Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

Clips (00:05):

Oh, my God, look at her.

Jessica Bennett (00:10):

This is a clip from the very first episode of Dawson’s Creek. I’m sure you remember it. This was the wildly popular television show that ran on the WB in the late 90s.

Clips (00:18):

Show some respect, man. She’s somebody’s mother.


I have been on pretty good authority that mothers have excellent sex lives, all right?

Jessica Bennett (00:29):

The two voices you hear are Pacey and Dawson, two best friends. They’re about to start their sophomore year in high school. They live in a fictional town called Cape Side, Massachusetts, and they’re working in a video store where they rent VHS tapes. The woman they’re ogling in this clip is about to become their high school English teacher. What is more is that 15 year old Pacey is going to lose his virginity to her just a few episodes later.


I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:07):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:08):

This is In Retrospect, where each week we delve into a cultural moment from the past that shaped us.

Susie Banikarim (01:14):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (01:16):

Today we’re talking about a teenager’s relationship with his much older teacher on Dawson’s Creek, but we’re also talking about sex in the nineties and how we understood it, as well as the case that was playing out in the background of it all, that of Mary Kay Letourneau. This is Hot For Teacher, part one.

Susie Banikarim (01:34):

So Jess, what made you want to talk about this moment in this week’s episode?

Jessica Bennett (01:38):

I wanted to talk about Dawson’s, because one, all of my high school friends were absolutely obsessed with it. We’d have these viewing parties every week in my friend’s basement. Her mother was really opposed to us watching it, but we persevered. But also, because the relationship we’re going to talk about here, one between student and teacher, is one that… And I know this is a little bit strange, but I totally shipped.

Susie Banikarim (02:04):

Wait, so for the people in the audience who don’t know what shipped means…

Jessica Bennett (02:08):

Yeah, shipping. It’s a fan term for when you’re rooting for a couple. Basically, we thought this relationship and this couple was totally hot.

Susie Banikarim (02:16):

Yeah, I very vaguely remember this storyline. This wasn’t the storyline that really stayed with me. Was this something that you really thought about over the years?

Jessica Bennett (02:25):

No, and it’s actually only been recently that I came back to this. I was thinking back to Dawson’s Creek, maybe it was around the 25th anniversary. I was like, wait, wasn’t there a student/teacher relationship in that? So I went back and I looked and then I started frantically texting my high school girlfriends to be like, “By the way, do you remember that in sophomore year when we were 15, 16 years old, we were watching this show obsessively where one of the main characters is sleeping with his teacher? Is that kind of weird?”

Susie Banikarim (02:55):

Yeah, I mean, the funny thing is, I really didn’t remember until you told me that this was a significant storyline.

Jessica Bennett (03:02):

It’s funny, because my job for a number of years was covering the Me Too movement. And so, so much about the cultural coverage there was looking back at shows, music, all of these things made in the past, that through a modern day lens are actually quite problematic, to use a word that I hate. But somehow I just completely missed Dawson’s in that. I forgot to think about it until recently.

Susie Banikarim (03:26):

Well, because it’s actually weirdly not treated like a very meaningful moment. I mean, he loses his virginity to her, but it’s not something that’s reflected on.

Jessica Bennett (03:34):

Right, and wasn’t that kind of nuts?

Susie Banikarim (03:37):


Jessica Bennett (03:38):

So, I started digging back into it. I started re-watching Dawson’s Creek and really thinking about what that plot line taught us about about what was okay in terms of student/teacher relationships, and kind of how that all plays now in our post-Me Too world.

Susie Banikarim (03:55):

I remember that this is an era where I started to become aware of this concept of attractive older female teachers having relationships with their students. There was the Mary Kay Letourneau and then there was the case that became To Die For, which was that Nicole Kidman movie. It seemed very much of the cultural moment and very rarely presented as predatory in terms of the woman.

Jessica Bennett (04:17):

Absolutely. And we’re going to get to all of that, but I want to just focus a minute on Dawson’s and why we’re talking about that show because it was a really big deal back then.

Susie Banikarim (04:26):

I remember, yeah.

