Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Susie Banikarim (00:00):

Hey everyone, this is part two of the Amy Fisher story. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. Just to note that we discuss sexual violence and abuse in this episode.

Clip (00:11):

The final chapter in the saga of the Long Island Lolita: Amy Fisher coming face to face with her victim.

Susie Banikarim (00:19):

Just six months after 17-year-old, Amy Fisher shot Mary Jo Buttafuoco, the wife of her 38-year-old boyfriend, or statutory rapist based on his later conviction, Amy appeared before a judge for sentencing.

Clip (00:32):

It was the first time Amy Fisher had seen Mary Jo Buttafuoco since May 19th, 1992. This time the two met in a court to hear a judge sentence Amy Fisher.

Judge (00:43):

You are a tragedy and disgrace to yourself, to your family, to your friends, and to society. You deserve no less than a maximum sentence I can impose by law.

Susie Banikarim (00:57):

Her punishment? 15 years in prison. But going away wouldn’t end the media frenzy around Amy or help her escape that label, the Long Island Lolita, that still follows her to this day.


I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:16):

And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:18):

And this is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett (01:24):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim (01:26):

This week we’re talking about Amy Fisher and how she came to be known as the Long Island Lolita. But we’re also talking about the way that word Lolita and that trope is used to paint young girls as precocious and seductive.


This is part two.


Jess, I’ve been thinking about what happens to Amy Fisher in all of this and that she’s punished, but she’s punished so much more heavily than Joey Buttafuoco, who she claims really was essentially a co-conspirator, right? She claims that he talked a lot about wanting his wife gone, that he talked about his insurance policy, that he wanted her dead. And so she comes up with this plan to ingratiate herself with him or to please him. This is really something she does because she’s doing something that he wants.


She goes away for five to 15 years, and he gets four months, right? That is really telling about the way society looked at her versus him.

Jessica Bennett (02:29):

How does this compare to other people in similar situations at that time? Or I don’t know if anything could be really similar, but you know what I mean.

Susie Banikarim (02:36):

Well, there are actually things that are not exactly similar, but give you a sense of how disproportionate the way she was punished was, and what that said about the blood thirst around her.


Another really famous tabloid case at the time was the Preppy Killer, Robert Chambers. For people who don’t remember that case, Robert Chambers killed a woman that he was having a sexual encounter with in Central Park and claimed it was consensual rough sex. He choked her to death, so doesn’t seem like a consensual encounter. But he got the same sentence as Amy Fisher. He literally killed someone. She did try to kill someone, but it’s interesting that they got the exact same sentence.


But the other thing that’s interesting is she got two million for bail and he got 150,000. That’s a really big contrast in terms of how dangerous they assessed her to be as compared to him, who was an actual killer.

Jessica Bennett (03:30):

This also reminds me of what I think was the biggest tabloid story before Amy Fisher, which was William Kennedy Smith, JFK’s nephew, who was accused of raping a woman on the beach in Palm Beach, Florida where he was with his uncle, Ted Kennedy.

Susie Banikarim (03:45):


Jessica Bennett (03:46):

He was acquitted in, I think, one of the shortest deliberation periods ever, in less than 80 minutes by a jury.

Susie Banikarim (03:53):

Yeah, I think it’s interesting because a lot of people have forgotten about this case. But to give you an idea of just how big a case it was at the time, when I was in high school, I had a poster in my room that said, “William Kennedy Smith meet Thelma and Louise,” and it was a picture of Thelma and Louise. I mean-

Jessica Bennett (04:10):


Susie Banikarim (04:10):

At the time, it was a very, very prominent case. If you cared about women and rape and feminist issues, you were following it because it felt like he got away scot-free because he was a Kennedy.

Jessica Bennett (04:25):

Thelma and Louise, that was basically saying he should be killed?

Susie Banikarim (04:30):

Yes, basically. They had a gun in their hand.

Jessica Bennett (04:32):

[inaudible 00:04:33]

Susie Banikarim (04:32):

It was like a picture of Thelma and Louis with a gun in their hand. I should have been clear about that. It was a photocopied poster. William Kennedy Smith meet Thelma and Louise.

Jessica Bennett (04:40):

Wow, that’s very scum manifesto of you.

Susie Banikarim (04:44):

Well, you can imagine at boarding school I was really out there.

Jessica Bennett (04:48):

Okay. My sense is that Joey, he goes to jail for four months. He gets out, he moves on, and this continues to follow Amy into here we are in 2023 talking about this case.

Susie Banikarim (05:02):

Yeah, I mean what’s interesting is that the only reason he doesn’t fade into obscurity is he really tries to stay in the spotlight, right? He moves to LA, he tries to become an actor, he has a public access show. He loves the attention. He’s constantly giving press conferences, and he just never stops trying to be in the spotlight.


Whereas she has attempted in various different ways over the years to move on. One of the things she said in an interview at some point was, “Any time he does something crazy or he does something buffoonish or he gets arrested, all across the newspapers again it’s the Long Island Lolita. I’m the one that can’t get away from this, even though he’s the one that is often keeping this story in the headlines,” and that this is a label she just cannot escape for the rest of her life.


It’s also so recognizable, right? The minute you put Long Island Lolita in the headline, most people who were alive during that story have an immediate recollection of her. They can picture her: the long hair and the bangs, and the Long Island of it all.

Jessica Bennett (06:01):

I think you were telling me earlier that some of the adjectives used for Amy in all of these stories and newscasts about her were things like sick, spoiled, whore, teenage troublemaker-

Susie Banikarim (06:11):


Jessica Bennett (06:11):

… arrogant. Exactly.

Susie Banikarim (06:13):

… perverted, revolting. All the adjectives used for her are about how crazy she is, how sex hungry she is. But they also really go out of their way to generally refer to her as a woman. The prosecution only ever refers to her as a woman. She’s very rarely called a girl, although she is quite literally still a girl. She’s under 18.


But there’s this real need to make her into an adult with agency and to make her into this very sexually aggressive being because there’s no way that she can be a victim, right? She has to be the perpetrator, and that’s partially because she has done something violent, right?


The thing about this case that’s complicated is that there is this innocent woman, Mary Jo, who she has harmed in this extremely aggressive way. And so it is, I think, impossible for the public imagination to hold the idea that both Mary Jo and Amy might be victims, not that Mary Jo is the victim, and Amy is this sort of monster who has wrought vengeance on her.

Jessica Bennett (07:25):

Yeah. What stands out is that in the beginning, I’m thinking of her as a villain. But as you begin to learn all these different little things about the case and her background and how she was treated, and you peel back these layers, it’s almost like she becomes more of a victim. And yet she never totally sheds that villain archetype or whatever you want to call it.

Susie Banikarim (07:47):

Totally because it feels like when you go back and read the coverage now that she’s as much being punished and villainized for being this sexual being as she is for what she did to Mary Jo.


It’s like there’s this sense that because she is seen as promiscuous, she needs to be punished and put in her place, right? That it’s like she can’t just be like a teen girl who came to that promiscuity through abuse, which we know was in her background. Or because she’s been victimized by Joey, the fact that she’s a prostitute is meant to indicate that she’s some sort of harlot that deserves to be punished.


In fact, there’s this really interesting detail that when the prosecutor is trying to convince the judge to give her a $2 million bail, one of the justifications for that he uses is that she’s a prostitute. He’s like, “If we let her out, she will just fade into a life of prostitution and never be found again,” as if she’s not literally the most famous person in the country. There is no way for her to fade into obscurity. She’s on every newspaper cover in New York City. But it’s like they continuously go back to this prostitution as a way to make it seem like she’s this deranged, sick person that needs to be boxed up and put away.

Jessica Bennett (09:17):

Okay, I mean I think we should talk about that directly because we’re talking about this really complicated case. There are many things at play here, but we are largely talking about one thing, which is the Lolita trope.

Susie Banikarim (09:30):


Jessica Bennett (09:30):

I almost think we need to pause for a minute to remind our listeners and ourselves maybe the origins and connotations of that word.

Susie Banikarim (09:39):

Yes, of Lolita, which is from the 1955 novel written by the Russian American novelist, Vladimir Nabokov. The book, for those who don’t remember, is about a middle-aged professor who becomes obsessed with a 12-year-old girl, who he nicknames Lolita. Eventually, he becomes her stepfather and then kidnaps and sexually abuses her.


What’s so interesting about the Lolita trope is that it is quite literally a book about a man who kidnaps and rapes a child. But over time, over the course of the last 70 years, the definition of a Lolita has changed so much that it is no longer considered the term for someone who’s abused. But instead Merriam-Webster literally defines it as a precociously seductive girl.

Jessica Bennett (10:29):

Today? That is the 2023 definition?

Susie Banikarim (10:31):

Today. That is the today definition of it.

Jessica Bennett (10:32):

[inaudible 00:10:32]

Susie Banikarim (10:32):

So it’s become this shorthand for a girl who’s sexual before her time, like a seductress, when that’s fundamentally not what the character is in the book.


And in fact, in my conversation with Amy Pagnozzi, that’s the New York Post reporter we spoke to earlier, she mentioned that she really fought them New York Post on using the term Lolita for that infamous headline.

Amy Pagnozzi (10:53):

Yeah, I was a lit major in school. It was always one of my favorite books, and it’s about a pedophile. I kept saying this is not what that means. But I think it’s something that a lot of men like to think, that women that age actually want them.

