of excuses. In fact, at this point in the character’s three and a
half decade evolution, it’s about the only positive thing one can
unambiguously state about such a misanthropic character: that he sits at the top
of his list of human beings he hates. By contrast, Sonny does not own his
sleaze. Therefore he is an irredeemable coward, on top of all his other crimes,
and cowardice is simply not a character trait that the greatest villains in
fiction, and soap operas possess (and, in the real world, this cowardly crime
lord and his whitebread Anger Boy ‘muscle’ would have lasted less than a
week). Many of these villains believe they are good or doing right, or they
fully revel in their evil. A short list of GH’s most memorable villains shows
this: Mikkos Cassadine, Stavros Cassadine (John Martinuzzi), Helena Cassadine
(Constance Towers), Grant Putnam (Brian Patrick Clarke), Heather Webber, Kevin
O’Connor (Kevin Bernhardt), Domino, Cesar Faison, Frank Smith (George Gaynes
and Mitchell Ryan), Ryan Chamberlain (Jon Lindstrom), Manny Ruiz (Robert LaSardo),
Victor Jerome (Jack Axelrod), Angus McKay (Guy Doleman), Bert Ramsey (Bob
Hastings), Jerry Jacks, The Balkan (Daniel Benzali), Anthony Zacchara (Bruce
Weitz), Claudia Zacchara (Sarah Brown). By contrast, Johnny Zacchara (Brandon
Barash), is a real anti-hero, because he’s riddled with guilt over his crimes.
And, another troubling aspect of Sonny’s character is both his fans and
fellow characters ceaselessly ply him with the elixir that he is merely a good
man who is misunderstood- a line Sonny slyly uses to make sexually complicit the
female law enforcement officers who have come after him. And, with the
resurrection of AJ Quartermaine, many Sonny fans, on assorted boards, have
listed many of AJ’s crimes and misdeeds- virtually all of which came AFTER
Sonny and Carly plotted to take AJ’s son away from him, and effectively
kidnapped and turned AJ’s son against him for years. AJ’s sins include:
kidnapping Michael, Kristina, and Morgan, as children, in an attempt to win
Michael back, burning down one of Sonny’s warehouses, shooting his father,
Alan (Stuart Damon) in the back, after he felt Alan had betrayed him re:
Michael, and an assortment of minor frat boy and typical soap opera crimes:
blackmail, framing someone for a crime, etc. All of these things are all crimes
Sonny has committed plus more. Oh, yes, and one more other supposed misdeed that
Sonny fans claim, is that AJ (then played by Billy Warlock) deliberately pushed
Carly down the Quartermaine stairs to have her miscarry Sonny’s baby. The
claimed reason for this was that AJ failed to get Carly to pass off the baby as
his. In truth, Carly had planned to pass of the baby’s as AJ’s, as she had
been playing Sonny and AJ against one another when she was on the ‘outs’
with Sonny. Yet, there is this Youtube
video, which at about the 5:30 mark, definitely shows that AJ did NOT push
Carly, and that she fell herself, much to AJ’s distress, and he even futilely
reached out to save her. Worst of all, is that, before AJ’s drunk driving
accident, that began the transformation of Jason into a murderer, the brothers
Quartermaine were close, and may have reconciled afterwards, had Sonny not
perverted Jason with his siren song of crime. Here is a
video where Jason actually defends AJ (then played by Gerald Hopkins) from
his father, and here is a classic Quartermaine
argument scene between the two brothers (AJ now played by Sean Kanan), and,
lastly, a great
fight scene between AJ and Jason, before Jason became an invincible
assassin, and where AJ actually wins. Perhaps the biggest crime Sonny Corinthos
committed (extra-diegetically) is that his character was the start of the decade
and a half destruction of the Quartermaine clan, which robbed fans of the very
best of what made General Hospital a great piece of serial fiction- great
family melodrama and great dialogue.
