dannielle blumenthal

dannielle blumenthal

Okay, my name is Dannielle Blumenthal. I am old. I am 45. I am a sociologist trained at CUNY Graduate Center.

My dissertation centered on women and soap opera. Although it is an incredibly comprehensive and detailed study, the reality is that I principally chose my topic because I had no other way to do primary research. At the time I had two young kids and family obligations. And it was just a topic of personal interest for me. I was a soap opera fan and really was very into them. So I wanted to know more. I actually know people who are professional fans, they're like metalheads or they're into all these different celebrities and -- I'm not that type of person at all. I wouldn't even classify myself as a fan type. I think I'm more of an outsider type. You know, I've just never fit in socially in any crowd or any identity and so sociology just comes very naturally for me because I'm able to get paid for being myself. [Laughs]

Yeah, I sort of had the impression you felt you were more of an observer.

Yeah, and, so, what's interesting is that most sociology focuses on the very boring aspect of social life. Like, they'll do large scale studies and say, you know, "Trends indicate this," or "A million people say that." In fact the entire acceptance of sociology as a modern profession was based on this very masculine, like, "Let's get a lot of numbers together and crunch them." [Laughs.] At the same time, there was a part of its genesis that was very social activist, like photographing people during The Depression and say, "How can we let children work in factories like this? How can we change the unfair social conditions that facilitate that?"

Those are two very different ways of viewing the world, one the belief that social science can be scientific and the other suggesting that it ought to be based on morality. And there are other approaches too. So, it's kind of within a dialog about what social knowledge is supposed to be that I kind of walked in and said, "Women see the world completely differently." At the time I said that with a lot of conviction because I came from a very small and very insular world where it felt very real to me. Twenty years later I realize that my feelings and experiences certainly aren’t true for all women, not at all.

Right. And there's a couple things in common there, sort of with what you're talking about and what I'm doing here. When I reached out to you and said things like "videogames" and "the game industry," what's your perception of those and what's going on in them?

I had none. Frankly I don’t even know why I did this interview, except that it sounded like an interesting project and I have a problem with the way pop culture is devalued by the intellectual class.

Yeah.

You know, I think from a really big picture point of view, there's this idea that anything that's kind of cheap and popular and simple to understand really isn't worth studying. From that perspective, videogames and soap operas are sort of in the same bucket.

And I tend to think that it's just the opposite. The things most worth studying are the things that the average person is engaged with and can understand. So I'm, like, completely fascinated with popular culture.

[Laughs.] Yeah.

So, like, just to digress a little, but this has to do with elites and my experience of how they see the world.

Sure.

I applied for a job at a university. Obviously they Googled me because initially they spoke to me with great respect. I got the feeling they thought, "Ooh! She's well-published."

So then I'm on Skype talking to them, and I worked really hard to make the Skype environment to look super-good. [Laughs.] Like, so, on my side there's 10 books and they're piled up against each other and there's lights going and mirrors. I'm trying so hard to make this Skype work.

And I see the group and they're the very -- I don't wanna use the word "pompous," but they're pompous. They introduce themselves and it’s like: "Well, I'm this person with this degree and that credential and the other."

But of course I started to feel really intimidated. I started shrinking into myself.

And then they go, "Well, tell us: What is your research focus?" [Laughs.]

I think I said "foci" or something. Some academic word for the plural of "focus."

And I just go, "I don't really have a focus, I guess? I just do what I want." [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

And I can see them. They were just cringing: "Oh, we wasted our time with this one. She's a loon."

And I'm looking at them and I'm like, "That's what communication and creativity is all about." It's that you're not planning. You're not writing to a group of people who only have studied some very complicated texts. You know what I mean?

That is the essence of popular culture. Is that it’s very spontaneous and real. That’s how I approach my work.

Absolutely.

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I'm sure you haven't heard of this thing before I reached out to you, but a lot of the work of this thing is of course writing of the questions and the conceiving of the angles, but it's also just framing it in that way to make people I talk to understand that it's fine you don't know anything about it. So, I mean, who would really think to put those two in a bucket together, videogames and soap operas?