Jessica Bennett (04:27):

And not just with me and my high school friends. It was created by this guy, Kevin Williamson. He’s the one who actually grew up near a real life, Dawson’s Creek. It was a place where the high school kids would go to make out in his town somewhere in the southern… It was North Carolina/South Carolina.

Susie Banikarim (04:42):

When people describe a lookout point? I didn’t know those were real things.

Jessica Bennett (04:45):

We totally had that.

Susie Banikarim (04:46):

You had that?. No, we didn’t have that. I went to boarding school, so we went made out in the cemetery. It was really cool.

Jessica Bennett (04:50):

I love that. Dark.

Susie Banikarim (04:51):

Yeah, dark. We were dark.

Jessica Bennett (04:53):

Kevin Williamson had made Scream. He had made, I Know What You Did Last Summer.

Susie Banikarim (04:56):

Both great movies, honestly.

Jessica Bennett (04:58):

Yeah. Kevin Williamson was basically this early two thousands teen TV whisperer. Among the shows that he sells that helped define this era is Dawson’s Creek, this coming of age drama about a group of pretty waspy high school friends. It’s named for Dawson, who’s the main character. Then the other characters are of course his best friend, Pacey, his maybe love interest Joey, and then the mysterious Jen who’s moved from the big city, aka New York. And Dawson’s is huge. It quickly becomes the number one show on the WB.


When it premieres in January 1998, this is when I was a sophomore in high school, 6.8 million people, including half of all teenagers who were watching TV that night, tune in to watch Dawson and his pals navigate hormones and friendships in this show. I actually still remember it aired at 9:00 PM right after Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’m not sure that I personally own the soundtrack, but I know every line to every song on that soundtrack.

Susie Banikarim (05:59):

I remember the theme song. The theme song is very iconic. But I don’t remember anything else from the soundtrack.

Jessica Bennett (06:05):

You don’t remember Six Pence None The Richer, that band? And then the theme song was, I Don’t Want To Wait by Paula Cole.

Susie Banikarim (06:15):

Yes, that I remember.

Jessica Bennett (06:18):

And fun fact, producers originally wanted to have Alanis Morissette, the Song Hand in My Pocket, which I actually truly love, as a theme song, but apparently they couldn’t get the rights to it. So Dawson’s, if I haven’t expressed this, is huge. Kids are forming watch parties at their high schools, local newspapers are calling it a cult hit. Importantly, it actually allows the WB to reach this very popular but overlooked at that time and highly coveted audience, which was teen girls.

Susie Banikarim (06:47):

I feel like this is also coming after the popularity of Beverly Hills 90210, so people are trying to recreate that magic of a teen hit show.

Jessica Bennett (06:54):

Yes. Yes, absolutely. In re-watching it, it’s actually hilarious how heavy-handed it is. Literally everything is framed around sex.

Susie Banikarim (07:03):

I re-watched the first six episodes in preparing for this, and I really was shocked by how much sexual innuendo is in it. I don’t remember that at all from watching it the first time.

Jessica Bennett (07:14):

There was so much innuendo in part because they had to get it past the network,. So they would do things like talking about having long fingers. Like you’re supposed to know what that means. And food was described as orgasmic.

Susie Banikarim (07:27):

There’s that weird scene with Katie Holmes who plays, Joey, Dawson’s best friend and kind of a love interest for both characters. She says it in this sort of creepy way, she’s like, “It’s orgasmic.” I’m like, what is happening on this show?

Jessica Bennett (07:41):

Then later they’re talking about masturbation and they’re calling it Walking the Dog.

Clips (07:45):

How often do you walk your dog, huh? What time of day? How many times a week?

Jessica Bennett (07:48):

Ultimately, it’s then revealed that Dawson actually walks the dog to Katie Couric’s Morning News show.

Susie Banikarim (07:54):

Yeah, which is particularly weird because his mom is a news anchor.

Jessica Bennett (07:58):

And our producers used to work for Katie Couric.

Susie Banikarim (07:59):

And I used to work for Katie Couric.

