Because It's Pure.


How often do we get a clamor for more, not less? In the world of soap opera sex, requests for sensual expression have always wobbled between romantic desire and daytime discretion. Intimacy during casserole prep is best capped a little pawing, maybe a fade to candlelight close-up. As the decades have droned on (drone indeed, since soap operas function about five years back in fashion, and ten years earlier in social stylistic), more appendages have been exposed, but still: it’s a lot more fantasy talk more than fantasy action.

Over the last month, however, new worlds of dreaming have entered daytime possibility. I speak of the clamor for more love (not less) between Luke Snyder and Noah Mayer, a love match spotlighted in As The World Turns. Since they officially united in September, the couple hasn’t kissed once on-screen, not even after a Christmas declaration of love (which included a climactic cutaway to mistletoe) or a Valentine’s Day ATWT couples round-up (in which everyone saw smooch save Luke and Noah, who hugged it out). Angry viewers began a kissing campaign, demanding more love action from this too-talky tale. The fans have constructed a large letter-writing campaign, posted an online petition, and developed a web site that counts the days, hours, minutes and seconds since last lip lock.

Any talk of homosexuality in this country necessarily turns to thoughts of religion, but in this case, we don’t have to press to any moral abstraction to find talk of God. ATWT makes it easy on us, as this particular opera is owned by one very special soap: Procter & Gamble Productions Inc. CBS executives consult on the series, but the creative direction is set by P&G, makers of (among other cleansing products) Ivory soap. Nearly 129 years ago, Harley Proctor sat in a little Episcopal church in Cincinnati, listening to the Anglican lesson. It was from thee forty-fifth Psalm: “All thy garments smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of ivory palaces whereby they have made thee glad.” The Biblically-inspired Ivory suds propagated not only cleanliness, but also holiness: a color and a principle tied up in a new wave of national sale. Through a simultaneous invocation of scientific discourses (ads described Ivory as “99 and 44/100 per cent pure”) and moral imaginaries, Proctor and Gamble brought soap to the people. “Who wants pure soap?” asked one ad, “Pretty nearly everybody. Why do they want it? Because it’s pure.”

From the first ad for Ivory (published in December 1882 in a Christian weekly, The Independent) till today, P&G has meant more than quick clean. It has offered a baptism-by-product, a wash of sacred cleanliness. “Americans are the apostles of personal cleanliness,” explained the Cleanliness Journal, funded in part by P&G, “Ours is primarily a character building, Americanizing enterprise for all people and we continue strong in our belief that cleanliness is akin to godliness.” Today, the godliness suggested is a contested one, tugging between a culture in love with clean (boy kisses are impure kisses) and a culture infatuated with green (ATWT is one of the few soaps continuing to profit in an era of declining daytime ratings). “It’s always hard to please a diverse audience,” explained P&G’s PR rep, “and we have a diverse audience.” Which side will win? Harley’s prim Protestantism or Luke and Noah’s most profitable, if dangerously impious, lust? Fortunately for P&G, there is a precedent: their early ads sold nothing so happily as white male-on-male flesh. Christianity is indeed a confusing sexual arbiter.


Tracy said…
Katie, you made my day.

(How does this keep happening?)

Those images put me in mind of William Alcott's (yes that Alcott) 19th century handbooks for young men, which extoll the virtues of purity and the mortal dangers of the solitary vice, but not without offering (at least in one case I came across) lubricious instruction on soaping up in the bath.

And lest we imagine Christianity wrote the book on mixed signals:
Anonymous said…
Tracy said…
Re: modest swimwear: fine, but where's the bluetooth antenna?
Kathryn Lofton said…
I hadn't thought of Wm. for years and then just last week I saw HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN in a doctor's office and thought: Alcott did it better. Twice in one month must mean that an archival trip is in the offing. Such a trip will now be plagued by one question: Where do I want to position myself virtually?
Tracy said…
Love is all around, baby.
David said…
KL's musings seem to turn on the subtle change in focus from the first to second part of the essayita: "Any talk of homosexuality in this country necessarily turns to thoughts of religion." I wanted to disagree but couldn't. So, as any overly trained academic would do, I immediately asked myself, "But when isn't this true?" When are we not turning to thoughts of religion? Immigration? Home foreclosures? Alberto Gonzales? Did your mind quickly turn to religion when mentioning those issues? (If so, I'd say you're most likely a leader of a religious organization or a religious studies scholar). So why does the non-specialist mind turn to religion at the thought of two men rubbing their naughties, or of two or more women engaging in vajayjay massage? Perhaps on molecular levels we cannot resist pondering our pre-Christian ancestral societies. Perhaps on a psychic level, we cannot resist pondering our post-Christian futures. Perhaps Fredrick Barth is right and we need some boundaries to define who we are not because otherwise we wouldn't know who we are. Perhaps Luke and Noah hint at the worlds imagined by Herbert Marcuse: a future possible in which communities become community, technology drives political change, and sexual performance is as diverse in the human world as it is in every other organic world of which humans are but a part. And like Noah and Luke, we flirt with that future: we hug it out once in a while. But we have yet to embrace it, undress it, and become one with it. (And then make it a cheese and mustard sandwich and send it home).
chelsea said…
I must say, I find a cheap sort of joy in such instances of what seems like transparent homoeroticism. Perhaps we could read these images and more modern versions (I'm thinking the steroid infused carpenters of Christian kitsch) as nothing more than a glorification of masculinity, but it seems there is a fine line. As far as soap opera is concerned, I believe we'll have to rely on Showtime and HBO if we want to see any girl on girl, boy on boy, or tranny on tranny action for quite some time. And on a side note, David, might I ask why two plus girls?
David said…
I don't think it's a glorification of masculinity as much as a fascination with divergences from what has over time become a monolithic view of masculinity. The fascination with men kissing or being giddy for each other is, I think, part of the desire to allow men the fluidity, emotionally instability, softness, and prey status mostly afforded to women in stereotypical fashion. A lot of women and men want to see men being bottomed, and not necessarily in strictly gay sex terms. We want our master to be a slave at the hand of Roman guards, as Mel knows so well. Otherwise, we'd never be able to relate, not as the oppressed risen again.

Chelsea, I made it 2+ "women" in hopes of avoiding the commonplace notion that gay men have group sex all of the time. I'm sure I fell into one stereotype when trying to avoid another.

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