Now, let us look at Sonny’s diegetic crimes, misdeeds and sins, which,
like AJ’s, includes petty soap opera type crimes, blackmail, suborning
perjury, perjury, multiple kidnappings (including recently kidnapping and tying
up Connie, in Sonny’s demented idea of a goombah intervention, thereby pushing
that character even further into dementia), assault, battery, arson, sabotage,
framing others for crimes, extortion, car bombings, attempted murder, murder,
mass murder, drug dealing, pimping, lies to and abuse of a mentally impaired
youth (Jason) whom he groomed into a hitman, rape, serial rape (dozens if not
hundreds of female strippers), rapes of minors, pedophilia, drugging people
against their will, racketeering, arms dealing, counterfeiting money, sale of
counterfeit goods, assented to the murder of his stepfather, kidnapped AJ, hung
him on a meathook, and forced him to legally sign away his parental rights to
Michael, money laundering, illegal gambling, kidnapped Sam McCall at gunpoint,
espionage, shot and murdered unarmed Russian Mob boss Karpov (Ilia Volok), shot
an unarmed cop point blank in the chest- who turned out to be his own son Dante
(Dominic Zamprogna), ordered a hit on Dante’s boyhood cop here- Lt. Poletti,
multiple infidelities, broke Mob boss Frank Smith out of jail with Luke Spencer,
shot several law enforcement/prison officials in doing so, terrorism- sabotaging
the airplane of Jasper Jacks (Ingo Rademacher), shot Carly (Tamara Braun) in the
head while giving birth, shot Robin Scorpio in her own home, in front of her
child; and those are just the ones that immediately spring to mind- there are
likely dozens of others onscreen and implied offscreen. By any SANE
measure, Sonny is as or more EVIL than Cesar Faison, Jerry Jacks, Manny Ruiz,
Ryan Chamberlain, Grant Putnam, Kevin O’Connor, Helena or Mikkos Cassadine
(John Colicos), and, in actuality, even worse than most of them. Yet, the show
still pimps the antihero version of Sonny. Why?
But, to return to the main thrust of this essay, and the particulars of the Connie Falconeri rape or not tale, to me, the far more relevant aspect of this whole scenario is Sonny’s reaction to the rape or not of Connie, for, as we know, Sonny is/was a serial rapist. Many viewers forget, but there is a thing called ‘offstage action,’ and we only see small fractions of the lives of our soap characters. Sonny still owns casinos and strip clubs, and there’s no denying that, considering his inability to be faithful to his girlfriends and wives, he has the opportunity, access, means, and disposition to force himself on any of his female employees at any time. Given that two decades have passed since we actually saw or heard of Sonny at his date raping worst, it’s far more likely that he’s merely refined his techniques and made his date rape drugs of choice even more specialized, rather than reformed and repented. As written, Sonny Corinthos merely mouths regret, he never takes his words and catalyzes them into actions. But, this also raises the question of hypocrisy. Sonny came on canvas as a stereotypical Mobster in the sex trade: he raped women, abused them, and, as mentioned, then he became popular, got paired up with the first of his many ‘true loves’- Brenda Barrett, and had his whole past rewritten, or filled in post facto, to alter his clearly delineated sex offender status.