Jessica Bennett (08:02):

Sorry, Katie.

Susie Banikarim (08:03):

Yeah, I’m sure that’s one of the more disturbing anecdotes.

Jessica Bennett (08:19):

To contextualize when this show was coming and why it made such a splash, let’s just tick through a few of the things that were going on at the time in 1990s culture. I want you to really smell the Axe Body spray that emanated in the culture during this time.

Susie Banikarim (08:38):

Was it just Axe body spray? Because I also have a significant memory of Drakkar Noir. Is that what it was called, Drakkar Noir?

Jessica Bennett (08:43):

And Polo Sport.

Susie Banikarim (08:44):

Oh, and Polo Sport.

Jessica Bennett (08:45):

I loved Polo Sport.

Susie Banikarim (08:46):

I feel like men or boys just drowned themselves in that stuff back then.

Jessica Bennett (08:50):

I’m a sophomore when the show comes out in 1998.

Susie Banikarim (08:52):

A sophomore in high school.

Jessica Bennett (08:53):

A sophomore in high school. It debuts in January of that year, which is the same month that Bill Clinton denies having sexual relations with “that woman”.

Susie Banikarim (09:03):

Monica Lewinsky.

Jessica Bennett (09:04):

Monica Lewinsky, which of course was not true. He had had sexual relations. This is also the era of Wild Things. Do you remember that movie?

Susie Banikarim (09:11):

Yes. Yeah.

Jessica Bennett (09:12):

It’s this erotic thriller with the threesome that basically everybody of our generation remembers.

Susie Banikarim (09:17):

Yeah, I mean, the only thing I know and remember about that movie is that Neve Campbell and Denise Richards kiss in it.

Jessica Bennett (09:22):


Susie Banikarim (09:23):

So there’s this very hot lesbian kiss.

Jessica Bennett (09:25):

Yes. And the other thing that’s happening is this whole question around feminism. Time Magazine has just published this cover story asking Is feminism dead? Along with a poll showing that the majority of American women don’t identify as feminists.

Clips (09:40):

Every three or four years, there’s been another round of declarations of, well, the death of feminism, the one in Time Magazine a few weeks ago, is feminism dead. All of which are highly ironic in a moment when internationally the women’s movement keeps growing.

Jessica Bennett (09:56):

Susie, that’s a news clip from a feminist convention from around that time where this was all very much top of mind.

Susie Banikarim (10:01):

That’s interesting. I kind of remember this, which is this idea that there was this backlash against using the word, I don’t need to say I’m a feminist. It’s sort of a version of I don’t see color. It’s like, no thanks, just acknowledge that you think women should have equal rights.

Jessica Bennett (10:15):

Yes. Then when you think about sexual consent, I mean, that was not a word that we even knew what it meant back then. And so certainly, we weren’t thinking about it in the context of Dawson’s Creek.

Susie Banikarim (10:26):

I think I did have some understanding of the concept of consent, but not in the way we think about it now. Not sort of a thing that happened in the moment between two people, but just like a thing that happened if you were being raped, if you said no or not. Right?

Jessica Bennett (10:42):

For what it’s worth, this was before there were widespread consent laws as well. Then there’s Mary Kay Letourneau. She was a 34 year old married mother of four who began a relationship with her 12 year old student. She had taught him in the second grade.

Susie Banikarim (10:58):

So creepy.

Clips (10:59):

The relationship that began when the boy was just 12 years old resulted in two pregnancies, and for Letourneau, a seven year sentence for child rape.

Susie Banikarim (11:08):

I do really remember this because this was one of the first really national cases of a teacher, like an attractive, fairly young teacher having an affair.

Jessica Bennett (11:16):

Female teacher.

Susie Banikarim (11:17):

Female teacher having an affair with an underage student. I think what I remember so distinctly is there was this real discussion around whether or not it even qualified as a sexual assault because a guy-

Jessica Bennett (11:27):

She was so hot?

Susie Banikarim (11:28):

… should just be so grateful. How lucky was he? His father was probably high-fiving him because he was able to pull this hot teacher. I just remember the time being so confused by that framing.

