“She’s a Marvel”: Daytime Soaps and Transmedia Storytelling

Curator's Note

Harley Davidson Cooper is a busy cop and mom, but in the November 1, 2006 episode of CBS's 70-year-old soap opera, Guiding Light, she also becomes a superheroine. In this episode, Harley receives an electric shock and wakes up with blue-streaked hair, glowing eyes, and new powers. Once struggling to prepare a meal, grapple with escaped prisoners, and sew a Halloween costume for her son, she is now able to make appliances do her bidding, and she trounces the bad guys with a quick flick of a vacuum cleaner. Here, Harley transforms into her alter-ego, The Guiding Light, in order to help her troubled friends and family. This episode exemplifies one of the soaps' latest efforts at cultural relevance: transmedia storytelling (a Marvel comic book also related Harley’s adventures). With soap opera viewership in drastic decline and the networks debating the future of the form, today’s soaps are experimenting with generic conventions, style, and narrative. How might these sorts of practices change the soap genre? Can The Guiding Light save soaps from extinction?


Wow. That was pretty astounding. As an outsider to both soap opera & comic book fan communities, I wonder how fans are responding to this genre mixture - although arguably there are many shared textual conventions between soaps & comics, my impression is that the overlap between these fanbases is fairly narrow. So how have soap fans reacted to the comic-alization of GL? Have comic fans ventured into the daytime to seek out this intertext? And how has this differed from previous genre mashups in soaps, such as horror & fantasy? Interesting case study...

This was a one-time episode for GL and a one-issue comic book for Marvel. I don't think it did much for bringing new viewers to the soap--or vice versa. But Guiding Light in particular, and a number of other soaps, as well, are doing all kinds of experiments these days. Perhaps they think they have nothing to lose and so are enjoying a certain amount of anything-goes creative freedom. Makes for an interesting time for the genre. If it survives--which I think it will--perhaps the genre will be altered in new ways. But I don't think GL fans were all that keen on this episode--I could find no clips of it on YouTube and had to upload my own. Harley's powers remind me of Samantha Stevens of Bewitched--housework made easy!

Very interesting clip, and comments about the fate of soaps (and comics) in this media environment. As you well know, soaps have historically dabbled a bit more in these kinds of experiments than most other TV genres (e.g., Dark Shadows, Passions, and various evil twins and dream/fantasy scenarios on many soaps), even though they still are the exception rather than the rule. As a comics fan, I can make the connection between the dialogue in this clip (as well as the reveal of the costume) and similar scenes in many a comic. Indeed, it's safe to say that the very idea of a "Guiding Light" is the core rationale of virtually every superhero narrative (esp., say, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and the X-Men). There's actually a LOT of complexity with this notion going on in many superhero titles these days. Both DC and Marvel are very much about exploring the parameters and consequences of heroism (there's loads of titles I could recommend that do this). As for the transmedia possibilities, I agree that, despite the great formal similarities that already exist between comics and soaps, there remains an immense cultural gap between the fan communities. A better combination would have been to appeal more directly to a manga/anime sensibility, which hews more closely to the conventions of soap opera, while still operating in the realms of the "fantastic." But that's a generational shift, that the writers, producers, actors, and fans of GL aren't quite ready for.

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