Jessica Bennett (11:10):

I think that my most vivid recollection of that idea of the Lolita is the movie American Beauty, which I loved growing up-

Susie Banikarim (11:18):

Oh, yeah. Oh, interesting.

Jessica Bennett (11:19):

… starring Kevin Spacey, who we, along with many people, think of in a new way now. But he’s basically playing a man who has a midlife crisis and becomes completely infatuated with his teenage daughter’s best friend.

Susie Banikarim (11:32):

You may not know this because I did not know this until we were researching this episode, but American Beauty was inspired by the Amy Fisher story. The screenwriter said that he saw this comic book that was released after she went to prison, and it inspired him-

Jessica Bennett (11:49):

A comic book about Amy Fisher?

Susie Banikarim (11:50):

About Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco, and it inspired him to finish the movie.

Jessica Bennett (11:56):

This is Alan Ball the screenwriter?

Susie Banikarim (11:58):

Yeah, so there’s actually a quote from him, and I’ll read you some of it. He says, “I had been working on the basic premise for eight years. The genesis of the idea for me was the Amy Fisher, Joey Buttafuoco business in New York City. When I was living there, I was working at Adweek. I came out one day and some guy was selling a comic book about Amy and Joey. On the one side was this virginal looking Amy and a big leering, lecherous, predatory Joey. You flip it over and he’s all buttoned up, and she’s all tarted up in predatory slutty vixen. I remember thinking the truth is somewhere in those and we will never know what it is.”

Jessica Bennett (12:30):

Wow, fascinating.

Susie Banikarim (12:32):

Isn’t that fascinating? Which is also is the truth somewhere in the middle? We know that she was a teen girl. So again, it’s this need to turn the teen girl into someone who is tempting, who is seducing, who is calculating, who has agency, and is in fact the instigator.


When in reality that is rarely the case, right? Young girls are rarely these evil geniuses who are trying to seduce men.

Jessica Bennett (13:03):

And even if they are, by the way, you’re a grown-ass adult, so maybe-

Susie Banikarim (13:07):

Yeah, exactly.

Jessica Bennett (13:08):

… have a little perspective. Yeah, good point.


But this is far from the first film to be inspired by the Amy Fisher story, correct?

Susie Banikarim (13:17):

Yes, this is far from the only movie to be inspired by Amy Fisher. In fact, the most famous movies that were inspired by her are these three TV movies that came out right after she went to jail. They came out one right after the other. Two of them I think aired on the same night, and one of them aired the week before.


As you might remember, the way that Amy makes bail is she sells her version of the story. And then Joey and Mary Jo Buttafuoco sell their version of the story. And then there’s a third version that gets made, and this one is based on Amy Pagnozzi’s New York Post columns. She’s actually a character in the film.


Here’s Amy again.

Amy Pagnozzi (13:53):

I got a lot of offers from a lot of different people, and the one from ABC seemed to be the best one. I really, really loved being a columnist more than anything. But the movie money was great because all I had to do was give them access to the notes that I had.


The screenwriter was wonderful. I actually think of all of the three movies, it was the best one.

Susie Banikarim (14:14):

I agree.

Amy Pagnozzi (14:15):

And the person who played me was incredibly nice. I don’t know. I mean, do we need three Amy Fisher movies? Do we need one Amy Fisher movie? No, of course not. There were much, much more important things to cover.

Jessica Bennett (14:26):

Yeah, I mean, that’s a very good point. But it really shows how much the Amy Fisher story literally became entertainment.

Susie Banikarim (14:33):

Yeah. I mean, these TV movies were really popular and starred pretty big name actresses at the time. Drew Barrymore starred in one.

Jessica Bennett (14:40):

Alyssa Milano was in one of the other ones, right?

Susie Banikarim (14:42):

Yeah, Alyssa Milano was in one called Casualties of Love: The “Long Island Lolita” story.

Jessica Bennett (14:48):


Alyssa Milano (14:49):

It’s just that I like older guys. I mean, the boys in my school, one, two, three, and it’s over.

Susie Banikarim (14:55):

And then there was a little known actress named Noelle Parker who was in the lethal Lolita version.

Noelle Parker (15:02):

I mean, I know what I did, but I just don’t understand how it all began.

Jessica Bennett (15:07):

And then Drew Barrymore is in the most popular one, The Amy Fisher Story?

Susie Banikarim (15:10):

The Amy Fisher Story.

Drew Barrymore (15:12):

Joey is the only man I love, and I will do whatever it takes to get his wife out of the way.

Jessica Bennett (15:16):

Which side note interesting because Drew, as a child actress, has talked, I think in more recent years, about being very sexualized from a young age.

Susie Banikarim (15:25):

Yes, and actually one thing that’s interesting is that in the research, Sharon, who works on the show, found this clip of her talking about playing Amy Fisher. In that interview with Conan O’Brien, he is sexualizing her in really creepy ways. He’s asking about her tattoos in this creepy way.


It should be noted that Drew Barrymore was also underage. She must have been maybe 18 when she did this interview. So she is in fact in playing this character being sexualized, and then experiencing the same sort of media reaction to it, which is like a weird meta thing that goes on.


But what’s also interesting is that these films are so much more popular than the networks expect, right? They all air in primetime, which is just not a thing you would see. Now they would just become lifetime movies or whatever, but they all air on primetime television. They do really well. In some ways, they are the beginning of this true crime era that now is so huge, especially in podcasts.


But this is the beginning of entertainment executives beginning to understand how much of an appetite there is for these true stories. And actually, this is part of a genre of film in the ’90s that becomes really popular. It starts in 1992, the year that Amy shoots Mary Jo. In fact, in the same month there is this movie Poison Ivy, also starring through Barrymore, that comes out about a teenage girl who becomes obsessed with her friend’s father. She murders her friend’s mother to try and get to the father. So again, this seductress, this young girl-

Jessica Bennett (17:03):

And this is not based on Amy and Joey’s story? This just happens to be coming out at the same time?

Susie Banikarim (17:08):

Yes, isn’t that crazy? It literally-

Jessica Bennett (17:09):

Oh, that’s so interesting.

Susie Banikarim (17:10):

… comes out the month that this incident occurs.

Jessica Bennett (17:12):

And this is also the Fatal Attraction era, right? Yes.

Susie Banikarim (17:15):

So this is right after Fatal Attraction. Amy is constantly compared to Fatal Attraction in early coverage before she becomes her own cautionary tale. She is-

Jessica Bennett (17:24):

Right. We love a sexy, murderous woman.

Susie Banikarim (17:27):

Yes, but also vengeful. Essentially, they’re all the original Eve, right? They’re the women who tempt these good men away from their good wives. They lure them into this horrible life that otherwise they would not be lured into.


It’s just really removes agency from men, which is, I think, why men love these stories, right? They’re never responsible for their bad behavior.

Jessica Bennett (17:49):

Well, to be fair, I think women love these stories, too.

Susie Banikarim (17:52):

Yeah, it’s true. I don’t know why women love these stories.

Jessica Bennett (17:54):

It’s not largely men who are watching these, is it? And maybe we don’t know, but I bet it’s not.

Susie Banikarim (18:00):

I think it’s both. Yeah, I definitely don’t think it’s just men who love these stories.

Jessica Bennett (18:03):

Wasn’t there another one? Wasn’t there a Crush or something like that?

Susie Banikarim (18:07):


Jessica Bennett (18:07):

Was there one with Alicia Silverstone?

Susie Banikarim (18:09):

Yes, yes. And Cary Elwes, who I love, from the Princess Bride. That movie was inspired by Amy Fisher-

Jessica Bennett (18:18):

Oh, okay. It was.

Susie Banikarim (18:19):

… or at least compared to it. It came out in ’93. It’s about this precocious child, who is played by Alicia Silverstone in her first movie. She becomes obsessed with Cary Elwes, who’s a writer, who’s renting an apartment from her family.


She’s a genius, which is also very weird. The need to make them really smart, I think, is fascinating. Because again, it’s why they’re able to manipulate these perfectly innocent men-

Jessica Bennett (18:42):

Oh, right. These dum-dums. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim (18:43):

Into doing these outrageous things who can’t keep it in their pants.


And then there’s this weird scene where she tries to kill his girlfriend by trapping her in a room with bees. I mean, it’s an absolutely-

Jessica Bennett (18:58):

Oh, my gosh.

Susie Banikarim (18:59):

… wild tale.

Jessica Bennett (19:01):

Also, I was just going to say about Alicia Silverstone such an interesting character. Also in the Drew Barrymore vein, because remember that Aerosmith song that I loved crazy and the music video for it where she’s like this hot, I think underage or much younger-

Susie Banikarim (19:17):

I mean, I think she looked like she was like 12 at the time.

Jessica Bennett (19:19):

And with Steven Tyler.

Susie Banikarim (19:22):

Yes, who… You know the thing about Steven Tyler, right?

Jessica Bennett (19:25):

Oh, I forget.

Susie Banikarim (19:26):

Steven Tyler, in fact, was recently sued by a woman who says that he adopted her when she was under age-

Jessica Bennett (19:35):

Oh, I’ve read this. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (19:35):

… so that-

Jessica Bennett (19:36):

In order to be in a relationship with her.

Susie Banikarim (19:38):

In order to be in a relationship with her and to take her out on the road, so he became her literal guardian.