Right.

Can I just add one thing?

Yeah, of course.

It's that my job -- I work for the government, so there's all these rules about how we frame ourselves so we don't seem to represent the government in these types of private interviews. So I'm not gonna name where I work and say much about what I do.

Yeah.

But what this topic has in common with my job function is that I answer questions from real people. And to get real people real answers, you have to think in terms of popular culture. It is actually a legal requirement for the government to communicate in plain language. But you’ll still hear people saying, “You can't talk like that, 'cause you're the government.” And I’m like, "No, we have to talk like that because we're the government.”

Yeah.

I think that's part of why people don't trust us, because we're always making words more complicated than they need to be.

On message.

Well, or overly technical and avoiding engaging people at the level of what they are thinking, what they understand and what they want.

So, this is an odd segue from there, but our notes earlier, you had said you "don't know much of anything about videogames and it's probably better that way." What did you mean by that?

Well, I think that -- for me it’s better to talk about something fresh instead of over-preparing. I don’t do well with a script. One of the things that every communications person knows is that you should never speculate about things that are outside of your scope.

Yeah.

And a lot of people have this desire to sound smart.

[Laughs.]

They'll be like, "I watched a videogame once, I guess, with my kid." [Laughs.] It's like, "You don't know anything about videogames!" I've seen my kid play videogames and I've watched her with her friends and I'm like, "This is dizzying. I'm leaving now."

[Laughs.]

Right? It's like, I also do social media. So, in social media if you even remotely pretend something, you're like a joke. What's that new company name for the Tribune Company? It's, like, Tronc?

Tronc. Yeah.

[Laughs.] I was reading the story yesterday and all the jokes imaginable. It's that pretentiousness that really bothers me and I think bothers others. So, no, I don't want to speculate about a subject I don't know anything about. I'm not part of the culture.

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Sure. You had touched on this before, and I was recently made aware of Women and Soap Opera: A Cultural Feminist Perspective, which you wrote back in 1997. I'm saying that mainly for the transcript's benefit, but in it you wrote that "soap operas have long been thought of as an unproductive waste of time."
You also mentioned some of the skepticism you got of writing about this. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Right. Well, I mean, it's just been because whenever anybody asks me about the fact that I'm a PhD, it's always with this tremendous respect. It's like, "Oh, you're a PhD?" I'm like, "Yeah?" [Laughs.] I know what's coming. You know? And then they're like, "What did you study?"

And I'm like, "Well, sociology."

And they're like, "Oh! Very nice!" And then they're like, "What did you write your dissertation on?"

And I'm like, "Um, soap operas. Soap opera viewing."

And then you can just see this entire collapse happening on their face and in the moment because it's like, "Oh, you mean you did a stupid thing just to get a degree?" It's like, I do. I totally get it.

So even though I'm the person who wrote the dissertation and I know how hard I worked and how many revisions it had to go through and how I studied every single text available on the subject of popular culture and feminist theory -- even though I know all that, I still react the same way that other people react, which is to be like, "Yeah, I did a stupid topic because I was home with two kids and that was the best I could do."

And I think it's very hard for me -- and I think for other women -- even though you say a million times that something is important and worthy and you have all these answers, it's like the prejudice of the bigger society is fully ingrained. It's fully in you.

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And so I kind of hate asking these types of questions of individuals to speak for entire groups, but have you noticed with the work you did on soap operas since then or elsewhere, has there been a rising or rumbling of more misogyny in fandom?

Well, here's what I could tell you and if it's useful, fine, and if it's not, fine.

Sure. Yeah.

I think that since I wrote the book, the relationship between the genders and genders and popular culture has, like, violently changed. And I think even in the late 1990's there was a very fixed sense of either you were home or you went to work. Like, being at home wasn't work, and that wasn't even a conversation. Sort of like the gay rights movement, even though right it's very hot, at that time nobody really talked about it.