Jessica Bennett (11:42):

That’s so interesting.

Susie Banikarim (11:43):

Because he was such a little boy. I mean, he was 12 years old.

Jessica Bennett (11:46):

It actually parallels to Dawson’s Creek. Dawson’s Creek airs in January of 1998. Mary Kay Letourneau is pregnant with her child/lover’s baby number two.

Clips (11:59):

It is a story that continues to captivate and perplex many Americans. Incredibly, Mary Kay brought the boy to her home to have sex. The same home she shared with her husband and four children. During that time, they wrote love letters to each other. We obtained one of those letters. And in it she says, “I do know that you’ll love me forever.”

Jessica Bennett (12:18):

I think that’s why this became such a media frenzy too. It was so salacious in so many ways, but the idea that she’s pregnant with his baby as well.

Susie Banikarim (12:27):

Yeah, I think there was just a lot of chapters to that story, even if it would’ve been a media frenzy to start, it just went on and on and on.

Jessica Bennett (12:33):

I should also note, this is all happening right outside of Seattle, my hometown.

Susie Banikarim (12:37):

Oh, wow. So it’s in the ether.

Jessica Bennett (12:38):

It’s in the ether. It’s happening in the background at the same time we’re watching Dawson’s Creek, and basically hooking all of these teens like me. Let me just paint you a little picture. Nineties Seattle, I’m very much more of My So-Called Life girl.

Susie Banikarim (12:53):

I did love My So-Called Life.

Jessica Bennett (12:56):

I mean, very much the superior show, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. I was sort of like whatever on Dawson’s, it was like these lily-white kids in fictional Cape Side, Massachusetts with their little boats. They ride their little boats to each other’s-

Susie Banikarim (13:10):

It was definitely a little cheesy. It had a cheesy vibe, but I love cheesy things.

Jessica Bennett (13:13):


Susie Banikarim (13:14):

So that wasn’t really a problem.

Jessica Bennett (13:15):

Well, and all of my friends were obsessed with it. So if I wanted to hang out, I had to watch this show. We used to go to my friend Rosie’s house. It was on Tuesdays at 9:00 PM She had this big basement. We had a lot of parties there. Lots of experiments went on-

Susie Banikarim (13:29):

Feels like very typical American suburbia. Was there wood paneling?

Jessica Bennett (13:33):

There actually was, but I mean, it wasn’t suburban. It was in the city, but there was wood paneling.

Susie Banikarim (13:37):

I love that.

Jessica Bennett (13:38):

I think. I think. At one point, the New York Times actually came to her house to report on the fact that there were these viewing parties going on. It must’ve been a local correspondent. Why was the New York Times at our [inaudible 00:13:51]-

Susie Banikarim (13:51):

That so interesting though.

Jessica Bennett (13:51):

… Seattle viewing party?

Susie Banikarim (13:53):

Did it feel like a really big deal? I feel like if the New York Times had showed up at my house at that age, I would’ve thought it was the biggest deal ever.

Jessica Bennett (13:59):

I don’t even remember it happening, to be honest. But let’s call up my friend Rosie and see what she remembers.

Rosie Bancroft (14:09):

In my recollection, that is The Seattle Times.

Jessica Bennett (14:12):

Mine too, honestly.

Rosie Bancroft (14:14):

Because how could it be the New York Times? And when we looked it up and realized it was the New York Times, I was like, they can’t have come to my parents’ basement with a stained pink carpet and actually been there.

Jessica Bennett (14:27):

This is my longtime pal, Rosie Bancroft. We went to middle and high school together in Seattle, and she’s now a clinical social worker at a public middle school, not unlike ours.


Okay, so let’s start with Rosie. What do you remember about Dawson’s Creek?

Rosie Bancroft (14:45):

I remember loving Pacey and hating Dawson. I remember it being so verbose. I mean, that is the first thing I think of every time is teenagers don’t talk like this, and we all know teenagers don’t talk like this. I think maybe we thought that it was painting us in a really good light or something at the time that we knew all these big words and were analyzing all these things. In retrospect, that is not how the world was seeing us.