Jessica Bennett (19:42):

Her legal guardian. I read this story. I read this story, and he is also the father of Liv Tyler, who was in the crazy video with Alicia Silverstone, right?

Susie Banikarim (19:49):


Jessica Bennett (19:50):

I remember thinking they were the hottest thing that I wanted to be. That video was so hot.

Susie Banikarim (19:56):

That video was so cool. I think music videos don’t really have the same cachet they did then, but that music video was in itself a huge cultural moment. Everybody saw it. It was a very popular video. I think it was the number one video.


It was at the height of MTV when MTV has really become its own part of the zeitgeist. So that video really was something that everybody saw-

Jessica Bennett (20:22):

So it’s like these things are all circling, and it’s like Amy Fisher and Joey Buttafuoco are somewhat at the center.

Susie Banikarim (20:28):

Somewhat at the center, right? They inspire but also reflect what’s happening in the culture at the time, which is this sexualization of young girls in this very specific way. That’s not as innocent children, but as seductresses and temptresses in their own right.


And one thing that I think is so interesting about the movie Crush is that there’s actually a review of it I found, which I think speaks to how disturbing these movies were and were never acknowledged to me… I saw Crush when it came out, and I remember liking the movie. I was a teen girl at the time, right? The critic writes, “The movie is virtually an invitation to child abuse. In shot after shot, Shapiro pans his camera up one side of Silverstone’s body and down the other as if it was perfectly all right for us to visually caress the thighs of a 14-year-old.”

Jessica Bennett (21:19):

Wow, this was in the Washington Post?

Susie Banikarim (21:21):


Jessica Bennett (21:21):

Hal Hinson. I’m looking at it now.

Susie Banikarim (21:23):


Jessica Bennett (21:24):

Thanks, Hal.

Susie Banikarim (21:25):

And also, the way that quote ends is he says, “My guess is that most people will find the whole business creepy, and even creepier still the people who made it.” But in fact, people didn’t find them creepy. The movie did well. It was a success.

Jessica Bennett (21:45):

I mean, I guess it’s not really that surprising that people loved those movies at the time. They were fantasy. There was something enticing about how dark and twisted they were.

Susie Banikarim (21:54):

Yeah, and it’s a little taboo. Even though these girls were always punished in the end, there was something compelling about seeing girls who were aggressive and open about wanting men. As a teen girl, you didn’t see that very often. In a lot of ways, that’s what was underlying the coverage of Amy.

Jessica Bennett (22:09):

Oh, that’s a good point. Of course she’s punished for the actual crime she commits, but one thing the media continues to fixate on is how freely she talks about sex and wanting it.

Susie Banikarim (22:19):

Yeah, which now of course we would interpret as an immediate red flag of some kind of trauma in her past. But back then, that was just another freakish point to zero in on.

Jessica Bennett (22:29):

And to make fun of. Don’t you remember how this became a huge bit on SNL?

Clip (22:33):

You’ve seen the other three now, the fourth network presents the fourth Amy Fisher story. Tori Spelling is Amy Fisher in Aaron Spellings, Amy Fisher, 10516.

Susie Banikarim (22:47):

Yeah, I mean, I think that’s the other side of the coin, right? So on the one hand, Amy is being presented in this very villainous way. But also the story lends itself to comedy, right? So the late night comics love it because honestly, the name is so ridiculous, right? Buttafuoco is a ridiculous name.

Jessica Bennett (23:05):

Joey Coco Puff, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (23:05):

It just sounds funny. And so his name alone just becomes a punchline that the late night comics are using over and over again.

Clip (23:15):

Number three, get one more cheap laugh by saying the word Buttafuoco.

Susie Banikarim (23:20):

Also, a thing we haven’t really talked about is there’s this real obsession about Amy and Joey’s accents at the time. They have these very thick, Long Island accents that I don’t think were all that commonly heard outside of the tri-state area.


And so their accents are really rife for impressions, right? I mean, you can really hear the Long Island in them, and that culture feels very unique to the rest of the country. Because I love it so much, let’s listen to this great example from the sketch comedy show in Living Color with Jim Carrey.

Clip (23:53):

I’m Amy Fisher. You know, the Long Island Lolita? And this is Joey Buttafuoco over here.

Clip (23:57):


Jessica Bennett (24:14):

I want to take us back to the case itself. This obviously becomes a huge media spectacle. I don’t think I had any idea that that many works of film were based on this story.


But you mentioned, Susie, that Amy is really never able to live a normal life after this. So what actually happens?

Susie Banikarim (24:31):

She tells her own story a few different ways. She does an interview with Inside Edition. There’s also a book she writes in 1994 with Sheila Weller, who is a very well-known journalist and has gone on to write a number of books about very famous women: Carrie Fisher, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Christiane Amanpour.


It’s really the first time that Amy extensively tells her side of the story. She was raped by a handyman in her home when she was around 13. This book reveals that she had also been sexually abused by a person close to the family when she was very young, starting around three or four years old. Also, it just paints a very different picture of Amy. It’s a much more nuanced portrait of her as shy and naive, still hoping that Joey’s going to come in and save the day. Or that Joey still loves her, desperate for male approval from anyone who’s willing to give it to her.


It starts to give you a hint that she has some mental illness that’s untreated and contributes to her thinking that this shooting never registers for her as a real crime when she’s doing it. She doesn’t really have a sense of consequences when she embarks on this thing that forever changes her life. It’s almost like she’s so naive and so detached from reality she’s more worried about her parents grounding her than she is about going to jail.


The interviews in the book take place right before she goes to jail then continue throughout her first couple years. It also describes what that transition is of going to jail and the shock of that.

Jessica Bennett (26:18):

Wen is she actually released from prison?

Susie Banikarim (26:20):

She’s released in 1999. And interestingly, Mary Jo, who spends years talking about how sick she is and saying that she doesn’t feel safe with Amy out and about, is instrumental in her release. She appears at a parole hearing for her. Amy apologizes to her directly. They have this moment in court. It is ultimately what causes the judge to decide she’s served enough time and change her deal and release her.

Jessica Bennett (26:50):

What happens then? What does she do with her life?

Susie Banikarim (26:54):

She actually marries a man she met on an online dating site after she got out of prison. He’s an older man, another one. He’s videographer, I think a mostly wedding videographer. They have three kids. At some point, they moved to Florida.


In keeping with every other man in her life, eventually he betrays her. There’s a period where they’re separated in 2007, and she does this weird thing. Her and Joey do this weird thing where they pretend to get back together because they’re trying to shock a reality show. Her husband says that this makes him angry, and so he releases one of their sex tapes. Like every other man that she’s ever trusted, he essentially betrays her with revenge porn. He releases this sex tape of her.


But it is hugely successful. And-

Jessica Bennett (27:44):

The sex tape is?

Susie Banikarim (27:45):

The sex tape is successful.

Jessica Bennett (27:46):

What does that mean successful? He releases it on the internet?

Susie Banikarim (27:49):

It makes money and lots of people watch it.

Jessica Bennett (27:51):


Susie Banikarim (27:51):

But despite the fact that the tape is released without her consent, she decides to lean into it and start doing porn regularly. She says about it at the time, “I have two choices: I can sit there and say it doesn’t exist, which it does exist, or I can do the intelligent thing,” which for Amy Fisher means making the best of the situation and making money.

Jessica Bennett (28:11):

So she starts doing porn?

Susie Banikarim (28:13):

She starts doing porn. She does her own pay-per-view adult film called Amy Fisher: Totally Nude & Exposed.

Jessica Bennett (28:20):

Oh, wow. Okay.

Susie Banikarim (28:20):

Yeah, she makes a handful of adult movies.


That starts in 2007. But in 2011, she stops making the films. She decides to leave the porn industry. In 2015 she gets a divorce, and then she moves home to Long Island. The New York Post continues to hound her.


The last published report about her is a New York Post piece where they have found her doing camgirl stuff that’s before OnlyFans. She’s doing sex work through Camgirl. They portray it as incredibly seedy. It’s a very sad story. They confront her. She denies that it’s her, even though she used her name and they have her image. She’s living with her mom again, actually. That’s really the last we hear from Amy Fisher.

Jessica Bennett (29:07):

When is that?

Susie Banikarim (29:08):

That’s in 2017. Then after that, I think that year or the year following, she changes her name. She goes to court. She solicits to have a name change, and she no longer does press. That’s really when she stops being in the public eye.


The thing that’s interesting is that many of the occasions where she goes back into the public eye, the the porn and the reality show, are occasions when she’s trying to make money from her past. One thing you realize is that she goes to jail when most kids are going to college. She doesn’t have anything to fall back on-

Jessica Bennett (29:42):

Right. Skills, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (29:42):

… so the only thing she has to fall back on is her notoriety. It’s interesting that finally in the late 2010s, she just gives up on that and decides to move on. When she’s contacted to be part of projects that Mary Jo or Joey are still willing to do, she refuses.

Jessica Bennett (30:02):

Okay, so Joey is still doing interviews. What’s his deal?

Susie Banikarim (30:06):

Yes, Joey and Mary Jo are still somewhat in the public eye.


Joey is essentially just like a buffoon for a long time. As I mentioned, he moves to California to become an actor. He has some bit parts. He is arrested again in 1995 for soliciting an undercover cop as a prostitute. He is obviously in violation of his probation at that time, so he goes back to jail. He’s just generally a very sketchy dude.