All of a sudden, instead of Sonny as the vile and physically weak bad guy
(go rewatch the above video link of Sonny and Karen, wherein Jagger easily beats
Sonny up- bad guys are almost always portrayed as physically weaker than good
guys, therefore they have to cheat to ‘win’- and compare that to later
scenes wherein the diminutive Sonny-Maurice Benard is only 5’7” in shoe
inserts- routinely pulverizes much larger men), Sonny had killed for him a
heretofore unheard of stepfather named Deke, who was a NYC cop who supposedly
abused his sainted mother Adela (talk of sexual clichés), whom Sonny clearly
had an unhealthy fixation on, for, as we later learned, when his father, Mike
Corbin (Ron Hale) and half brother Ric Lansing (Rick Hearst) came to town, Sonny
had tried to assail himself. This all has the makings of a great twisted
maternal love story like that played out in the 1949 James Cagney classic film, White
Heat. Personally, I would love to see the writers ruin Sonny’s Mob
career, send him to jail, and have him go psychopathic, as in the end of the
Cagney film, for, as written, psychologically, Sonny’s childhood past does not
fit that of a Mobster, but that of a serial killer, like those of former GH
villains Grant Putnam, Kevin O’Connor, and Ryan Chamberlain. Then we learned
of Sonny’s hatred for his mother’s lover, Trevor Lansing (Stephen Macht),
father of Ric, and we even saw, onscreen, Sonny recoil when his first wife Lily
(Lilly Melgar) was accidentally car bombed to death, by her own gangster father,
only to, years later, see Sonny do almost do the same thing to his daughter,
Kristina. We have seen Sonny’s rages when Kristina was abused by her first
boyfriend, and, in this latest story arc, rage against how he could not stop Joe
Jr. from raping Connie. And, fortunately, for the people in charge of the show,
Sonny’s misogynistic debut as a serial date rapist has been forgotten by
almost all GH fans. After all, would it not be anachronistic (as well as
obviously hypocritical) for Sonny to rail against the abuse of his mother, and
the rape of Connie (as well as the forgotten and problematic murder of John
McBain’s stripper sister- whether or not Sonny or Joe Jr. killed her)- events
that took place before he was sent by Joe Scully, Sr. (Robert Miano) to Port
Charles- and then turn around and start date raping at will?
And, having grown up in a very Goodfellas-like environment in my
own youth and teens, I can tell you that strip club owners have a steady stream
of available young females constantly coming and going in the biz. If the Connie
rape timeline is to be believed, Sonny ran clubs for Joe Sr. for likely five or
more years before he hit Port Charles. Assuming a very conservative
minimum of at least two raped strippers (and stripper wannabes) a month (and I
won’t even mention those ready, willing, and able to service him), that means,
over five years, Sonny Corinthos likely raped well over a hundred women in just
that time frame alone, not to mention possibly countless more offstage, in the
intervening years. This would make him, by far, the worst known rapist in
American soap opera history, with his sheer number of victims easily dwarfing
the sexual violence that Todd Manning was willing to use in his youth, as well
as the utter psychosexually twisted nature of the Luke and Laura
‘rape/love,’ which, unbelievably, many later viewers still idealize and
fetishize, even after later GH writers provided some corrective in the Luke
Spencer chronology and psychology by making him creepier, alcoholic, and having
a son with a woman he cheated on Laura with- a former lover of his, and ex-wife
of Robert Scorpio, Holly Sutton (Emma Samms). And these sexual crimes, alone, if
one follows Feminist logic and doctrine, would make Sonny Corinthos the most
repugnant villain and sociopath in all of American daytime television history,
for his crimes would be seen as the ultimate crimes in a heavily female based
medium, and far above the supervillainesque sort mentioned above.
Yet, unsurprisingly, in all of this analysis of Connie’s rape or not, nothing is mentioned of her serial raping beau. Instead, the author wields her political ax:
Let’s remind ourselves what the most popular rape myths have
historically been that women “fabricate rape when they regret consensual sex
after the fact,” or “that women who claim rape are promiscuous, have bad
reputations, and dress provocatively.” The first scenario fits squarely into
the historical problem of women’s inability to rely on their own memories and
perceptions and/or that women regret their actions after the fact (Kate became
pregnant from her rape) and then consciously or subconsciously create a sort of
rape fantasy. This version of the story would implicate the viewer as having an
unreliable memory, as well, as we watched Kate relive the brutality of the event
in her memory. Should her interpretation of the event somehow come into
question, we will be asked not only to forget what she remembers but in fact what
we saw. The second scenario is even more
complex and requires some deeper investigation of Connie.