Jessica Bennett (15:15):

So we all watched this together, right?

Rosie Bancroft (15:18):

Oh, yeah. Somehow I got the idea that I could invite people over to watch this, and for some reason my mom agreed, even though we were mostly an OTV household. I’m picturing 10 kids, maybe came, seven girls probably.

Jessica Bennett (15:35):

Describe where we were.

Rosie Bancroft (15:36):

We were down in our basement. You go down this cement stairwell and maybe my mom came in, maybe my brother came in occasionally and rolled his eyes at us in a jealous way. We were kind of all huddled around this couch and kids sitting on the floor and you had to watch it right when it was airing. I remember us having commentary and then people being like, “We’re going to miss some crucial plot point.”

Jessica Bennett (16:04):

And so that New York Times article about these watch parties, it actually quoted your mom. She basically says, with a major eye roll, “I wouldn’t choose it, but they feel strongly about the show. And so I’m letting them watch it.”

Rosie Bancroft (16:18):

I think she just was… It was like alcohol to her. It’s better to do it here than to do it somewhere else. That is what they included in the article was this generational divide about it and how we all were eating up this insanely unrealistic dribble.

Jessica Bennett (16:38):

When I was thinking back on this show and texted our high school friend group text chain and was like, “By the way, do you remember how in Dawson’s Creek, Pacey actually sleeps with his teacher?”

Rosie Bancroft (16:50):

Yeah. My first reaction when you texted that was, really? Then I thought, oh, I guess I have some vague recollection of that. And so I thought it might’ve been one episode, but it was not impactful or something. It did not register or we thought it was cool, or maybe that’s why I liked Pacey. Ew. Then when I went back and looked it up, I was like, this is A, several episodes long, and B, she is 36 years old. Not that that is worse than 22, but it was a big reach in terms of the storytelling, I feel like.

Jessica Bennett (17:30):

So Susie, I want to just pause Rosie for a second because I think you need a little context about our high school.

Susie Banikarim (17:34):


Jessica Bennett (17:35):

We went to a pretty unique school in central Seattle called Garfield. It has a really interesting history. It was an amazing place to go, had an incredible jazz program, all of these things, but also a lot of underfunded public schools was also kind of a hot mess.

Susie Banikarim (17:51):

I’m just picturing Fame. The Fame high school.

Jessica Bennett (17:54):

Yes, I love Fame. For us, that first year that Dawson’s Creek aired, at our school, there were multiple student/teacher relationships that had come to light.

Rosie Bancroft (18:03):

When I look back at that and I think about that storyline and then what is it, six months, nine months later, all of these things start happening at our high school? First thing we find out about is the principal is sleeping with a cheerleader. That was a male principal so we could recognize it a little bit better. Then this other teacher had this long investigation about sexual abuse of all these young boys that had been going on for a really long time.


We recognized that it was a little bit questionable, but it took us a long time to decide that it reached the bar of talking to another adult about it or to think that it was worth saying anything about because he was a very popular, well-liked teacher. I don’t know that that was directly related to Dawson’s Creek, but the number of things that we were navigating as 15 year olds and we had no role models.

Susie Banikarim (19:13):

Well, what’s interesting about this is I feel like everybody has a high school story in this era at least. I went to boarding school, as I’ve said, and we had three incidents I can think of off the top of my head. We had one teacher who was fired for having sex with a student. I remember one day he just disappeared. And then we found out that that’s what had happened. There was another story that I don’t think ever came out publicly that this very cool girl was having an affair with one of the hot younger teachers.


I think one thing that’s a little complicated at boarding school is you’re isolated in the middle of nowhere. You’re 16, 17. A lot of the teachers have just come from college. So they’re like 22, 23. It’s still not good, but it’s a little closer in age than the sort of things we’re describing here. But there was also a very long affair that was eventually very public between a female teacher and a female student in my year. I think that was also very weirdly handled. There was a lot of homophobia in the ether, but the teacher was married to a male teacher also on staff.

Jessica Bennett (20:15):

Oh, wow.