But for then, I have to tell you: not really. It was the Clinton years. It was very simple, straightforward happy times as I remember it. And even the things that I did in my dissertation that were revolutionary, I felt like I got a lot of respect for it. My advisers were fully tolerant. They just wanted me to do the work and the interviews that I did with The New York Times and Soap Opera Digest about Elle Woods and Legally Blonde -- there was never a question. That never came up. Misogyny did not come up.

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Yeah.

The only thing that came up was: "Do you think that Elle Woods represents feminism today?"

But the tone of the question was very, like -- there was nothing invested in that question. It was just kind of academic.

Like they were checking a box?

Like, it was just interesting: "Oh, this is interesting. Elle Woods. Interesting. She's pretty and has a brain. Interesting."

Yeah.

“That's a new idea." [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

Something happened. Something definitely happened and I wasn't there to see it happen. And it was in popular culture where -- I think this has to do with the college campus. Like, my feeling is pretty strong about this that something changed on the college campus. And it started when I was at CUNY Graduate Center. And they were talking about post-structuralism and postmodernism and all this stuff and I was like, "I have no idea what you're talking about." Like, you're trying to say that reality is not reality?" Something came off of its mooring is the best way that I can put it.

Yeah.

And I feel like when the academy became about politics and political correctness and there became this whole micro-aggression thing, like, all this nonsense. There's no other way to put it. It's just a lot of nonsense around gender and debates over rape culture. You know, I just felt like things that we all knew, bottom line -- let me put it this way.

We used to use words in the '80s.

[Laughs.]

From New York, we'd say, "You're a moron." You know, it was nothing. We'd say, "You're a moron. What you're saying makes no sense." Almost like [Donald] Trump, but it wasn't, like, mean. It was just that we knew common sense from no common sense.

And to your question, I think the misogyny that we're seeing is not really misogyny even though it looks that way. I think what it is is a total crisis of identity. It's like, you're poking at people and poking at people and poking at people and taking away every aspect of what gender is, until they're, like, pushing back and they're like, "Hey, wait a minute!"

There has been a rise of feminism in videogames, but I've heard some people describe it as feeling predominantly being second wave. Why would that be the case when there are other, more progressive forms of feminism elsewhere? Is this just a symptom of videogames not being as exposed to mainstream scrutiny as other pop culture things?

I have no idea. Like, I could guess. I could speculate.

I don't even know if there's an answer to that.

I don't know. Here's what I know: I know that when I watch a movie and the movie is a traditional Hollywood movie, usually it's really sexist and it's annoying. I kind of don't want to watch that type of stupid stuff. Right?

And then I'll see -- there's a whole "let's make women fighters" and that will be feminist. [Laughs.]

And I don't really see that as fully feminist because you're just putting women in men's shoes and you like to watch that. Okay. But I see the evolution because women are behind the camera and women are more confident and, basically, there's not much to tell. You have to bury the story.

But then I see people who are seasoned Hollywood producers and directors and writers and they're really in it and they write these kind of textured stories that are truly, really feminist. Like, if you watch Transparent -- have you ever seen that show?

Yeah.

To me, it doesn't get much more feminist than that because it's not feminist. It's just -- you let a woman tell things as they are and pretty much the women aren't looking good all the time. There's pretty vicious lesbian women on that show, for example, which goes against the typical idea of trying to make “diverse” characters somehow look good. And to me, that is a natural evolution of when people have free and full access to a craft: You'll see that people will be equally represented in and participate.

I think as women are more immersed and they gain skills and they learn how things get done, then they start to reshape the conversation. But I never looked at videogames and thought, "Those are for men." I never thought that. Instead I would be like, "Well, men made those." Like I would be like, "Oh, well, okay. Shooting. Men like shooting." But then we had the skiing game, the Tricky game, whatever.

I know my references are incredibly dated by the way.

It's like, it's capitalism. Whatever sells, to whoever wants to buy it.

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What about attempts to do better in storytelling? What do you notice is clumsy when people try to do better in trying to be more equitable or inclusive?

Well, I mean, I remembered the scandal when Matt Damon said something like, "We don't hire for diversity. We hire to do a really good movie."