The author opens this paragraph by calling ‘fabricated rape’ claims a myth, even though, again, it’s patently NOT a myth, in the real world, and we saw on our own television screens, the fictive Connie explicitly blackmail Johnny into sex with her by claiming she would ‘cry rape’ against Johnny to Sonny. As for the second alternative, that Kate relived her supposed rape while under the care of her shrink, well, as I stated, it’s clear, now, that Kate was always Connie’s alter-ego, and likely that Connie is an expert actor, as we’ve seen her switch emotions on and off at the drop of a dime many times.
Since the appearance of Connie, I’ve felt that tugging on my internal
paradox. On the one hand, the actor who plays Kate/Connie, Kelly Sullivan, has
made a delicious meal of the Dissociative Identity Disorder story, which is a
delightful soap staple, to be sure; however, Connie is immediately recognizable
as fitting into a very popular and nefarious stereotype: that of the brash and
base Ethnic (Italian, in this case), a woman who dresses in tacky and
provocative clothes, cannot control her mouth, is over-sexualized, and
manipulates men. This portrayal is in stark contrast to Kate, who is coded as
“assimilated” in many ways: she dresses like a Junior Leaguer — pearls and
appropriate necklines. She has an Ivy League education, speaks with the mark of
the “educated,” in contrast to Connie’s Brooklyn accent.
Prior to the appearance of Connie, the alter, the insinuation was that Kate was the real Connie, the true identity of an Italian-American girl who wanted a bigger life in the world outside Bensonhurst. The appearance of Connie as an alter separates Kate and Connie into two distinct identities. Rather than being a girl-out-of water in her world, Kate’s previous self is revealed to have been profoundly different from her, and it draws into question who the real Kate/Connie is. The show certainly insinuates that Connie is the alter; however, revisionist observations from characters who knew “the real” Connie before she changed her name to Kate now reveal that she was brash and combative, if not promiscuous.
This whole passage is basically superfluous, as we now know that Kate was
the alter. The only other real possibility is the one that the author discarded
earlier- that there are three or more personalities, and that while Kate is a
mere alter, there may be two Connies: 1) the original girl before the rape or
not, and 2) the prowling maneater, post-rape or not. This does seem unlikely
because, as the author correctly notes, several people have confirmed that the
original Connie was, indeed, a sexual ‘wild child’ like the Connie we now
see, meaning that Sonny’s idealized and virginal Connie likely was a figment
of his own deluded sexuality- and one could really and truly write a book length
thesis on the twisted sexuality of the character of Sonny Corinthos- one who, in
the real world, could not only be easily diagnosed as a sexual psychopath, but
also possibly a latent homosexual with deep Electra and Oedipus complexes.
If “the alter” Connie is not
ultimately the product of
Kate’s rape as viewers have heretofore been led to believe, the über-sexualized
Connie complicates the rape myth potential surrounding Kate’s story. While
Kate remembers being raped, the possible outcome here, according to some fans,
is that a pre-existing Connie slept with Joe willingly, and Kate was simply an
unwilling passenger. This is doubly problematic because this story has already
been done — Connie slept with Johnny and Kate was led to believe she had been
raped. Playing this story a second time, particularly given that the union
created a child and was traumatic enough for Kate to bury for over two decades,
calls into question Kate’s overall understanding of reality. It fractions her
into multiple parts — none is whole, none is reliable. She becomes mere object
— she literally has no agency beyond her sexuality, and that is owned by
Connie, who represents an insatiable sexual being — unleashed Italian Heat.
The ethnic and misogynist implications here hardly need to be explored. Joe was
not a character who even existed prior to the conjuring of Kate’s rape
narrative, which begs the question of why he needs to exist at all unless he is
a plot point on the way to developing Kate’s character (rather than the far
worse option — that her rape narrative is a tool to bring him onto the canvas
long-term and will be set aside once he is fully ensconced).
