Thursday, October 4, 2012

Why I Wanna Be Bad

"I'm gonna f*** it up again
I'm gonna do another detour
Unpave my path
And if you wanna make sense
What you looking at me for
I'm no good at math
And when I find my way back,
The fact is I just may stay, or I may not
I've acquired quite a taste
For a well-made mistake"
--Fiona Apple, "A Mistake"

I think it started sometime around 1996 when I first read The Talented Mr. Ripley. I was on holiday in Prague, and I was so taken by the main character, Tom Ripley, despite his many misdeeds, that I started to assume his identity, if only in my mind. What if I were able to go out and do such terrible things and still be sympathetic?

One night I went out with Andrew and Mark, two new British friends I'd met on the holiday, and introduced myself to people as Tom Ripley. At the end of the night when I wrote down my phone number for a German tourist, he glanced at the paper, looked at me, and said, "But I thought your name was Tom." Mr. Ripley would never have made such a gaffe!

It's no wonder. Acting has never been my forte. But I've often heard it said by folks in that profession that there's nothing quite like playing the villain. Anyone can gain 50 pounds, make themselves ugly, or pretend to be gay for a role, but there's no greater onscreen challenge than being funny and making a bad guy (or girl) human.

In this sense, General Hospital, my favorite daytime soap now that there are only four left, is perhaps one of television's best training grounds for thespians. It's often laugh-out-loud funny, and there are few characters on the show who haven't been tainted by truly bad behavior. At the moment, there are three and a half rapists on the canvas (I say three and a half because I'm still not 100 percent convinced that Joe Scully Jr. raped Connie Falconeri), all of them more or less sympathetic, if not completely reformed. In fact, the greatest soap opera love story ever told -- the one between GH's Luke and Laura -- began on the night he raped her in 1979 to the sensual trumpet melody of Herb Alpert's No. 1 hit "Rise." I still remember being glued to the TV screen while watching that scene unfold almost exactly 33 years ago.

Elsewhere on the show, you've got heroines with checkered pasts. Some are self-centered narcissists who've been married to the mob (Carly Jacks and Tracy Quartermaine, who's my all-time favorite soap character anyway), one is the legal representative for the mob and a mob boss's baby mommy with at least two deaths weighing not-so-heavily on her conscience (Alexis Davis), another is a former grifter who once watched an innocent baby be kidnapped and presumed dead (Alexis's daughter Sam Morgan), and yet another is a bad-girl-turned-good who recently revisited the dark side long enough to switch DNA test results (Sam's romantic nemesis Elizabeth Webber). Somehow, though, I always find myself rooting for each of them, even when they're pitted against each other.

And did I mention the mob presence in GH's fictional town of Port Charles, New York? It's run by the two stars of the show (neither of whom, shockingly, is a rapist), the aforementioned boss Sonny Corinthos and his No. 1 enforcer, Jason Morgan, GH's romantic centerpiece for at least the last decade who will exit brooding on October 22 when his portrayer Steve Burton airs for the final time. Meanwhile, Sonny's son Michael once killed his stepmother and shot Sonny's girlfriend (by accident). For me, they all represent the show's weakest link -- not because I have anything against killers, but because mob families bore me.

Then, of course, there's Todd Manning, played to the embraceable hilt by Daytime Emmy winner Roger Howarth. He's a rapist who is not above murder and kidnapping to get what he wants. He killed his own mother in the final months of One Life to Live (to be fair, she was a heartless B who deserved a much more slow and painful execution), and he thinks he killed his twin brother Victor Lord Jr., who is actually still alive, as revealed on the OLTL finale in January.

Since arriving on GH earlier this year, Todd has bragged about getting off with murdering his sibling by pleading insanity, he's helped orchestrate a baby switch, he's been an accomplice in the kidnapping of Luke Spencer, and he's been the partner-in-crime of Johnny Zacchara (a mobster and a rapist who's guilty of patricide and killing Todd's granddaughter and the boyfriend of Todd's daughter Starr) and Heather Webber, the most lovable lunatic/psychopath in the history of soaps.

Sometimes I watch GH, and I don't know whom to hate/root for. There are just so many options. It's like reading The Talented Mr. Ripley five times a week, with a cast full of Tom's. It's nowhere near as artful as Patricia Highsmith's masterpiece but just bad enough to satisfy the bad boy who lives inside of me somewhere barely underneath the surface.

"A Mistake" Fiona Apple

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