I agreed with him. I think any attempt to do storytelling in a politically correct way is evil. Like, it's not just bad storytelling. It's really evil. And I think the reason for that is you're corrupting the nature of art. You're insulting the audience. And you're making the audience resentful of what should be an artistic experience. I think that goes back to your question about violent misogyny.

Not physical violence but, like, really strong emotions around women in gaming. And I think the source of that -- in fact, people just want to fucking play a game. Like, they don't want a tract and a treatise of ideologies all the time.

Yeah.

And I think when you are doing story, it is so hard. Like, when I write, it is so hard. I have to erase it and re-erase it and erase it a million times because it can't come across as, "I'm preaching to you." It has to be like, "In the moment, this is what I saw, not what I’m telling you to be."

I think people really don't understand that. Like, Woody Allen, okay? It kills me -- I think he molested his kid.

I think we all think that.

But he is my favorite, favorite filmmaker of all time. Like, all the people who I admire -- Bill Cosby -- they made great art and they were, like, horrible people. Like, even Joseph Goebbels, the master of propaganda and the Holocaust? Well, okay, he taught me branding.

[Laughs.]

It's really hard to think that this is moral, but it is moral. It's like, when you go to school and you're in a classroom, you better be ready for some real intellectual back and forth. And you might not like it. But what's happening today is that if you say one wrong thing in that environment, my God, it's like -- you do get death threats.

Yes.

So it's this perversion of what should be free-thinking and free art into something where you have to conform to some pre-digested idea of what is civilized behavior that totally offends me. I hope that answered your question.

It does. And again, this gets back to the heart of what I asked you about before and what I wanted to talk to you about specifically, which was you wrote about certain patterns of fandom that are still continuing today. But at least I have that perception that we're kind of bad at catching that these are patterns and that it's not specific to soap operas. It's not specific to videogames. But a lot of people think that it is. Why do you think we're bad at catching those patterns or recognizing that they are patterns?

I think we're fundamentally very stuck in terms of our -- there's a word for the production of knowledge. I don't know if it's epistemology. It might be. But I think we're just really stuck about what is it legitimate and what is illegitimate. And before we even approach knowledge itself, we put together this filter that says, "This doesn't count." So, when you're talking about the less dominant group, whether it's women or whether it's -- and I'm not sure how much that's true nowadays -- but let's say women or people who are economically disempowered or immigrants, they are not the ones telling the story. Right? It's always, like, "CNN went to this immigrant camp and here's what we found." [Laughs.]

You know? It looks like a really different story if they are not telling it. And so I think why we're bad at this is because it's a power game and we are reluctant to lose power by giving the microphone to the subordinate group.

I was going to say, it's just like Columbus and America. The whole, "I discovered this land! All you people already here please leave!" thing.

[Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

Right. Right.

That's certainly what a lot of TV news, at least, is like.

But, this part is going to be my opinion about something completely different but I think it's relevant. There's a lot of attacks on Israel, which I'm a passionate supporter of Israel even though I know they don't do everything right. But there's this narrative about the Palestinians as the subordinate, the oppressed, the colonized. And I kind of watch this narrative unfold and it's really obvious to me all the emotional high points that would make you sympathetic to an oppressed party are really skillfully manipulated. And I'm not saying you have to agree with me and blah blah blah. I know this is a hot-button issue.

But I just feel like it's almost a PhD-worthy seminar to see how if you do certain things in a certain way and you say certain words and you perpetually characterize a group as victims -- they don't have a say in the narrative, but you construct this narrative -- it is really, really easy to create a lot of hate. And I think, you know, for me, because I'm on social media as I mentioned a lot, and I'm inside of the debates -- so, like, I see Muslims engaging with Christians engaging with Jews and I see who's peaceful and who's not peaceful and it's almost like every single time I feel good about an interchange, it's people who break ranks with a certain construction of who they're supposed to be. This goes back to art. And they are just themselves. And it's never, like, a clean thing. It's messy.

I think when you hand the story over to people, like, in a videogame context, when you create -- it's almost like a self-propelled organic experience, I think, that's a game I would never want to leave.

