Days of Our Lives used to be known for its groundbreaking, sometimes controversial storylines.
In the early 1970s, it was the first daytime show to feature an interracial romantic couple, and in the late 1980s, it featured a story in which Kayla was raped by Steve's brother Jack, who she was married to at the time -- the first daytime serial to acknowledge any such thing as marital rape.
And as recently as 2014, DAYS made television history by being the first American daytime serial to feature two men getting married.
Unfortunately, from 2015 onwards, DAYS has been on a downward trajectory social messaging-wise. It has consistently written stories that glorify rapists and shame their victims, killed off some of the strong female characters and made others weak, and mocked mental illness with unrealistic and inaccurate storylines.
Many viewers have been especially upset by the Stefan/Abby story of 2018, in which Stefan raped a mentally ill Abigail. However, others feel that DAYS is "just a soap" and that none of it is meant to be taken seriously.
While soap operas are meant to be an escape, that doesn't excuse the writers from thinking about the messages they're sending out to viewers, for a couple of reasons.
Part of the fun of the genre is the epic battle between good characters and villains we love to hate.
One of the reasons people watch soaps is because they are full of characters who say and do things fans only fantasize about doing. Evil characters go to any lengths to get revenge, to get the boy or girl of their dreams, or to mess things up for people they're jealous of.
For it to be entertaining, though, the villains need to be likable even if viewers are rooting for them to lose. And they do need to lose in the end.
In the past, DAYS did this well. The Dimeras used to be as classy as they were evil and Stefano was a particularly compelling villain because the desire to protect his family motivated his worst deeds.
Lesser villains were schemers like Sami or Nicole who were desperate for love and went about it in all the wrong ways so that our hearts broke for them at the same time as we prayed for their latest schemes to be discovered.
Not so anymore.
As of 2018, the biggest "baddie" is Stefan Dimera, the alleged son of two legacy villains, whose claim to fame is that he raped a mentally ill Abigail while she was in a dissociated state and has convinced himself he and Abigail's alter "Gabby" are in love.
The second biggest is his half-sister Kristen, who is over-the-top violent because she's obsessed with Brady Black and has convinced herself that he loves her and doesn't want to admit it, and will stop at nothing to get him, including raping him and calling it love.
Both of these characters are one-dimensional, have no redeeming value, and suffer zero consequences for treating the object of their affection (or other people connected to them) violently.
Where's the entertainment in that?
It ruins the show's legacy.
Family used to be the backbone of Days of Our Lives.
The show was centered around the Horton family and its loving matriarch and patriarch. Tom and Alice offered love and support to most Salem residents, even those who weren't related to them. The idea was supposed to be that family was a safe haven from all the evils of the world and that nobody, not even a power-hungry evil person like Stefano Dimera, could ruin that.
Even evil characters had a sense of family loyalty, and quasi-evil characters like Eve and Nicole behaved badly because they'd been denied the loving families they deserved.
These current, mean-spirited stories destroy that legacy.
Sure, there are still families talking to and supporting one another, but story beats are sacrificed for the sake of promoting cruelty and violence in many of these stories.
For example, in the Abigail storyline, it would have been natural for Jennifer to reference her own experience with having been raped while trying to support her daughter.
Instead, Jennifer is largely absent from Abby's story and other than one conversation where she didn't try all that hard to counteract Abby's blaming herself, she hasn't done much in the way of calling Abby's rape what it is.
Jennifer was spun off into a ridiculous story where she acted completely out of character by putting her fear of losing Eric over telling him the truth while Abby was struggling with her belief that she was having her rapist's child!
Similarly, we've had two health-related stories featuring older characters that were not taken seriously even though they were realistic, relatable, and family oriented.
First, Steve's struggle with his blindness was moved off-screen to set up an utterly nonsensical story where Stefan blackmailed Kayla in exchange for giving Steve a bionic eye.
Then John and Belle's fight over whether or not to give the hospital Marlena's advance directive was resolved quickly in favor of John switching Marlena with lookalike Hattie.
Both of these stories turned serious, compelling issues into silliness, and while some of Hattie's scenes were funny, they made a mockery of the issue instead of writing anything remotely family-oriented.
The other half of DAYS' legacy is of being accepting of diversity. The theme that love conquers all has always applied to everyone in Salem, no matter who they were.
But in 2018, characters like Abe -- one of the longest-running African American characters in TV history as well as being famous for his sense of integrity -- are reduced to yelling about people being in their parking spots and women are written as weak and unable to survive without men's protection.
This kind of backward messaging destroys the theme at the heart of the series and can't be dismissed as "just a soap" because it wasn't acceptable for a large portion of DAYS' 52-year run and suddenly is acceptable now.
Insensitive handling of sensitive topics can be offensive or even dangerous to some viewers.
Some of what DAYS is doing nowadays is downright offensive.
Stories shaming rape victims, showing women as weak and otherwise making light of serious issues can be hurtful to people who have experienced them.
This is never a good idea, especially when your target audience is women and the stories you're writing puts them down for their gender!
But not only are these stories offensive but sometimes dangerous.
In the real world, debates are going on about things like rape culture and whether survivors of sexual assault should be believed -- and there's a soap opera supporting the idea that rape isn't a big deal and victims are to blame for it.
That's an irresponsible attitude to promote!
And the inaccurate depiction of mental illness is even worse.
DAYS came close to portraying mental illness appropriately when JJ attempted suicide in December 2018.
The show dedicated an hour to him experiencing painful memories and preparing to kill himself, only to have Gabi step in at the last minute and not only intervene but force him to seek help.
Afterward, though, DAYS dropped the ball, pushing JJ's recovery off-screen and allowing his mom's current boyfriend to be his therapist. It sent the message that suicidal feelings are no big deal and can be cured quickly.
That might have discouraged real people suffering from depression from getting help.
It's even worse when DAYS doesn't bother to get the facts right.
Most of the time, people with mental illness are depicted as over-the-top violent. Most of the evil characters are routinely referred to as sociopaths by the good characters, and characters suffering from it invariably become murderers who are then quickly cured off-screen.
And in Abigail's case, Gabi is gaslighting her to make her and Chad think that her Dissociative Identity Disorder has returned and inadvertently opening the door for Stefan to rape Abby for the second time.
There are no words for how deeply offensive all of that is and how damaging it can be to viewers with mental illness or who have family members who suffer from it.
This story reinforces so many harmful myths and stereotypes about mental illness and mental health treatment as well as treating a severe mental health issue as a plot point.
I don't think any of that can be excused by saying DAYS is a soap opera or that soaps don't have to be realistic.
Soaps don't have to be 100% realistic, but there's fun unreality and then there are the ugly stuff DAYS is putting out lately.
For years, DAYS has had characters travel across the country or world in a matter of minutes, get a job requiring advanced training two weeks after starting school, or become teenagers shortly after birth. Those are soap tropes that make me laugh.
But this offensive stuff is different, and DAYS really needs to think about what kind of messages it is broadcasting. Viewers are influenced by these messages on top of it just not being good storytelling.
What do you think, DAYS fanatics?
Are there levels of unreality that are not acceptable on a soap opera, or do you feel that because DAYS is a soap, anything goes?