As Joe, Jr. has already met his maker, the last part of the selection is moot, but look how the author devolves everything about the Connie character down to sex; as if her scheming, her crimes, and her ‘minor league’ evil mean nothing, or are all subservient to her sexuality and/or rape. Even were one to grant that Connie was raped by Joe, Jr., and it fractured her psyche (again, wholly atypical of the claims for MPD/DID), this in no way exculpates Connie for her crimes, as, clearly, Connie is a rational being. Often, one sees evil attributes in a person mistakenly lumped together with notions that abnegate responsibility, culpability, and sanity. This is patently false.
Because the truth is, and here’s the crux of it: viewers seem to like the actor who plays Joe, and so they imagine ways (ways I’m sure those behind the show have imagined, too) to keep him on their screens. But actors come and go on soaps; stories, characters, and their implications are forever. The tapestry woven by soap operas is so long and complex that stories drive experience over time. It wouldn’t matter if Joe was played by Brad Pitt. He has to go because this story simply has only one outcome that provides Kate with any level of agency. In a genre where women make up the bulk of viewers and one that has such incredible power to persuade and impact the way we as viewers experience narrative because of the longevity of both story and character, the rape narratives told on soaps need not reify untenable rape myths. There’s enough media out there doing that.
My comparison here is Robin’s long-running HIV story. Imagine if General Hospital had misrepresented the reality of HIV, perhaps magically “curing” Robin via, I don’t know, goats’ blood. In real world terms, this outcome likely is far closer in statistical probability to the story version that has a woman with DID consenting to sex as one identity but experiencing rape as the other than either story is to anything that would ever actually happen. Pure fantasy is fine, even fun, but the implications are certainly different when dealing with topics that already carry with them a good deal of misapprehensions and misunderstandings. While I do not think that soaps have a moral obligation to take overt stands on significant issues, I do think they have a unique opportunity not to perpetuate misinformation given the unfettered daily access they have to people’s experience. And telling the rape myth version of Kate’s narrative certainly would not make it more unique. In fact, it makes it more pathetically ordinary.
If the author had not shown her unconscionable arrogance before, she does
so in this paragraph. Really, I mean, let’s look at what she types: My
comparison here is Robin’s long-running HIV story. Imagine if General
Hospital had misrepresented the
reality of HIV, perhaps magically “curing” Robin via, I don’t know,
goats’ blood. In real world terms, this outcome likely is far closer in
statistical probability to the story version that has a woman with DID
consenting to sex as one identity but experiencing rape as the other than either
story is to anything that would ever actually happen.
Go ahead, read that again. The author lives in a reality so otherworldly that she actually believes that a fictive cure for AIDS is a statistically likelier event than a mentally ill woman switching personalities during sex. She writes this knowing that MPD/DID in the real world is still accepted by only a minority of the psychiatric community, ignorant of the real world outcomes of men being released from jail over knowingly falsely brought and executed rape charges that were disproved via DNA, and also, on top of that, that in the fictive world of Port Charles, the SPECIFIC character of Connie has already been seen willing to cry rape on Johnny, to blackmail him into sex, then switching personalities, seemingly, mid-coitus, and claiming rape FALSELY! Again, if one even limits the author’s claims to the made up world of General Hospital, her analysis still fails since the viewers have seen EXACTLY what the author claims is statistically less likely than a fictive cure for AIDS! Remarkable, how blind some folks can be.