There is a certain intensity to the kind of vitriol that bubbles up in the videogame context when we're talking about the fandom. But I wonder in the research you did, how far back does this kind of behavior go? I mean, this is a weird example, but were there Romans writing angry letters to the lion keepers?

[Laughs.] Let me be honest. I did that study 20 years ago, and it’s hard to remember most of it. I can talk about my overall feeling, which is that men and women approach fandom very differently. So, I think for the women that I know and that I remember interviewing and surveying, and for women who I deal with who are kind of having a female subculture, whatever it could be -- it could be a high-school subculture, it could be any subculture -- it's like a tight circle with secrets and you don't break ranks.

But it's not really -- there's no expectation of really anything outside of the circle. So, for example, soap operas. Days of Our Lives. Me and my grandmother and my mother will talk for three hours about Stefano DiMera. [Laughs.] And what an evil guy he is. [Laughs.] And we'll just be like, "Can you believe that? And he hasn't changed in 20 years?" But there's no vitriol. It's just currency. It's social currency. Okay? It’s not that intense.

Yeah.

I think the only rare occasion where we got exorcised would be, like, General Hospital. The Luke and Laura rape scene. I would say that provoked so much passionate debate for so many years and still does because it was one of those moments where the pop culture hit directly on a topic of life and the audience was left forever guessing. Tony Geary was just, like, unbelievable in his portrayal of the ambiguity there. So, to the extent that it gets angry, it’s a debate over whether art violates important values. Because real women suffer terribly from that type of situation.

Yeah. I mean, you wrote a little bit as well about the phenomenon of that passion or that fandom or that caring crossing over into the real world. It’s all necessarily negative. For example, I remember in your study you talked about people sending care packages to actors playing impoverished characters.
But you also wrote about someone from As the World Turns getting punched by a viewer outside a Saks Fifth Avenue.

[Laughs.] Right.

That's not an isolated thing either. The farthest back I've been able to trace this kind of stuff, at least, is Sherlock Holmes --

Right.

-- Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes and then was assaulted with 19th century insults on the streets. People were calling him a "brute."

Oh, right. I just wanna say -- I remember this nighttime soap, 90210.

Yes.

And that guy who Donna dated who was the abusive guy? Donna was always paired with abusive men. Like, in Lifetime, in 90210, they always stuck her with some real jerk. [Laughs.]

Everyone has a type.

Yeah, she just was that type, I think because she was just, like, the good girl. So they always tested what she would do. But I remember that that actor who played the girlfriend beater -- I don't think he ever worked again. [Laughs.]

Really?

I think his name was Jesse [Walters]. He's a good singer. But his career effectively ended, I think, because no one wants to work with a girlfriend beater. And there was no ability -- I think that's the thing that you see with women's popular culture is that women take it very personally. Like, Selena [Gomez] and Justin Bieber. You know, like, I will actually sit around and think about this. Like, "What is wrong with her?" [Laughs.]

You know? It's odd.

Yeah.

When David Bowie died, like, what do I care about David Bowie? Prince, all of the people -- I know that men and women equally mourn but I think women mourned differently. It was like someone from the family had passed.

Yeah.

From what I have observed, though, men have a different relationship completely with the virtual world. And I think they do compartmentalize their identity and in the virtual space they -- it's kind of like road rage, in my mind. You get behind the wheel and you forget who you are and you're just in the car and you're a piece of the car.

You made the point, "Why not just play the games? Why does being a fan have to be part of your identity?" Were there correlates from that in soap operas? I grew up occasionally watching All My Children with my mom --

Right.

-- so that's sort of my only bead on soap opera fandom.

Right.

But she never went to conventions.

Right.

She would flip through Soap Opera Digest in the grocery store or whatever, but I never saw a correlate level of intensity as I see in other people around videogames.

No.

Does that correlate exist? Did you see it?

No. I mean it’s there, but it’s way less intense because women in my observation tend to be more holistic in their thinking. So being a fan is just one part of their lives. Like for me, if I watch General Hospital and I don't watch All My Children that is a persistent part of my identity, like my brand, but it’s not a really big part.