Susie Banikarim (20:15):

So it was very scandalous, but none of these things were scandalous to the point of being career-ending for any of the people involved or even becoming national stories. We just expected that there were teacher/student relationships and that was just a thing. I think when it started to get national attention is when it was female teachers and young male students.

Jessica Bennett (20:37):

I think that’s so true. The writer and creator of the show, Kevin Williamson, later said in interviews that this plot was of course based on something that happened in his own school. I think the other thing that’s interesting is that we’re aware of these things as they’re happening, but it wasn’t really until I started looking back that I really connected all these dots.

Susie Banikarim (20:56):

Oh, definitely.

Jessica Bennett (20:57):

This is happening in my own high school. It’s happening in this huge national story right outside of Seattle. It’s happening on this TV show, and yet we’re not seeing these things as interconnected.


So Susie, I want to get us back to the moment, the clip that we played at the top, the one with the bad saxophone, sexy music in the background.

Susie Banikarim (21:26):

You don’t want to wait for our lives to be over before we discuss this?

Clips (21:28):

Oh my God, look at her.

Jessica Bennett (21:34):

The show launched in 1998. This was the premier episode. This show followed a group of teenagers in fictional Cape Side, Massachusetts, a seaside town that is kind of like Martha’s Vineyard.

Susie Banikarim (21:45):

Very New England feeling, I remember.

Jessica Bennett (21:47):

Let me just give you a word about the characters. There’s Dawson, who the show is named after. He is a wannabe filmmaker. He is obsessed, obsessed with Steven Spielberg, and he is played by James Van Der Beek. Then there’s his best friend Joey played by Katie Holmes. She was kind of a tomboy. They were just best friends, no sex, whatever.

Susie Banikarim (22:07):

But she’s stunning, but okay.

Jessica Bennett (22:08):

And then suddenly she’s beautiful and there’s all this tension. Then there’s Jen played by Michelle Williams, who’s the new girl from New York City, and she’s sort of mysterious and is she not a virgin?

Susie Banikarim (22:20):

And also very pretty.

Jessica Bennett (22:22):

Yes. I mean, they’re all very attractive. Then there’s Pacey, who’s Dawson’s best friend and basically an extremely confident 15 year old played by Joshua Jackson, who’s about to have an affair with his teacher, Ms. Jacobs, aka Tamara.

Clips (22:39):

You new in town? Because I haven’t seen you in here before.


Yes, I am. My name’s Tamara. What’s yours?


Pacey, nice to meet you.


Well, there you go.

Susie Banikarim (22:50):

It’s just the breathiness that gets me every time.

Jessica Bennett (22:52):

I know. Okay, so that clip, let me just describe. Dawson and Pacey are working at the local video store and in walks this woman. It’s kind of hazy in the background. You, of course, have that saxophone playing.

Susie Banikarim (23:06):

Yeah, that sexy saxophone music.

Jessica Bennett (23:08):

She’s wearing a white sundress and she flips her hair and then says she wants to rent a video. And she’s “in the mood for romance”.

Susie Banikarim (23:17):

It seems like she should be in the mood for a cold shower. She’s very obviously flirting with these children, which is-

Jessica Bennett (23:23):

I mean, yes, that’s what it seems like. Yes.

Susie Banikarim (23:26):

I mean, but what is happening here?

Jessica Bennett (23:28):

Well, okay, and so what happens next is that Pacey is like, “Okay, how about a new release?” And she replies that, “No, she’s old school. She’s vintage all the way.” Another one of those little turns of phrase. Then she asks where she can find, wait for it, The Graduate.

Susie Banikarim (23:47):

Yeah, The Graduate, which great film, but also a lot of innuendo in just that choice.

Jessica Bennett (23:52):

Exactly. Oh, and by the way, Pacey is this scene is 15, in case anyone forgot, which means Tamara, the new English teacher to school is more than twice his age.

Susie Banikarim (24:03):

She’s like 35 or something.

Jessica Bennett (24:05):

We’ll later learn that. But still, this is definitely presented as a meet cute. Before that expression existed, it’s one of the primary openers to this series.