Mary Jo eventually divorces him in 2003. Mary Jo stood by Joey for such a long time, and I think that’s also a really interesting part of the story that we haven’t had a chance to explore. Which is that there’s this psychological thing that happens with Mary Jo where she is so defensive of Joey. It’s almost like she needs to deny the affair to somehow not give Amy any excuse for what she did. For so many years, she denies that the affair even happened. She stands by him, she calls Amy names.


But then eventually she realizes that Joey is a sociopath, literally releases a book-

Jessica Bennett (31:16):

She calls him a sociopath?

Susie Banikarim (31:16):

… called Getting It Through My Thick Skull: Why I Stayed, What I Learned, and What Millions of People Involved with Sociopaths Need to Know. She writes that book in 2009.

Jessica Bennett (31:28):

Wait, sorry, one clarification. Is she still with Joey when she’s helping Amy to get out of jail?

Susie Banikarim (31:35):

Yes, she is still with him. I think that’s one of the interesting details about it. She doesn’t divorce him until 2003. And then in 2005 she goes on Oprah and tells her story for some reason, like a, where are they now or whatever.


Actually, a plastic surgeon reaches out to her after that appearance. She still has paralysis on one side of her face, and he offers to fix it. She accepts. And in fact later on, there’s an Oprah show where the results of her plastic surgery are revealed, so it’s still-

Jessica Bennett (32:05):

Oh, wow. So it’s like-

Susie Banikarim (32:06):

… this like-

Jessica Bennett (32:06):

… they just can’t stop doing this media… They’re trapped in this-

Susie Banikarim (32:12):

They’re trapped in it, right?

Jessica Bennett (32:14):

… endless. And then the next generation becomes part of it.

Susie Banikarim (32:16):

Yeah. I mean, obviously we don’t talk about the Buttafuoco children that much, right? They were nine and 12 when this happened, and at the time we just didn’t really think about generational trauma.


But they saw their mother shot. They saw their father behave like an absolute creep on television for years, and then this story follows them forever. I mean, they have the Buttafuoco last name. In fact, the son has changed his last name. You cannot find him.

Jessica Bennett (32:40):

Right. Also, it’s not like Smith. This is the most recognizable. I mean, this is the same when I was reporting on Monica Lewinsky. Same deal. It’s like that name is so specific-

Susie Banikarim (32:50):

So loaded.

Jessica Bennett (32:51):

… and memorable.

Susie Banikarim (32:52):

Yes, it’s impossible to run away from. Either you change your name like the son does, or you do what the daughter did, which is just accept that it’s part of her history and talk about it publicly.


In 2019, actually, Mary Jo and Joey and the daughter do a special on ABC called Growing Up Buttafuoco, where Jessie, the daughter, shares what it was like for her to be part of the story.

Jessica Bennett (33:17):

The daughter actually has a relationship with her father?

Susie Banikarim (33:20):

Yeah. Jessie was talking to him at the time of the special. But within a year, she says on a podcast that she stopped speaking to Joey. That she’s basically gone no contact and that he’s toxic, and she no longer wants to have any relationship with him.

Jessica Bennett (33:34):

I mean, good for her.

Susie Banikarim (33:36):

Yeah. I mean, she’s talked extensively about what the shooting and all that followed it did to her. She went through a lot of depression and anxiety. She had eating disorders and addiction to alcohol. So you can see why she blames him for a lot of that.

Jessica Bennett (33:50):

It’s really like Jessie’s experience shows us how this story really continues to affect everyone involved.

Susie Banikarim (33:58):

I mean, ultimately, I think the option Amy has chosen to try and live a quiet and private life as much as that’s even possible for her is the choice I would make, too.


But I’m sure it’s not easy. I don’t think there is a right answer here.


I did try and contact Amy for this story because I wanted to let her have the last word if she wanted it, but I wasn’t able to reach her. I found something she said in 2008 when a reporter asked her if she still cared about the public perception of her.

Amy Fisher (34:25):

You know what? At this point, maybe this is awful to say, I am known for something that is not a good thing. I’ve had a lot of negative media attention. People have said a lot of horrible things about me.


Over the years, it’s made my shell a little bit hardened. And no, I don’t care what people think about me anymore. If people like me, that’s wonderful. I think I’m a nice person, and I think because of everything I’ve been through in my life that it’s made me actually a kinder, more understanding person.

Jessica Bennett (34:59):

That’s so interesting. I mean, I hope for her sake that is true. But I do wonder if she’d still say that today.


Susie, I know you mentioned we tried to contact her for the podcast, but maybe it’s worth saying. Amy, if you’re listening, we would still love to talk to you. I do hope for her sake that she has been able to move on.

Susie Banikarim (35:18):

Yeah, me too. I think that’s a good place to leave it for today.


This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett (35:40):

If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim (35:50):

You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett (35:59):

In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim (36:12):

Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindi Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (36:30):

And Jessica Bennett. We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.

Susie Banikarim: It may have been fictional, but this wedding, a two-day television event, was celebrated by fans as the wedding of the decade. More people watched it than the real wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana, which happened that same year. But what is often forgotten about this iconic soap opera couple, is that just a few years before this, Luke sexually assaulted Laura. [00:01:00] I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett: And I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim: This is In Retrospect, where each week we revisit a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Jessica Bennett: And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Susie Banikarim: Today we’re talking about how one of TV’s most famous and beloved relationships started with a rape. But we’re also talking about the incredible powers soap operas once had in shaping public perception. For better and for worse.

Jessica Bennett: So Susie, I know nothing about soap operas except that there is one starring a woman named Jessica Bennett, who shares my name.

Susie Banikarim: Is that true?

Jessica Bennett: Uh, it’s called Passion. Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: Oh, Passion. That was a short-lived, but very wild soap opera.

Jessica Bennett: She remains on Wikipedia. Anyway, were you a huge General Hospital fan, like, how- what led you to this moment?

Susie Banikarim: So I wasn’t a General Hospital fan, specifically. I did occasionally watch it, but I was a huge soap opera fan. I would come home in middle [00:02:00] school and watch soap operas every afternoon.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: I was a Days of Our Life-

Jessica Bennett: Girl.

Susie Banikarim: One Life to Live girl, which was kind of unusual, because it was split. Days of Our Lives was-

Jessica Bennett: Oh, right.

Susie Banikarim: … on NBC. Do you remember the tagline for Days of Our Lives?

Jessica Bennett: No.

Susie Banikarim: Like sands through the hourglass…

CLIP: Like sands through the hourglass…

Jessica Bennett: Oh, yeah, I do remember. Okay.

Susie Banikarim: … so are the days of our lives.

CLIP: … so are the days of our lives.

Susie Banikarim: I would come home from school and I would watch with a snack every afternoon and then eventually I went to boarding school for high school, but when I came home, it was, like, something I looked forward to. Like a summer or winter break indulgence. And I think that’s kind of why I wanted to focus on this subject, this relationship, because soap operas were just so influential for generations of American girls and women. I mean, also some boys, obviously, but they really were geared towards women and this particular plot line really came at the peak of their popularity. And so it seems worth exploring this [00:03:00] relationship that was seen as so romantic, but started with an assault.

Jessica Bennett: As you say that, I’m remembering that I mentioned this to my mother-in-law recently and she revealed that actually my husband, like, the first three years of his life, she would constantly have this show on in the background while they were just, I don’t know, hanging out doing baby stuff or whatever.

Susie Banikarim: [laughs]

Jessica Bennett: And, you know, guess what? She remembers this relationship between Luke and Laura as completely romantic.

Susie Banikarim: I think that’s what most people thought.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah, and they go on to have this decades long relationship, so that makes a lot of sense. I mean, Laura is still actually a character on the show, but for those who didn’t grow up on General Hospital, can you give us a little primer on what the show was?

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. It was a soap opera that started in 1963.

CLIP: General Hospital.

Susie Banikarim: And had its heyday in the 1980s. It was just hugely popular. It was about two families living in the fictional town of Port Charles, New York, and their various trials and tribulations and not surprisingly, it was centered in a hospital. You might [00:04:00] say it was the original Grey’s Anatomy and what went on there, sometimes it would go off in weird adventures, but that’s really been the core of the show for the last 60 years.

Jessica Bennett: Okay, so Luke and Laura are characters who do not work in that hospital?

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. No, they don’t work in the hospital. Not literally everyone on the show works in the hospital.

Jessica Bennett: Got it.

Susie Banikarim: They just live in Port Charles.

Jessica Bennett: Okay. And where should we begin in terms of their, can we call it a relationship?

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, I mean, it’s not a relationship in the beginning, right? Because of the way it starts, but I actually want to begin with the wedding, because I think that that’s the moment that becomes such a cultural phenomenon.

Jessica Bennett: Right, right.

Susie Banikarim: It was a two-day event, so it’s two hours long.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim: There’s, like, really long stretches of them just, like, driving up in cars.

Jessica Bennett: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Susie Banikarim: Like, the bridesmaids, the groomsmen.

Jessica Bennett: Yup.

Susie Banikarim: And then there’s this really long stretch of them just, like, literally greeting the guests.

Jessica Bennett: It’s like an actual wedding.

Susie Banikarim: Which is why it’s fascinating that it was the most watched soap opera episode of all time.

Jessica Bennett: [00:05:00] Wow.