Yeah. That's no different than Nintendo versus Sega.

Right. I think all people put themselves into brand categories. So, like, I would never step foot in a Dunkin' Donuts unless I really was desperate and even then I would bitterly complain. I would just shield myself and be like, "It was a rainstorm! They forced me!"

[Laughs.] "I was just getting directions on how to leave here!"

Right. Right. It's just awful. And you know, it's true that there's gradations. But I think with fandom over soap operas, no woman is going to say, “"Oh, I stayed up ‘til 3 a.m. watching the Soap Opera Channel and got into a Twitter debate over the Tuesday episode.” It would be like, "Are you insane?"

Are we lacking ways to reinforce our identities today?

I think, basically, everybody is totally insecure, okay?

[Laughs.]

Because nobody has enough money.

I would agree. I would agree.

My guess is that for men it just feels different. It feels like a different experience of the world and I think this idea that -- and, again, I'm not a man -- but this idea that you have to be all these things. Like, there's a ton of pressure on men to be macho and strong and a winner and lots of money and achieving. And the reality is that those things are not there. They're just not.

And so I think from a Marxist point of view, that entertainment is a way of distracting people from the lousy lives that they have economically and socially and I think games are just one of those things.

I think something the audience for games -- and you actually hit on this on your note, so even though you said you don't pay much attention to it but you actually labeled it perfectly. You said that games are a fantasy and if you examine it too much it becomes less appealing.

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You take the example of a game is gonna be coming out and it gets promoted, it gets written about. And it's almost like there's this implicit contract that some people in the audience feel there is where this game is gonna be a certain way and it's gonna be that way on a certain day, it's gonna come out, I'm gonna be able to buy it.

Right.

But almost anytime that a thing is delayed or if it comes out and it's different, I think what people are not realizing is that they feel like a contract that they feel they were part of --

Oh, totally.

-- they realize that they actually had no say in it, they get mad.

That's totally how men are, even from a basic look at social media you can see the differences in the genders. It's like, they will go on the web and look at the specifications for a product and compare them. And I'll just be like, "Get the cheapest one with four stars."

As I've seen it reported, the average age of people who play videogames today is 37. I think it's fair to say it's fairly childish behavior, but this can't all be coming from old perceptions that videogames were just for children, is it?

I do not agree that videogames represent childish behavior. At all. At all. That is part of the complex set of prejudices around popular culture. That people who use it are somehow infantile.

Yeah. That used to be the narrative around it.

Yeah. But, see, that's what they said about soap operas: "They're so stupid that they're not even worth talking about. Like, why would you talk about that?" Like, would you talk about unwrapping a thing of Bazooka gum?" Or they would say about selfies, "Selfies? Oh my God! You're not one of those."

And there's a whole psychology around selfies. It's not like you're a narcissist who's -- I don't know, whatever. I actually just saw this on a reality show: It was the husband and the wife on the show called Arranged. So, the husband has worked all day. Okay? He is beat. They are living in the back of a trailer. And his wife -- this is like a completely classic scene. So the wife sits down, like, he's got the console and she is plopped on top of the console. Really annoying. She's like, "Why don't you talk? Why won't you engage?" [Laughs.]

Yeah.

He's like, "You refuse to work. Can you get a job?" She's like, "But I volunteer! It's so meaningful." And you just see this guy suffering and in his expression you're seeing whatever he's feeling, he's putting onto the game. So, it's not child stuff. It's that, I think, they found medically that men and women, again, they communicate differently. So women will be like, "I really think we need to have a conversation! This is a hard topic!" [Laughs.] And men, their blood pressure just starts escalating. It's like, "Okay, here she approaches. This is a hard topic." And it's like, the more the woman talks, the more they go into, like, their own heads and we see, like, with men and suicide and depression, they can't express. So I think there's a huge risk of ignoring -- the videogames and what they mean to men. I think I would look at it from the perspective of symbolic interactionism. Which is a fancy way of saying there’s who I think I am and that's the "I" and then the "me" is who society says I am.

