They may be known for their steamy love scenes, baby daddy drama, and back-from-the-dead twists and turns, but soap operas are also a go-to place to see pressing social issues play out in a fictional setting. Since their invention, daytime dramas have tackled hot topics like racism, classism, abortion, LGBTQ issues, and drug abuse. But the way General Hospital is inserting itself into the most important cultural conversation of the year -- the #MeToo movement -- has garnered the soap mainstream news attention.
The ABC series is the focal point of a recent article in The Lily (a product of the Washington Post) that celebrates the soap's hard-hitting portrayal of a young woman (Hayley Erin's Kiki Jerome) who becomes a victim of sexual harassment by her superior (James DePaiva's Dr. Bensch).
As fans of GH have seen over the past several weeks, Kiki has been subjected to uncomfortable massages, unwanted sexual advances, and even a surprise kiss from her superior Dr. Bensch. She was then chosen for a shadow program alongside the doctor but was unable to express enthusiasm because she knew it wasn't earned by merit but rather because Dr. Bensch had the hots for her.
Where GH has hit the nail on the head is in subtle details, like when Kiki glanced at Dr. Bensch's prestigious degrees and awards while he gave her a shoulder rub -- which suggested that she knew she'd face an uphill battle if she decided to report the distinguished doc for sexual harassment.
The last straw for Kiki came when Bensch told her that unless she had sex with him, he'd give her a negative evaluation that could have the potential to ruin her entire career. Distressed and unsure how to handle the horrendous situation, Kiki finally opened up to nurse Elizabeth, who convinced her to come forward in order to prevent Dr. Bensch from hurting other women.
Sadly, this is where Kiki's real battle began and why GH is getting such praise: after lodging a formal complaint with both human resources and the chief of staff at the hospital got her nowhere, Kiki was forced to hire a lawyer and then decided to go public with her story. It was this twist that introduced the soap's own take on the current #MeToo controversy; the show used the hashtag #GHToo in a fictional journalistic profile of Kiki.
"With the #GHToo storyline, and the recent plots involving LGBTQ identities, General Hospital is striving to stay relevant and possibly even gain younger audiences by tackling important current social issues," The Lily article opines. "This trend represents a decision on the part of the show's writers to challenge the stereotype of the soap opera as a genre that reinforces sexist, heteronormative narratives."
Delving deep into a sexual harassment storyline does have the potential to alienate some of GH's longtime viewers, however, which is actually one of the reasons why the series is being lauded.
"Making changes could entail a risk for the show, as its audience skews toward older women and it seems to be steadily losing viewers in the all-important 18-49 demographic; these storylines might alienate its core audience," the article states. "While many viewers are longtime fans of the show who have been watching for decades and are unlikely to abandon it even if their politics aren't always a match with the storylines, the more significant takeaway is that GH's showrunners recognize that although they are constrained by a deeply gendered and formulaic TV genre, they can still push the envelope and capture the zeitgeist."
The Bold and the Beautiful's Linsey Godfrey (ex-Caroline Spencer), who bravely shared her own real-life sexual molestation story last October, also publicly applauded GH's storyline and Erin's performance.
"So proud of you Hayley Erin for how beautifully you told this story," she wrote. "Bravo."
Kiki's tough journey is very much like many real sexual harassment cases, which are often very long processes that make the victims feel worse over time. The character will likely be forced to jump over numerous hurdles in the weeks ahead as she tries to expose Dr. Bensch, and it will be interesting to see just how far down the rabbit hole the writers intend to go. Most fans are hoping they won't shy away from hard-hitting material.
What do you think about the way GH is telling its #MeToo/#GHToo story? Do you like when soap operas delve into social issue storylines? We want to hear from you -- and there are many ways you can share your thoughts.