Susie Banikarim: Like, people loved it. They wanted to feel like they were there at this wedding, because they were obsessed with this couple.

Jessica Bennett: Wow. Why were people so obsessed with this couple? Like, what was the appeal?

Susie Banikarim: So, I mean, it’s hard to say. You- to some degree you don’t ever know why people become really attached to certain characters on television or certain storylines, but Laura’s actually kind of an interesting character-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … because she’s already become a pretty central character to General Hospital when Luke is introduced.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And that’s because they’re trying to push towards younger audiences.

Jessica Bennett: Ah, okay.

Susie Banikarim: So she’s a teenager.

Jessica Bennett: Interesting.

Susie Banikarim: And I think one of the quotes I read from a fan was, like, we love her because she’s 16 like us, but she lives the life of a 28-year-old.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: That’s partially why I wanted to start with the wedding, because you kind of need to understand that this wasn’t just, like, a popular episode of television. It was literally the closest thing Americans had to a royal wedding. A- and just to prove that I’m not exaggerating-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … more people tuned in to watch this fake wedding than tuned in when Meghan Markle and Prince [00:06:00] Harry had their actual wedding in 2018.

Jessica Bennett: Whoa. What, that is wild.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. And, like, local news sent correspondents to viewing parties, like, all across Manhattan. From an office in Madison Avenue to a dorm at NYU.

Jessica Bennett: [laughs]

NEWS CLIP: Fans all across the country watched for the big moment. To them it was their wedding.

NEWS CLIP: Of course we’re excited.

NEWS CLIP: Not a dry eye in the house.

NEWS CLIP: By the way, three years for them to get married, I feel like [inaudible 00:06:22].

NEWS CLIP: You like Luke?

NEWS CLIP: I love Luke.


NEWS CLIP: Uh, he’s sexy. It’s time for them to get together.

NEWS CLIP: It’s been two years. It’s time for them to-

NEWS CLIP: You know, they’re very much in love and it’s really a beautiful thing.

Susie Banikarim: It was just this wildly popular thing, even among celebrities. Like, Elizabeth Taylor was such a fan of the show that she requested to be on it.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And made a guest appearance and you can kind of see her in-

Jessica Bennett: Yes, yes.

Susie Banikarim: … the background of many shots. She’s playing a villain who is cursing them-

Jessica Bennett: Oh, okay.

Susie Banikarim: … on their wedding day. And also, this is the year where Diana and Charles got married.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And they had a real wedding.

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: But then this is such a big [00:07:00] moment that Diana sends champagne for this fake wedding. [laughs] She sends the actors-

Jessica Bennett: Whoa.

Susie Banikarim: … champagne to congratulate them on their fake wedding.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow. Oh my God, okay.

Susie Banikarim: Which, like, an amazing little detail here is that Genie Francis is underage when this wedding happens.

Jessica Bennett: Genie Francis who plays Laura.

Susie Banikarim: Genie Francis who plays Laura Spencer is 20, and so they don’t-

Jessica Bennett: She can’t drink.

Susie Banikarim: … even give it to her. She doesn’t know about the champagne until years later when they’re doing an interview.

Jessica Bennett: What kind of champagne do you think it was?

Susie Banikarim: I don’t know. I don’t know what kind of champagne it was, but, um, I think Luke said he liked kept the bo- I mean, it-

Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim: … imagine getting a bottle of champagne from who- what was, like, the most famous woman in the world at that time.

Jessica Bennett: So wha- okay, so the culture or the world is kind of treating this fake wedding like a real wedding.

Susie Banikarim: People took the day off work. And there’s, like, a note in the research that someone was, like, hey, I told my boss I was going to a wedding, because I was.

Jessica Bennett: Oh my God. [laughs]

Susie Banikarim: You know, like, bars played it. Like, people gathered around in bars at lunchtime in droves-

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: … to watch this wedding and, I mean, a thing that I think people sort of forget, [00:08:00] it’s hard now to remember what a stranglehold soap operas had on the culture-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … in the 80s.

Jessica Bennett: Or even television.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, and television. I mean, they also made the most money.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: And like, I think part of the thing is, yes, a lot of people watch them, but more than that, for the networks, uh, ABC, for example, they made up 50% of revenue.

Jessica Bennett: Oh wow.

Susie Banikarim: So had an enormous amount of power.

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: And that’s why suddenly you see all these actors, these famous actors who got their start on soap operas, it’s because soap operas have money to pay actors and prime time, you know, it had money, but not the way soap operas did. And that wasn’t always the case, right? Soap operas initially were kind of seen as this thing for women, made by women.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: This sort of silly ridiculous thing. And, you know, it could be silly and ridiculous and we can talk about that, but daytime was an enormously powerful arena at this point.

Jessica Bennett: I don’t think I fully appreciated that. That soap operas had huge power to shape culture and also that it was women both making and watching them.

Susie Banikarim: [00:09:00] Yeah. Initially soap operas were really watched by stay-at-home moms and that’s kind of why initially they’re dismissed.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: But then this thing happens at the end of the 70s where a lot of women enter the workforce and there’s a dip in viewership.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: But then the women who are staying at home start to allow their children to watch TV with them.

Jessica Bennett: Okay, okay.

Susie Banikarim: That’s kind of like a shift. And so a lot of girls and boys who are home with their moms become addicted to these shows.

Jessica Bennett: I see.

Susie Banikarim: And then it becomes common to be a college student who gathers around-

Jessica Bennett: Right, this is why there’s viewing parties in these dorm rooms.

Susie Banikarim: Yes. You know, a common thing that was talked about amongst soap fans, is that they would schedule their classes around their soap operas.

Jessica Bennett: Wow. It’s such a different time.

Susie Banikarim: It’s, like, worth noting that even though soap operas aren’t that popular now, General Hospital is still on the air.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, right.

Susie Banikarim: I mean, people forget that.

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: But it is the longest running scripted drama and the longest running American soap opera. I- I-

Jessica Bennett: How do you watch that now?

Susie Banikarim: It started airing in 1963. You can watch it on television. What do you mean? You watch it on ABC.

Jessica Bennett: Like, watch it, [00:10:00] you do?

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. You could watch it in the afternoon on ABC. And by the way, two million people still do.

Jessica Bennett: Okay, okay.

Susie Banikarim: And I think the thing that’s different is there’s, like, a lot of options now.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: So it doesn’t seem as popular.

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: But two million people is not a paltry number. That’s way more than most cable shows get.

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: But we don’t think about it as a cultural phenomenon because it seems so low in comparison to the fact that in their heyday-

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: … one in fifteen Americans watched General Hospital.

Jessica Bennett: So we’re talking about a storyline on General Hospital involving the two most popular characters, Luke and Laura. These are characters America obsessed over in the 1980s. 30 million people tuned in to watch their wedding. But when you say out loud how that relationship [00:11:00] began, which is with Luke assaulting Laura, it almost feels like it can’t be true.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. It is hard to believe. And we’re about to walk you through the assault scene, which will make it feel unfortunately very real. But first I want to give you some background on how we get to that scene.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: And I’m going to actually blow your mind-

Jessica Bennett: [laughs]

Susie Banikarim: … with so many things here, because to begin with, Luke is Laura’s boss.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, okay. Where did they work?

Susie Banikarim: Um, at a disco.

Jessica Bennett: They work at a disco.

Susie Banikarim: Laura is 17. Luckily for Laura she’s already married. She’s 17 and married.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, okay. Only a crime.

Susie Banikarim: So Laura and Scotty were actually, like, a pretty popular soap opera couple in their own right, but, you know, the whole thing on soap operas is if there’s a happy couple, they must face, like, an-

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: … extraordinary number of obstacles. Like they must get kidnapped, they must get cloned, so the obstacle that’s thrown in Laura’s and Scotty’s relationship is Luke. There is a nurse at the hospital that’s [00:12:00] obsessed with Scotty. So she asks her brother, Luke, to come to town and try and seduce Laura.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And Luke wasn’t even really supposed to be a major character on the show. He was just brought in as a temporary character who was going to be a bad boy, an obstacle in Laura’s relationship with her husband, Scotty. But the writers had planned from the beginning that he was going to rape her, because they wanted that storyline for ratings.

Jessica Bennett: Wild.

Susie Banikarim: Wild. The- the- the ratings have started to wane. You know, they’re making an effort to bring in younger viewers. It’s working a little bit with Laura, but this is the last rated TV show.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, so it’s not doing good at this time.

Susie Banikarim: At this time it’s not doing good. It’s the lowest rated soap opera on TV. It’s, like, number 12 or something.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And there’s so many soap operas on TV-

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: … at this time. And that’s actually what makes it so remarkable that within three years, it’s literally the number one show.

Jessica Bennett: Can you imagine being, like, ah, our show’s doing really bad. What can we do to- to get better ratings? I know-

Susie Banikarim: Right.

Jessica Bennett: … let’s stage a rape.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. [00:13:00] I mean, it is wild. But it does work.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And I think one of the things that’s interesting is the executive producer that was brought in at that time came from TV movies where rape was a much more common topic.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: But it was presented more from, like, the crime aspect. And so I think that’s why-

Jessica Bennett: Not a love story?

Susie Banikarim: Not a love story. And I think that’s why she has this idea to introduce this rape-

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: … and knows that that is, like, popular with viewers. That must be kind of what she’s thinking when she introduces this character.