And there's a constant interchange between those two. The synthesis of that is who you are at any given moment. I think in the world of the videogame, it could be the world of any addiction, it could be the world of collecting cars or whatever it is, it's like sports. When someone is engaged, that stuff is getting worked out in a way that's not accessible to anybody else. And, like, that is the point. That is the point.

I do want to add also that I’ve read 50 percent of gamers are female. So again, my own personal life experience definitely affects the worldview I take for granted.

Right. And I'm not doing this project to do videogames or to claim that they are important. I'm just examining it. I'm curious because I have been doing a lot of interviews with this and I'm at a point where I can start to reflect on it and draw some conclusions. With the project that you did on soap operas, how did it wind up surprising you? What things did you learn that you didn’t expect to learn?

Okay. So, I think what shocked me was that although women’s identities weren’t wrapped up with being soap opera viewers, nevertheless the emotional intensity attached to these narratives was really really high.

And I knew a lot of women and I don't think I was one of them, but definitely our grandmothers, they'd be like, "Get the hell out!" [Laughs.]

[Laughs.]

And it was socially sanctioned, like, "Okay, grandma's watching Edge of Night. Get out! Like, what are you doing?" And I think it was for the personal and the social, the soap opera tied it -- not only personal and social, but I would say capitalist, remembering that they got their start from Proctor and Gamble as a way of selling things.

And so, I feel like the level of how much women really cared about these characters showed that they were in a sense “real.” But today if the topic comes up among women who are somewhat older, they’ll say, "Soap operas are trash now, not at all like when we were growing up." Mainly it felt like back then, a relationship would take literally a year for it to happen. Okay? Like, Sonny and Brenda on General Hospital. You were, like, biting your nails every single day, like, "When are they gonna get together?" And it would never happen! And it was great.

When it comes to pop culture and female narratives, where do you feel like there are great strides being made? Where do you feel like you see regressions? Are there things personally would like to see shift and evolve?

I guess the thing that I'm really really happy about is that I think women are not following any sort of script anymore. And even though it's scary, I think the vast majority of people just say, "You know what? Whatever I like, that's cool."

Like, if I like Pinterest, if I like monster trucks, if I like wrestling, if I like American Girl dolls? I don't know anybody who would look at that and go, "Oh, that's not a female thing to do." And I mean, I remember in the day when they would go, "Girls don't do that! What's wrong with you? Are you a lesbian?" That would be, like, the ultimate warning word: "Okay, if you're doing that, you must be a lesbian."

You know?

[Laughs.] Do you remember? I mean, in your research or even in your personal memories, were male fans of soap operas ridiculed in the way female fans of videogames were?

Okay, no man would admit it.

[Laughs.]

I wouldn't know. Just like you said you watch it with your mother, that's the only context I've ever heard. It's like me and Dunkin' Donuts: "I was forced. I was there. It was on in the living room! So, I watched it."

I mean, I could talk to you about Erica Kane and Edmund.

[Laughs.]

It's been a while. I know it isn't on the air anymore, but was it really that stigmatizing and embarrassing for men to talk about it?

It would never have been a topic of discussion. Period. And men did not push the baby stroller, either. There were a million things that men did not do. And they just didn't.

And you know something? I think times are better now, but I think the flip side of times being better -- "better" meaning I see dads with strollers constantly -- I think people have a really inner in-built need to be a gender. Okay? And I think that the need to inhabit a gender has been de-legitimized. And that that is the root of misogyny. If you start to say to someone, "Well, hey, you know, there's no male, there's no female, there's no bathroom. There's all this stuff. Deal with it!" Like, I think that's a very fundamental identity piece of a person that they're not gonna react well to. Which I think I said previously.

[Laughs.]

You know? With gender, you're not allowed to say anything.

[Laughs.] Right.

"How do I be a man?" And popular culture tells us that now you have to wear those horrible man-beards. So it needs to be legitimate to study that, fashion as an expression of some sort of social value or need, and what a popular trend signifies. Although like polyester pants I keep thinking that people will look back and say, "I can't believe I allowed myself to be disfigured in that manner for so long."

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