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My Favorite is Problematic

St. Taylor, the world's skankiest man, and Brooke
St. Taylor, the world’s skankiest man, and Brooke

I figure that most LGM readers aren’t soap fans, but that I might persuade many of you to stick with me through this entry if I look at my favorite–The Bold and the Beautiful–through the prism of gender, race and class. On that score, my favorite has lots of problems.

My favorite character is Brooke. In fact, she’s  the only reason I’ve continued to watch this mess of a show for half my life. I’m waiting for her to get her happy ending. (Or at least the closest you can come to one on a soap.) She’s a controversial character, but I don’t know why; she’s just a prototypical “scrappy, immensely-flawed, heart-of-gold” heroine.  (She just happens to be the best one. ;))

It’s been hard to be a Brooke fan because when the show’s head writer and producer handed the reins to his son it was akin to leaving the show to a monkey with a typewriter; and it’s clear he had a very different vision for Brooke than his father did. The Taylor vs. Brooke rivalry was very much in swing when he took over, but Jr. made it into a Madonna vs. Whore spectacle, with Taylor playing the role of Madonna. It didn’t matter how much of a passive-aggressive hypocritical liar or manipulator Taylor was: Brooke was “the slut from the Valley,” so she was always on the losing end of every storyline. And Jr. took this to ridiculous heights, often having Brooke be the recipient of verbal and physical abuse. It was deserved because Brooke was an impetuous slut. (In reality, Brooke had slept with two men–to whom she’d been engaged–when this dynamic kicked in.)

Fans rebelled. We still loved Brooke no matter kind of shit Jr. flung at her. So he upped the ante, eventually having her sleep with her son-in-law. It was out of character, but unfortunately when you’re a fan, you don’t get to say “This doesn’t count.” So we continued loving the character, despite this immense flaw, ’til after nearly two decades of tying to establish Taylor as the resident saint by trashing Brooke he finally gave up and wrote the character off. But this whole gross chapter was so emblematic of the gross misogyny that taints of this show. Brooke was a successful chemist, inventor and CEO, yet Jr. clearly viewed her mostly through the prism of her sexuality. Brooke was “bad” because she had poor romantic judgement; this badness trumped all sorts of disturbing chicanery in Jr.’s world.

This brings us to B&B’s extremely troubling classism. The voice of morality on this show– always passing judgement on Brooke–was Stephanie. Stephanie could be abusive (seriously, horrifyingly) –and often was. This was allowed because Stephanie was wealthy, a “strong” woman of “class.” Stephanie was allowed to do all manner of disgusting things to Brooke in the name of “family,” up to and including physically assaulting Brooke and taking away her children. There was no act that was too outrageous or petty or cruel that couldn’t be excused because Stephanie was the noble matriarch of a wealthy family.

The classism runs far and deep in B&B. Take the show’s rival fashion house. It’s made up of “scrappy” idiots who are too rough-hewn to design their own stuff, so rely almost solely on stealing designs from the wealthy Foresters. The message is clear: the Foresters take a refined, intellectual approach to the art of fashion, while those dumb Spectras just hope to steal their way to glory. The Spectras are frequently portrayed as bumbling jokes, while the Foresters are portrayed as portraits of class.

And so we move to race. This is the part that really really disappoints me: I think B&B’s gravest mistake is not creating a fashion house that actually rivals the Foresters in a meaningful way. Lately the show has been putting forth a solid effort to make the cast more diverse. So, they’ve brought on a black family. Good, right? Nope. Here’s what they should have have done: they should have made the Avants a fashion powerhouse, folks with immense wealth and power to really rival the Forester brand. A gorgeous, glamorous family that would give the Foresters a run for for their money. Instead they made them a barely-middle-class family with very, um, oddly-cast parents.  (They are not, uh, glamorous. In fairness, the daughters are gorgeous.) For a spell, they had the Avant parents camping out in a tiny, cramped hotel room while the mom tried to get a job at the DMV. I was actually embarrassed for the show because the show didn’t have the good sense to be embarrassed for itself.

Mind you, there are 0 things wrong with being middle class, and there are 0 things wrong with seeking employment at the DMV, but since when are soaps centered around this kind of mundane real-life shit? Never. Oh, except when Jr. brought a BLACK family on. And don’t get me started on their shoddy, insulting attempts at Latino inclusion…dad was a firefighter and daughter was an intern. The message is clear: Latinos and Blacks aren’t wealthy power-players; they’re middle-class background players. It’s infuriating. (Interestingly, its sister soap, The Young the Restless is MUCH better on this score, making the Winters clan major movers and shakers and in their fictional town.)

The Bold and the Beautiful has the potential to be a really fun, juicy, glamorous soap. But on so many counts I am still waiting for my happy ending.

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