Forty years ago, thousands of Gen X girls across the country got their moms to call them into school “sick,” and parked themselves in front of the television for one of the biggest entertainment events of their lives to date: Luke and Laura’s wedding. The iconic General Hospital couple (a hugely popular ABC soap opera in the ‘80s, for those who don’t know) were getting married. Why did this matter so much? I’ll get to that in a minute. First, though, a shout out to the girls/tweens/teens whose parents didn’t let them stay home to watch it, and had to set the VCR timer to (hopefully) record, then race home from school.
It wasn’t going to be just any reception with some flowers and music. Even Elizabeth Taylor attended. Princess Diana sent the actors champagne. A record-breaking thirty million viewers tuned in to the lavish afternoon affair.
When we think of our favorite TV characters overcoming obstacles and celebrating their love with an extravagant wedding, what’s the problem? Posting about the wedding’s 40th anniversary on my Gen X Girls Grow Up Facebook page this week, the problem became pretty clear. That couple’s happy ending came with plenty of controversy – some that Gen X women are still talking and fuming about all these years afterwards.
Before Luke was Laura’s groom, he was her rapist.
At the time, the storyline was acknowledged as crazy, and infuriated some people for sure. But something happened. The characters fell in love. And Anthony Geary, the actor who played Luke, was a rising star who shot sky high into fame. Luke wove himself into the hearts of Laura and millions of viewers. Yes, even after the rape. Yes, even into my heart. I was just eleven when my mom gave me the greatest gift of eighth row seats to Anthony Geary’s Chicago concert. (He sang, too!) My heart was racing and women were fainting around me, but let me stay on track…
My “Luke and Laura Anniversary” post garnered hundreds of heart reactions and happy, nostalgic comments. But it also brought out some women’s disgust that we would celebrate such a memory in 2021. The story was about a rape and how could the show portray a victim as falling in love and marrying him, some said. Even worse, how can and why are we celebrating the wedding anniversary today? Aren’t we more aware and sensible than we were forty years ago? What would Law & Order SVU’s Captain Olivia Benson say?
This conversation is about more than these two characters and their legions of fans. It raises a question reflecting on what we are supposed to (allowed to?) do with our beloved pop culture moments and memories. If we know it was wrong, is it OK to acknowledge, highlight, or even celebrate them? If we see today they were blatantly politically incorrect, morally questionable, or just plain wrong, then what? Depending on how we draw the parameters, a really good portion of the shows and storylines that we loved in the ‘80s could be off the table. I mean, look at any Seinfeld episode!
My inclination is to let us have the memories. By marking the Luke & Laura milestone, I was not condoning or ignoring what Luke did. I’m not even saying it was realistic. But it was television. It entertained us. I didn’t produce it, but I did watch it. I wasn’t the script writer (I wish!), but I was a fan. Were we wrong then? Are we wrong now? If we place things outside a box using today’s parameters, we’d have to put so many other once-beloved shows outside, too – maybe MOST of the shows we watched when we were “younger.” The ‘80s are long gone now, along with our leg warmers and youthful figures. We have plenty of controversy in real life and in current times. Can’t we at least have the memories of our pop culture moments?
Erin Mantz is the founder of Gen X Girls Grow Up
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