Jessica Bennett: Okay. So this new 32-year-old character, Luke, ends up hiring 17-year-old Laura at his nightclub.

Susie Banikarim: Yes. So Laura has gone to Luke who runs the big disco in town to ask for a job and he hires her and meanwhile, he has some shady backdoor dealings with the mob. That’s why he’s, like, such a bad boy.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And that’s his back story. So the context of this scene is that Luke has gotten mixed up with these mobsters who are forcing him to [00:14:00] kill a local politician-

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: … and he feels like if he kills this other person, he will also be killed.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: And so this scene picks up where she has seen him crying, because he is like, “I’m a dead man walking.”

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

CLIP Laura: How come you’re crying?

CLIP Luke: I wasn’t crying.

CLIP Laura: Yes, you were. And you didn’t know that I was here.

Jessica Bennett: At first I was, like, oh, that’s kind of progressive of them. Like, you’re showing tears.

Susie Banikarim: It’s not going to be so progressive.

CLIP Laura: Luke, I’m sure that whatever it is, it can be worked out in time.

CLIP Luke: Time is what I don’t have.

Jessica Bennett: They’re sort of setting it up that, like, if you don’t have time, then you must have the woman you love.

Susie Banikarim: And that’s definitely how the story plays, that he knows he’s running out of time, he’s so in love with her-

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: That he must have her this one time.

Jessica Bennett: He ra- he has to act on this love lust.

CLIP Luke: I said I was going to be dead, killed, little lady. Can’t you get that through your head? Now get out of here.

Susie Banikarim: So [00:15:00] he’s pushing her away, because essentially the message is he can’t control himself. And then he professes his love.

CLIP Luke: Dammit, Laura. I’m in love with you.

CLIP Laura: No, I d- I don’t think it’s really love, Luke. I-

CLIP Luke: Oh, yes. It’s just what it is.

Susie Banikarim: And then randomly in the middle of all of this, Luke walks over dramatically to the record player, flips it on and a song comes on and he turns to her and says, “I can’t die without holding you in my arms just one time.”

CLIP Luke: Dance with me, Laura.

CLIP Laura: No.

Jessica Bennett: You really feel that the tension is building and then things clearly unravel.

CLIP Laura: Luke, let me call a taxi, please.

Jessica Bennett: And so you don’t see the rape itself.

CLIP Laura: No. Don’t, Luke, let me go.

Susie Banikarim: But it’s unambiguous.

CLIP Laura: No. No.

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: You definitely hear a rape.

Jessica Bennett: So clothes are ripped. She’s looking upset. She’s crying.

Susie Banikarim: She’s cowering.

Jessica Bennett: She’s clearly said no ahead of time.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, she’s screaming no when it-

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: … starts and grows. It’s a kind of jarring moment because it happens pretty suddenly. Like, you go [00:16:00] from being, like-

Jessica Bennett: I actually do get goosebumps watching it.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. Because you’re sort of, like, oh, it’s going to be a seduction and then suddenly it’s a rape.

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: And cut to disco lights. There’s a commercial break. We come back. We’re back on the disco lights. It’s, like, very-

Jessica Bennett: Yes, yes.

Susie Banikarim: … surreal kind of vibe. And then the thing that really drives home that this is a rape is she’s now lying on the ground. She is cowering.

Jessica Bennett: Her clothes are torn.

Susie Banikarim: She’s crying. Her clothes are torn. He is standing above her. He seems like he’s in a bit of a daze. And the phone rings and you sort of get the sense that that’s supposed to, like, break his reverie.

Jessica Bennett: Yes, yes.

Susie Banikarim: And she sneaks away.

Jessica Bennett: And it’s her husband, Scotty.

Susie Banikarim: And it’s her husband on the phone and he’s like, “Have you seen Laura?” And Luke lies about it. So that’s kind of the acknowledgement that he knows he’s done something wrong.

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: Because he’s lying about whether or not she’s been there. And that’s the scene.

Jessica Bennett: Okay, that was a lot. But one other strange detail I have to mention is, [00:17:00] so that song that’s playing in the background when the assault occurs. This is the song that Luke kind of dramatically goes up to the record player and turns on and it’s this jazz funk instrumental hit. This is a real song. It’s called, Rise. And that song then goes on to become number one on the Billboard charts.

Susie Banikarim: I know, it’s crazy.

Jessica Bennett: And, like, for a jazz funk instrumental, that was as rare then as it is today.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah.

Jessica Bennett: And it’s funny, actually. I don’t know if you remember this, you called me and I was in Palm Springs with a friend.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah.

Jessica Bennett: And, uh, you know, we had shopped, naturally-

Susie Banikarim: [laughs]

Jessica Bennett: … um, and… Yeah, exactly.

Susie Banikarim: That’s where either of us would be at any given moment.

Jessica Bennett: And we had just gotten out of the car where that song was playing. And this friend of mine who happens to have written her, like, college thesis on rape in soap operas-

Susie Banikarim: Amazing.

Jessica Bennett: … I know, maybe we should call her, is like, “Oh, do you know what this song is?” And she explains this to me and I’m like, “What?” And then you called me and you’re like, “Remember that moment in General Hospital?” Which of course I didn’t really remember, but this song goes on to be at the top of all of the charts [00:18:00] and actually, our younger listeners, uh, might recognize it because 20 years later, Puff Daddy actually puts a clip of it into Biggie’s song, Hypnotize.

Susie Banikarim: Oh yeah, excellent song, by the way.

Jessica Bennett: Which, like, I can hear that in the back of my mind as we’re listening to this. So it’s sampled in Hypnotize in 1997, because Puffy later says in an interview, like, this was the song of the summer when he was, like, 10 years old in New York. Like, all the kids-

Susie Banikarim: Everyone was listening to it.

Jessica Bennett: … were, like, jamming and rollerskating to this song. Which, of course, was popular because of this rape scene. How do we get from this clearly very traumatic scene between Luke and Laura, which happens in 1979, to then this star-studded royal level wedding two years later?

Susie Banikarim: That’s the crazy part, right? As I mentioned, Luke was supposed to be a temporary character. He was supposed to come on, you know, have this violent scene with [00:19:00] Laura and then he was supposed to be killed.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: And what happens is, audiences respond so well to him and, again, let me acknowledge how wild that is, he was so immediately popular that producers decided they wanted to find a way to keep him on the show.

Jessica Bennett: Wait, and how did they know he’s so popular?

Susie Banikarim: Well, partially because the way soaps worked is, since they were being produced so quickly-

Jessica Bennett: Uh-huh.

Susie Banikarim: … and because they’re on every day-

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: … the network is able to gauge almost immediately audience sentiment.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: So they’re using actual data that’s showing them that Luke is quite popular.

Jessica Bennett: Okay. So, like, we’ve got to keep Luke.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. This gets some coverage at the time. The ratings weren’t good before this. The ratings started to creep up, so they do not kill him off.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: But that leaves them-

Jessica Bennett: With a problem.

Susie Banikarim: … with a bit of a conundrum, which is, if audiences are falling in love with Luke and really feel drawn to this romance between him and Laura-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … and want Laura to end up with Luke, not Scotty, [00:20:00] how do they reconcile that with the violent rape-

Jessica Bennett: That has occurred.

Susie Banikarim: … has occurred, and also that they have acknowledged as such. And just to really put a fine point on the fact that the show never really tried to make the rape ambiguous. Initially, she goes to crisis counseling after this, on the show.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: Like, they do not initially shy away from the fact that it’s a rape. They will eventually and we’ll get into all of that, but when it happens, it is really clear what’s happened. Tony Geary, the actor who played Luke-

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: … actually says in an interview at some point, we never expected the audience to be, like, on Luke’s side. And so, we did a rape and then the audience fell in love with Luke and that wasn’t our fault, so what were we supposed to do? And, like, maybe the thing you were supposed to do, was be, like, hey guys, rape is bad.

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: But instead, they are moving the needle over and over again.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: Until they literally re-shoot [00:21:00] the scenes. They literally go back-

Jessica Bennett: So that they can appear in flashbacks?

Susie Banikarim: So that the scenes they’re showing for flashbacks aren’t as disturbing.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim: They’re literally softening the thing over and over and over again. And the characters being gaslit in real time, the audience is being gaslit in real time.

CLIP Luke: Maybe you should name me as the rapist.

CLIP Laura: They’ll put you in jail.

CLIP Luke: Maybe that’s where I belong.

CLIP Laura: No, don’t say that. You’re not a criminal.

Susie Banikarim: Then, by the time the wedding happens, the thing that’s kind of interesting is that by the time 30 million people are watching the wedding, a lot of those people have never seen the rape. They don’t even know-

Jessica Bennett: They don’t even know how the relationship began.

Susie Banikarim: Right, and they have only seen these sanitized, softened, more romantic flashbacks. And actually they even removed the song. They stopped playing the song, because the song is, like, so associated-

Jessica Bennett: Oh. Evokes…

Susie Banikarim: … with the rape.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, that’s so interesting.

Susie Banikarim: And when they’re, [00:22:00] like, re-shooting these scenes and softening them up, there’s a thing that happens that’s actually quite controversial for the people at the time who remember that it’s a rape. I mean, there is an audience that remembers.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: And at one point Laura is narrating the scene and she describes it as the first time Luke and I made love.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim: And there is a reaction. It’s not, like, a huge national reaction or anything, but there are people at that time who were, like, what is happening?

