On ABC's Revenge, the story is uprooted from the Second Empire in France to the modern-day Hamptons. The heroine is Amanda Clarke turned Emily Thorne, who seeks revenge on her old neighbors after her father was wrongly convicted of a terrorist plot, leading to her placement in foster care and, ultimately, juvenile detention. When she turns 18, Amanda learns her father made a few well-placed investments and inherits unimaginable wealth. And—like Dantes becoming the Count of Monte Cristo—she morphs into Emily Thorne, returns to the Hamptons, and strategically destroys the people who did her wrong.
Understandably, when telling a story in a different historical moment, and changing the genders of the protagonists and villains, and removing any of the original political context, you end up with something quite different. What endures, though, is the connection between wealth and villainy.
For at least the last thirty years (and probably more) my mom has been a faithful viewer of The Young and the Restless. For several years in there I was too - my earliest memories involve eating the peel from her apple while watching the show. Without fail, my mother has taped every episode, even if she's watching it live, in case she is called away. Great woe awaited the daughter of hers who accidentally interfered with its taping on the VCR every once in awhile - though always the result of a mistake my mother acted as if I had deliberately planned the ruin of her day. Vacations are organized with an eye to how my mother will get to catch up on her show. Nowadays I'll only see glimpses of it when I'm home, and not much has changed: Victor is still endlessly remarrying and divorcing Nikki, Jack Abbott still has an abundance of sandy blond hair, and there is always, always, a rhinestone somewhere in the frame.
I'll admit that despite all the wooden acting, the stilted dialogue, the unbelievable marriages and remarriages and devil possession plots, I did, for a while, succumb to the hypnotic power of the soap opera. There is something reassuring about them, the same people there every day, without fail, missing only a few major holidays a year, never changing and always predictable. And I can see, very well, that they broke up the monotony of housewivery for many women. Moreover, soap operas have occasionally displayed a penchant for progressivism: most recently, they've been introducing gay and lesbian characters with little judgment, and more than a little reverence.