Susie Banikarim (24:14):

So what happens next?

Jessica Bennett (24:16):

Basically, a couple of days after they’re at the video store, they go to school and guess what? Tamara, Ms. Jacobs is Pacey’s English teacher. She says to him, “Call me Ms. Jacobs during school hours.”

Susie Banikarim (24:31):

You’re going to spend a lot of time in not school.

Jessica Bennett (24:33):

Exactly, exactly. So Pacey is totally smitten. He begins flirting with her, pursuing her, and pretty aggressively.

Susie Banikarim (24:42):

There’s a sort of pretense of resistance, like a very mild resistance from her.

Jessica Bennett (24:45):

Yes, there’s lot of-

Susie Banikarim (24:46):

But it feels inevitable.

Jessica Bennett (24:47):

“We can’t, it’s wrong.” This is over the course of a few episodes, but him saying “Sometimes it’s right to do the wrong thing.”

Susie Banikarim (24:54):


Jessica Bennett (24:54):

That kind of dialogue. They quickly share their first kiss, which we actually see on the show. I want to play you this clip because I feel like it captures so much. Basically the setup here is that Pacey has decided to crash a date that Tamara has gone on with another teacher at the school, one her age, and this ends in him kind of sheepishly walking home after being rejected, along the water as you do in Cape Side, where lo and behold, he then somehow runs into Tamara. And so she says, “I’m so sorry.” He tells her really pretty dramatically, “You should be, because you’re a liar. How can you say you were just renting a movie?”

Susie Banikarim (25:36):

Which she didn’t know he existed. What else was she doing?

Jessica Bennett (25:40):

So Tamara says, “Because it’s the truth.” Then Pacey… Okay, this is what you have to listen to.

Clips (25:45):

The truth is, you are a well put together, knock out of a woman who’s feeling a little insecure about hitting 40. So when a young virile boy, such as myself, flirts with you, you enjoy it. You entice it. You fantasize about what it would be like to be with that young boy on the verge of manhood. Because it helps you stay feeling attractive. Makes the aging process a little more bearable. Well, let me tell you something, you blew it, lady, because I’m the best sex you’ll never have.

Jessica Bennett (26:14):

Okay, and so then the next line is key. Tamara says back to him, “You’re wrong about one thing. Pacey. You’re not a boy.”

Susie Banikarim (26:22):

Okay, that’s great because he is like a man?

Jessica Bennett (26:24):

And then she leans in and kisses him. And so this is their first kiss.

Susie Banikarim (26:30):

Can we just go back for a moment? The fact that he says “I’m the best sex you’ll never have.”

Jessica Bennett (26:35):

Right, because he’s 15.

Susie Banikarim (26:36):

Because he’s a 15 year old boy who’s never had sex.

Jessica Bennett (26:39):

It’s amazing. It’s amazing.

Susie Banikarim (26:41):

I’m 100% certain it’s not the best sex she’ll never or ever have.

Jessica Bennett (26:44):

I mean, awards for writing here. Honestly.

Susie Banikarim (26:47):

I would rather die than have sex with a 15 year old boy.

Jessica Bennett (26:51):

Well, good. I mean, good. It’s on the record.

Susie Banikarim (26:53):

Great. So then what happens?

Jessica Bennett (26:55):

Okay, so a few days later… I mean actually, I don’t know how long it is, but within a course of one episode, he will lose his virginity too.

Susie Banikarim (27:03):


Jessica Bennett (27:04):

We don’t actually see them have sex. That probably would’ve been too raunchy for the network, but it’s very clear that they do. In the last minute of episode three, we see them lying down somewhere outdoors. They’re naked under a blanket.

Susie Banikarim (27:16):

Oh, they had sex outside.

Jessica Bennett (27:17):

They’re cuddling. I should note that throughout different points in the show, they do go to lengths to point out that this is illegal.

Susie Banikarim (27:24):

Oh, like the characters pointed it out?

Jessica Bennett (27:26):

Yes. At one point Tamara even says, “Quick reminder, this is a felony.” She probably doesn’t say it in that-

Susie Banikarim (27:32):

As a way to dissuade him?