Here is how the author wraps up her article:
Closing Thoughts (or “Hey, girl, stop talking about rape”)
Rape myths carry real world implications. The political discussion over “legitimate rape” in the past few months is disheartening because it presumes that rape in itself can be categorized and re-categorized until it somehow becomes not-rape. Rape is not like murder. One could say the phrase “legitimate murder,” and the hearer may conjure a number of experiences in which some of us might find murder to be morally justifiable: in cases like the protection of a child or clear cases of self-defense, we see murder as not only legitimate but morally imperative. Rape is never so justified. There is no such thing as illegitimate rape. There is rape and not-rape, and that is it. By questioning a woman’s ability to know her own experiences, by robbing her of her agency, we de-legitimize rape as something that is a real, whole experience. We give power to rapists by providing them with the language of doubt, and we further ghettoize women based on their actions (promiscuity, ethical mutability, clothing choices) rather than blaming the perpetrator of the violent act. In short, we ally ourselves with the frightening idea that women have fewer and fewer ways to experience rape: if they do not follow the cultural codes and rules, they become mere objects, and we become less and less willing to allow them to experience the full range of emotions and experiences with which women who have been raped invariably struggle. We dictate what rape is and is not, and we allow myths to perpetuate rather than creating a wealth of rape narratives that help to anthologize, rather than mythologize, women’s experiences.
I agree wholeheartedly with the author that rape myths carry real world implications. So, why is she foisting a handful over and over, and ones that are demonstrably, legally, and scientifically false? One can only assume because she is a follower of an agenda, and reality be damned! This last paragraph also reveals the real motive for the article, posted in late September of this year, in the heat of a Presidential campaign where some knuckle dragging Right Wing politicians mouthed off in an asinine fashion about ‘legitimate rape,’ and other such nonsense.
But countering ignorance and misogyny with falsehoods and misandry is not a good rebuttal, nor an appropriate response. The author then conflates the issue by trying to talk of legitimate murder, in ways that make self defense, or the defense of a defenseless person a form of murder. This is patent Big Brotherism, for those two forms of killing are not murder. That is in fact, why terms and pleas of justifiable homicide and manslaughter exist, as well as degrees of murder. But, there are gray areas between murder and non-murderous killing, just as there are degrees of gray between consensual sex, rape, and statutory rape (which, yes, can often mean a grown female teacher seducing a fourteen year old boy), sex between two drunken or stoned partners, filmed sex, pornography, and prostitution. Some Feminists claim ALL sex is rape. Others claim all pornography and prostitution is exploitation of women, even if the reverse is true, and a dominatrix is in total command of sex with a whiney, wimpy little traveling salesman who’s gotten no nooky for four years.
As I stated earlier, every claim of rape, like every claim of a crime,
has to be treated on an individual basis. Yes, most murders or robberies or
rapes will follow similar patterns, but the real danger lies in glossing over
differences that can obscure guilt from innocence, and where any guilt is
allocated or apportioned. The author writes ‘By
questioning a woman’s ability to know her own experiences, by robbing her of
her agency, we de-legitimize rape as something that is a real, whole experience.’
But, this is patent nonsense. By not questioning any victim of a crime, and
their ability to know their own experiences, we risk a fascist state that
incarcerates innocents on the mere whims and emotional experiences of others.
And, for decades, this was what happened to thousands of men in America alone.
Also, it ignores the very real, and known, psychological reality that one’s
‘experience’ is very often not one’s ‘reality.’ Numerous tests have
shown that people can experience vastly different ‘realities’ when exposed
to the same event. In fact, by NOT questioning a woman’s experience of rape
(or any victim’s of a crime) we are robbing them of agency, as well as
But, too much of this essay has been taken up by the article author’s own appalling ignorance of psychology and the real world, and his or her own skewed and shoehorned political opinions onto a grand form of pop entertainment called serial fiction. I don’t know where soap operas in America are headed. Extinction? A home online? Something else? But I do know that the blatant sort of political revisionism that many fans of the form, like the author, purvey does not help. Yes, any quick check of soap chatrooms will show exactly why so many people cannot get along in the real world- hell, they cannot even get along while gossiping about fictions. But, as General Hospital nears its 50th Anniversary on air, in 2013, here’s hoping that it goes a bit longer, and a bit stronger, regardless of what storylines (revised, retconned, or not) have yet to be flown.
Return to Bylines