Love and AIDS in the Afternoon
by Cassandra Belek — TV Industry Professional
February 15, 2012 – 00:00
In 1995, General Hospital broke ground with its HIV/AIDS storyline centered on 16-year-old Robin Scorpio and her first love, Stone Cates. Robin and Stone had unprotected sex before Stone discovered he had contracted AIDS from a previous relationship. Robin learned she was HIV positive shortly before Stone’s death, a death still considered one of the saddest in daytime. Robin and Stone’s storyline received great praise for contributing to HIV/AIDS education and became one of the genre’s most memorable examples of incorporating social issues into storytelling.
Although the primary goal of a soap opera is to tell stories, using social issues gives soaps the opportunity to educate viewers as well, and the soap’s unique structure allows these stories to play out in real time. The genre can trace its use of social issues back to Agnes Nixon, creator of the recently departed One Life to Life and All My Children. Over the decades, soaps have featured storylines revolving around rape, abortion, cancer, addiction and so many more issues relevant to the everyday lives of women and men. But in the 1995, HIV/AIDS wasn’t relevant to millions of soap viewers until little Robin Scorpio was diagnosed as HIV positive.
Robin’s unique position on the General Hospital canvas made her diagnosis all the more shocking. Not only was she the daughter of a popular supercouple, but viewers had also seen Robin and her portrayer, Kimberly McCullough, age naturally from a child into a teen, a rarity in soaps. As a non-drug using heterosexual white female, Robin fell into a minority demographic of people infected with HIV at the time. However, by making an established character HIV positive, General Hospital brought HIV/AIDS directly into viewers’ homes at a time when misinformation and prejudice was rampant.
Not every socially relevant storyline on soaps is handled as well as Robin and Stone’s was. Soaps do run the risk of misrepresenting issues. Characters with cancer are suddenly pushed to the backburner, or addictions develop and are overcome within a week. These missed opportunities to properly educate viewers can be harmful, but is it more harmful that these opportunities are disappearing as more and more soaps are cancelled? Could the education and awareness that resulted from Robin and Stone’s HIV/AIDS storyline have been possible outside of a daytime soap opera? Can the talk shows replacing soaps have the same educational and emotional impact on daytime viewers?