Jessica Bennett (27:33):

… voice, but it’s sort of a hint to the viewer that at least the filmmakers know that this is not something that is okay necessarily.

Susie Banikarim (27:41):

But you’re still kind of rooting for it.

Jessica Bennett (27:43):

Well, that’s the thing. None of that really stuck with me. I didn’t remember that they said any of those things. The fact that this was taboo made it kind of hot. I was rooting for them.

Susie Banikarim (27:53):

I think everybody was.

Jessica Bennett (27:54):

Honestly, it wasn’t just us. I look back at all these fan message boards from the time, and people were saying things like, “I found their relationship to be a model of true love. If I could have a relationship like theirs, I would die happy.”

Susie Banikarim (28:08):


Jessica Bennett (28:09):

Someone compared them to Romeo and Juliet. So there’s this real sense that this is a forbidden romance, a forbidden love affair, not a relationship between a boy and an adult.

Susie Banikarim (28:19):

Like a 35 year old woman.

Jessica Bennett (28:21):

Yep. And that’s the thing too, it’s an adult woman and it’s an adult seduction. Now, one of the jokes we had growing up was that all of the actors on this show were basically in their twenties. They were old.

Susie Banikarim (28:32):

Nobody looked… I mean, I think in general in that era, all the teenage characters were played by adults.

Jessica Bennett (28:37):

By 20-somethings. They’re talking like 20-somethings, not like 15 year olds, which fine, but this whole thing is painted as very adult. It’s sexy. Pacey is the clear aggressor. “This is the best sex-“

Susie Banikarim (28:50):

He’s seducing her.

Jessica Bennett (28:51):

“… you’ll never have.” How does he know? He’s a child. He repeats again and again throughout the show how he’s an adult capable of making his own decisions. At one point he says, “I may just be 15, but I’m well beyond the age of accountability.”

Susie Banikarim (29:07):

What is he accountable for? It’s like-

Jessica Bennett (29:09):

Right. It’s like a misunderstanding of accountability. But also, no, you’re literally 15.

Susie Banikarim (29:13):


Jessica Bennett (29:14):

Okay, so to close this arc, so by episode three they have sex, and then by episode six they actually get found out. It’s discovered that they’re having this affair, and so that Tamara doesn’t get in trouble, he, Pacey, claims that he made up the whole thing.

Susie Banikarim (29:29):

Yeah, that’s sort of like a heroic moment for him.

Jessica Bennett (29:32):

And she basically has to leave town at that point, so she is moving to Rochester, New York for whatever reason.

Susie Banikarim (29:38):

That’s a beautiful place to end up.

Jessica Bennett (29:39):

And last words they say to each other are him, “I hope you enjoy Rochester.” Her, “I hope you enjoy high school.”

Susie Banikarim (29:47):

Yeah, it’s a lot. I mean also how specific? Why Rochester? Why didn’t you move back to New York? Bizarre.

Jessica Bennett (29:54):

I know. I know. Maybe she got another teaching job there. They’re a haven for-

Susie Banikarim (30:01):

Seems where she’ll find another high school boy to molest. I mean, what do we actually call this? I mean, I think the thing that’s hard about this is if it was a male teacher and a female student, we would just say it was a sexual assault.

Jessica Bennett (30:13):

Call it assault.

Susie Banikarim (30:14):


Jessica Bennett (30:14):

I mean, that is interesting and we both sort keep being, uh.


Let’s pause here. We’re going to continue to dissect this awkward language around Pacey and Tamara in part two. There’s so much more to talk about. We’re going to dive into Mary Kay Letourneau more, that parallel. We’re going to talk about Hollywood’s obsession with the older woman seductress. And so much more.

Susie Banikarim (30:39):

I can’t wait. That’s in part two, which is already in your feed.


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 (31:00):

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 (31:10):

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 (31:19):

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 (31:31):

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 Do and Mike Coscarelli. Sound correction and mastering by Amanda Rose Smith. We are your hosts, Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (31:49):

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 Do 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.