Jessica Bennett: And actually we know one of those people. One of our executive producers, Cindy Leive.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, Cindy is a journalist, the former editor of Glamour magazine and the co-founder of The Meteor. But most relevant to this conversation, she was a General Hospital super fan.

Cindy Leive: I started watching it probably in 1979 and watched it with varying levels of religious devotion until around 1984 or ’85. I was part of that generation X, so called latchkey kid generation [00:23:00] and so I used to come home and General Hospital was kind of my babysitter. Like, my parents were divorced and my mom worked and I would race home from school so that I could turn on ABC, Channel 7, and watch it at three o’clock. Usually with a humongous bowl of coffee ice cream. It was, like, a comfort hour for me.

Susie Banikarim: Why did you love it so much?

Cindy Leive: [laughs] Um, it was just fascinating. I just had never seen anything like it before. I remember these super adult plots. Prostitution, there was Bobby Spencer who used to be a quote, unquote, hooker and there were a lot of plots around infidelity. And then there was Luke and Laura. Laura was supposed to be sort of in her late teens, even though she seemed incredibly glamorous and grown up to me at the time.

Susie Banikarim: Do you remember what you initially thought when Luke showed up?

Cindy Leive: I have a vague memory that Luke Spencer was supposed to be a kind of bad boy character. He [00:24:00] ran a disco. Mostly I remember his kind of open neck shirts and his permed hair, although I didn’t know it was permed at the time. But he had kind of an allure.

Susie Banikarim: You’ve told me in the past that you were watching the episode when Luke raped Laura. Can you describe that experience?

Cindy Leive: So there’s this one Friday. I couldn’t tell you what time of year it was. I couldn’t tell you the month, but I know it was a Friday afternoon, which is when they always did the big happenings or cliffhangers. And I came home from school, I was watching by myself. And Luke was at his club, Luke’s place and Laura, she was there. And Luke is clearly in love with Laura and telling her how much he wants her. And then all of a sudden it clearly becomes a rape scene. And I don’t know if I even knew the word, rape, then. But I knew it was [00:25:00] violent. And it was really an unsettling scene, because they weren’t shying away from how violent it was.

He’s, like, pushing her down on the ground. She’s saying no. And the next scene, as I remember it, she’s walking around outside and she’s dazed. And she’s clearly been through a violent act. And yet, was it violent? Because the messed up thing is it’s also portrayed as romantic. Like, he wants her so much, he can’t stop himself. And he doesn’t stop himself. And he keeps going. That scene definitely led me to think that it had something to do with desire. It was a bad thing and it hurt her and that was clear. But it hurt her because he loved her so much, he couldn’t help but hurt her.

There’s also this sub-scene that she kind of pities him. [00:26:00] Because poor guy, you know, he can’t help it. And I think now seen in the cold light of day and a bunch of decades more experienced, like, that’s a very classic way that women are taught to think about bad men or violent men. That they can’t help it and are you really going to hold them accountable for their actions? Poor guys. They’ve suffered enough. But I didn’t see any of that at the time. I just sort of witnessed that they continued to fall in love. And that it was, like, heller romantic.

Susie Banikarim: Were you rooting for them?

Cindy Leive: I was totally rooting for them. I mean, not them that day of the rape, but as time went on and- and everybody was rooting for them. And, you know, it culminated in this wedding, which I was probably too young to really care about, but man, that wedding was a really big deal.

Susie Banikarim: Do you remember talking to your friends about it? Talking of- to them about the rape?

Cindy Leive: N- I don’t remember talking to any friends about it at the time. [00:27:00] But a couple of years after that scene aired on General Hospital, and it was still kind of the only reference point I had for rape, I was walking home from school and I was on this sort of, like, backwoods road and this guy pulled up next to me in a TransAm. I was probably 13 at the time and he had his pants down around his knees and, you know, was flashing me. Said something to me. I screamed, ran away, ran home, called my friend, and I said, “You’re not going to believe what just happened to me on the way home from school.” I was, like, shaking. I’m sure my voice was trembling. And she said, “Did you get raped?” And it was, like, we didn’t know enough to know how awful that would have been. Like, to her it was this dangerous, alarming, but still kind of hot thing that could have happened.

Susie Banikarim: Looking back on it now, how do you think about it?

Cindy Leive: [00:28:00] My friends and I talk about this all the time. Like, my friends who I grew up with. Like, can you believe that Luke raped Laura? Nope, still can’t believe that Luke raped Laura and that that’s what led to this relationship. And particularly over time, like, I stopped watching soap operas probably when I was in high school, but when I look back on it, it’s such a fundamental messing with how a whole generation of girls who weren’t really getting any kind of education around consent. All the things we talk about now with varying degrees of success, we weren’t talking about at all then. And it’s such a devastating message about what a guy will do if he loves you enough. Like, he’s going to hurt you. And, you know, you should forgive him for that because, poor guy.

Susie Banikarim: This storyline between Luke and Laura was obviously a [00:29:00] very serious subject matter, but one of the things that occurred to me when we started to work on this episode, is that now we’re sort of looking back on it and talking about it in a serious way, but the reason soap operas were often dismissed, is that they did have, and I just want to make sure we don’t lose sight of this, but man, have absolutely wild storylines, like demonic possession-

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: … and, you know, clones, like, you would get in an accident. Someone would clone you. You’d have a baby, it would turn out to be the devil. There was, like, a storyline on One Life to Live where they time traveled. I mean, there were these just, like, insane storylines. And Luke and Laura weren’t an exception. They would go on these Raiders of the Ark type adventures. But then there is this period in the late 80s and 90s where it becomes quite fantastical.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: That is partially why soap operas get this rap as a silly, sort of cheesy thing.

Jessica Bennett: Right.

Susie Banikarim: But at the same time, there were a lot of social issues are introduced.

Jessica Bennett: [00:30:00] Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: Partially because women are not being hired to make prestige television. They’re not being hired on prime time shows. They are making these soap operas. They are hiring other women to be the writers. And so a lot of topics that those women are interested in gets discussed here.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, that’s really interesting. So this is the place that a woman show runner or a woman writer could actually thrive.

Susie Banikarim: And yeah, thrive and actually explore real issues that women were facing. Domestic violence, addiction. So you sort of have this idea, oh, it would have been handled more sensitively, but I think this just reflects how people genuinely think about rape.

Jessica Bennett: Right. And that’s- yeah, that’s interesting too. It’s, like, actually maybe this is more accurate to what we really did think of it at the time.

Susie Banikarim: Well, and also, maybe this was a sensitive handling for the time.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: Like, maybe the way this would have been handled in previous iterations is she wouldn’t have been believed or-

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: … she would have been dismissed. Like, there is an attempt made here to handle this with sensitivity. They have [00:31:00] Genie Francis and Tony Geary, the actors, meet with a social worker before they taped the scene. I mean, there is an acknowledgement-

Jessica Bennett: Prior to.

Susie Banikarim: … that this is a difficult-

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: … subject to tackle.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah.

Susie Banikarim: It’s just interesting that even their version of sensitivity-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … is so baked in to the era that it represents-

Jessica Bennett: Yep.

Susie Banikarim: … that it still reveals these really outdated notions about rape.

Danielle Thompson: I can give you my perspective here.

Susie Banikarim: So, we did end up calling your friend, Danielle Thompson, who you mentioned at the top of the show.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, good. I’m so glad.

Danielle Thompson: The history of soaps is so vast and expansive that it’s like saying, let me tell you the history of the world in, like, five minutes.

Jessica Bennett: For those listening. This is Danielle Thompson. She’s a longtime television writer and- and researcher and the person that I basically go to whenever I have a really intricate question about TV of the past. So what did she say?

Susie Banikarim: Well, first she said that it wasn’t her thesis that she wrote about soaps and sexual assault. So you lied.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, whoops.

Susie Banikarim: But it [00:32:00] was a very long college essay, so you weren’t that far off.

Jessica Bennett: I mean, close enough.

Susie Banikarim: But besides being able to share what she learned about this very specific topic, she just has this crazy extensive knowledge about the topic and she was such a huge soap fan, so she really delivers.

Danielle Thompson: I think that you have to remember that soaps don’t just have love in the afternoon. In fact, that’s actually why I stopped watching soaps, because there is not enough romance. It’s kind of know for dealing with serious issues always. And sometimes they get it right and sometimes they don’t. But, like, in 1973, the first legal abortion on television showed on All My Children. The first gay teenager on TV, that was Billy Douglas, played by Ryan Phillippe on One Life to Live, 1992. You have the first gay marriage in 2009 in All My Children. The first transgender coming out storyline in 2006.

Soap operas are actually the place where serious issues are addressed. And so, just to, like, put Luke and Laura’s scene in context of the time. The [00:33:00] phrase, date rape, was not even coined until 1975 by Susan Brown Miller in her book, Against Her Will. And so for further context, it was 1982 when Ms. Magazine ran what was, like, a groundbreaking study about the subject of date rape, which was still not really known as a concept, because most people at the time thought of rape as being something that was committed by a stranger, not someone that was known.

