One of the most fascinating aspects of Soap is the way that the story of its creation is also the story of the United States at a pivotal time in its history. (We’ve actually come up with a novel way of demonstrating this throughout the book, but we’ve a while to go before we start discussing the book’s design.)
Though most people familiar with Soap also remember that it was a very controversial show during its initial run, few really understand the context of that controversy. (Again I must recommend Geoffrey Cowan’s excellent book See No Evil to those who want some idea of what was going on in television at the time.) Even more enigmatic are some of the personalities who led the charge against Soap and other shows of the day.
As there’s really no way to understand the controversy without talking to people who had a bone to pick with the show those many years ago, I reached out to Dr. Everett Parker, then a “media watchdog” with the United Church of Christ. Time magazine quoted him as saying at the time:
“You have a perfect right to say you don’t want this coming into your living room. It’s a matter of the public interest. Who else besides the churches is going to stand against the effort of television to tear down our moral values and make all of us into mere consumers?”
When I spoke with Dr. Parker, 98, yesterday, I found the man far more rational than this piece would suggest. There’s a reason for that. Parker was not a “media watchdog” in the modern sense. In fact, the man risked his life in the 1960s to bring action against WLBT-TV in Jackson, Miss., ultimately getting its license yanked by the FCC, because of its harsh treatment of black people on television.
During our short conversation yesterday, he still marveled at the fact that he wasn’t killed in a place and time where people of every color routinely turned up dead for daring to speak out.
I don’t mind telling you that this conversation left me pretty humbled, and gave me a better understanding of some of the people behind what was going on with Soap at the time. While there’s little anybody could say to convince me that the series deserved the hounding it received at the hands of groups and media, I don’t think I shall ever dismiss its critics collectively as nuts again.