So I think in that context, Luke and Laura is kind of radical because it’s bringing up an issue that was something people had not really understood or known that is of extreme relevance to its viewers, which are primarily women. And I think what’s interesting about Luke and Laura is that the character was never intended to be a romantic companion for her. This is definitely not the first act of sexual violence in soaps, but it is from my understanding, the first relationship where the relationship followed the act of sexual violence instead of preceded it. But I don’t necessarily think that it kind of sparked off [00:34:00] this new trope of sexual assaults in soap operas. I think if anything, it kind of broadened the conversation in a way that changed it and because awareness grew, I think that storylines about it became more pervasive.

Jessica Bennett: So one question I have is, all right, so multiple decades have past. It was actually just a couple of years ago that it was the 40th anniversary of the wedding and so there was all this sort of quote, unquote, in retrospect coverage of it and Genie Francis spoke about it. So, are those who were involved in the show at the time expressing different perspectives on it when they look back today?

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, 100%. I think they’re expressing different perspectives and also admitting that they had different perspectives even at the time.

Jessica Bennett: Okay.

Susie Banikarim: It’s also worth noting that the show itself has acknowledged and revisited the assault a few times since it originally aired. Obviously, you know, we think about these things differently now and the show is aware of that. And so there have [00:35:00] been a few times in the show’s history where they tried to confront that. And there was this scene between Luke and Laura at some point where they discuss what happened and she confronts him many years later and he apologizes.

CLIP Laura: We should talk about what happened that night then. That one bad night 20 years ago.

Susie Banikarim: Eventually Luke and Laura are going to have kids, so, you know, as the show is evolving there’s also a confrontation between Luke and his son with Laura. Strangely their kid is named, Lucky, and he confronts Luke about assaulting his mother.

CLIP Luke: You’re not going anywhere until we have this out.

CLIP Lucky: What are you going to do, Dad? Why, if I walked out the door, what would you do? Force me to stay, why, because you’re stronger than me?

CLIP Luke: What do you know?

Susie Banikarim: And Luke, of course, apologizes again here because it’s always part of a redemption arc they’re trying to give him.

CLIP Luke: You were conceived, born and raised in love. Nothing but love.

Susie Banikarim: But, what’s also [00:36:00] happened, is that I think there was a lot of questions about this rape when the wedding occurred. It’s not like journalists who were covering the wedding at the time didn’t ask about it.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: And the onus was really put, especially on Genie Francis, who was quite young. She would sort of explain this thing.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: She was often asked about it and she felt like she had to defend it and I think Tony Geary also felt that way and neither of them seem like they really appreciated being put in that position, to be honest.

Jessica Bennett: Right, right.

Susie Banikarim: They both left the show not long after the wedding and then returned.

Jessica Bennett: Oh, for those later storylines. Okay.

Susie Banikarim: For those later storylines. I mean, not just for those later storylines, but then they just returned to the show in the 90s. And she’s gotten to the point where she o- very openly now, even though she’s still on the show today, rejects having been put in this position. And has said, and I- I’ll read a quote from her. “As a young kid at 17, I was told to play rape and I played it. I didn’t even know what it was. But at 17 you follow the rules. You do as you are told and you aim to please. And now at 60 I don’t feel the need to defend that anymore. I [00:37:00] think that story was inappropriate. I don’t condone it. It’s been the burden that I’ve had to carry to try to justify that story. So I’m not doing that anymore.”

Jessica Bennett: That’s interesting. And, you know, to think about how these things play out differently. Today it was interesting you mentioned that at the time-

Susie Banikarim: Yeah.

Jessica Bennett: … the actors playing Luke and Laura actually saw a social worker to talk about the playing of this. But now you would have an intimacy coordinator on set.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. It would be a totally different ballgame. Or you’d hope that it would be a totally different ballgame. I think, look, Genie Francis is in her sixties now, right. She’s had 40 years to reflect on this thing that happened to her, but she was a 17-year-old girl playing with a 30-something year old actor.

Jessica Bennett: Right, right.

Susie Banikarim: Right? I mean, just the whole thing would be handled so differently now, because in addition to the rape, there would be the statutory issues. There just is, I think, a better understanding of how power dynamics work. Like, it wasn’t even really brought up at the time that he was her boss.

Jessica Bennett: It’s also, like, were the scene to play out today, there would be a concurrent dialogue happening on Twitter and elsewhere about how it was handled. [00:38:00] Immediately, in real time. And so you would be having to preemptively prepare for the criticism that you knew you were going to face and really make sure it was handled delicately.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. I mean, an interesting thing is, is did you The Accused when it came out?

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: That was sort of, like, one of the first depictions I ever saw of gang rape and now the dialogue around that movie has actually even shifted.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: Like, I think it’s kind of fascinating because I’ve seen dialogue about how it’s too violent. It’s presenting-

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: … and too drawing away. It’s not, it’s, like, triggering. And I think that’s really interesting because the reason that movie was so groundbreaking when it happened is because it was presented in so violent a way. It sort of forced you to face the reality of that violence.

Jessica Bennett: Yeah, yeah.

Susie Banikarim: But now if you played it so violently, they would say it was exploitative, right? Like, if you did that scene now, you would want to handle it with more sensitivity because we get that rape is violent. We don’t need to, like, shove it in your face that same way. But that cultural context is important. When that movie happened, people didn’t really understand how violent rape could be, so it had [00:39:00] to be so aggressive.

Jessica Bennett: I think now too, storylines are forced to grapple with the enduring trauma of something like that happening.

Susie Banikarim: Right.

Jessica Bennett: And- and that that has to be written in.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah. And I think, let’s be honest, we’ve all or most of us have watched many years of Law & Order SVU.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: And that has in many ways changed the way that rape is handled on other shows. That’s an interesting example of a show that not only has kind of moved the needle in terms of how a lot of us understand sexual assault, but has actually changed the way other shows handle it because it has really introduced a lot of ideas into the culture that are now very commonly acknowledged as facts. And those things continue to evolve.

Jessica Bennett: Okay. So, I feel like we need to take a moment to just pause and re-acknowledge what we’re talking about. This show is about how we internalize these messages.

Susie Banikarim: Right.

Jessica Bennett: So look, like, 1981 I was not born when this hit. Like, [00:40:00] this was a little bit before our time, but when you think about the time when we were sexually coming of age, like, how the strands of this might have still impacted us in the way that we saw ourselves. And the culture, like, yes, was it okay for guys to be really aggressive when they wanted to pursue you?

Susie Banikarim: I mean, I definitely-

Jessica Bennett: Yes.

Susie Banikarim: … thought that the answer to that was yes. I think I put up with a lot of things that now I see in my niece, like, that she would never put up with. You know, we just accepted a certain level of behavior that-

Jessica Bennett: We wouldn’t now.

Susie Banikarim: No. And now it’s understood that this is completely unacceptable.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm.

Susie Banikarim: But, you know, at that time, I think people just really didn’t understand what the boundaries were. Like, this reminds me of this crazy jarring anecdote that I read, which has really stayed with me. It’s that Tony Geary, the actor who plays Luke, told the story that when he would go to, like, soap opera conventions and events, [00:41:00] after the scene aired, women would come up to him and say, “Rape me, Luke.”

Jessica Bennett: Oh my God.

Susie Banikarim: Yeah, and that’s like a thing that he would tell because he was so disturbed by it.

Jessica Bennett: But I think it says so much about what we’ve been talking about here, which is that there’s this underlying sense that a woman should, like, want to be found irresistible.

Susie Banikarim: Right. And it just introduces this idea that men express love or this, like, need through violence and then if you experience it as violence and not love, the problem is with you and not the thing that’s happened to you.

Jessica Bennett: Mm-hmm. Right. I’d be really interested to hear from Cindy as someone who actually lived through this.

Cindy Leive: I think I learned that as a woman it’s incredibly flattering and important to be desired by a man and that even if that quote, unquote, desire is violent and hurts you or hurts other people, that, like, on some level that’s okay. I feel like in a way I’m a best case [00:42:00] scenario. I had a very feminist mom who did not truck with those kinds of stereotypes at all. I’m lucky that in those years after watching that on General Hospital I didn’t have any kind of rape experience myself, which is unusual, I think, for women.

But still on some level I think it just underlined this very present message in our culture that you’re kind of nobody unless a guy has overwhelming desire for you. I mean, when you think about it, General Hospital taught a whole generation of women like me, girls at the time, what relationships were. What family secrets were about, what infidelity was. And also what sexual violence is. And I don’t think it taught us accurately.

Susie Banikarim: This is In Retrospect. Thanks for listening. Is there a cultural moment you can’t stop [00:43:00] thinking about and want us to explore in a future episode? Email us at [email protected] or find us on Instagram @inretropod.

Jessica Bennett: If you love this podcast, please rate and review us on Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen. If you hate it, you can post nasty comments on our Instagram which we may or may not delete.

Susie Banikarim: You can also find us on Instagram @jessicabennett and @susiebnyc. Also check out Jessica’s books, Feminist Fight Club and This is 18.

Jessica Bennett: In Retrospect is a production of iHeart podcast and The Meteor. Lauren Hansen is our supervising producer. Derrick Clements is our engineer and sound designer. Sharon Attia is our researcher and associate producer.

Susie Banikarim: Our executive producer from The Meteor is Cindy Leive. Our executive producers from iHeart are Anna Stumpf and Katrina Norvell. Our artwork is from Pentagram. Additional editing help from Mary Dooe and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett: And Jessica Bennett. [00:44:00] We’re also executive producers. For even more, check out inretropod.com. See you next week.