Please note: This transcript has been automatically generated.

J​​essica Bennett (00:00):

Hey everyone, just to note that this is part two of our Hot for Teacher Dawson’s Creek episode. If you haven’t listened to part one yet, I recommend starting there. Otherwise, enjoy the show.


So, when I 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 (00:20):

Yeah. My first reaction when you texted that was, “Really?”

Jessica Bennett (00:26):

So, this is my high school friend Rosie Bancroft. As a reminder, Rosie is a mental health counselor in a public middle school in Seattle. But 25 years ago, Rosie was hosting Dawson’s Creek watch parties in her parents’ basement.

Rosie Bancroft (00:38):

And then I thought, “Oh, I guess I have some vague recollection of that,” 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.

Jessica Bennett (00:52):

And this reaction she’s having perfectly encapsulates the emotional rollercoaster of being an adult now and realizing that your teenage self was totally obsessed with and maybe even kind of turned on by, in a gross way, a 15-year-old boy’s illicit relationship with his 36-year-old English teacher. A relationship that, in this case, mirrored the scandals going on in our own high school in Seattle, and in national headlines about Mary Kay Letourneau, which also happened to be in our hometown.


I’m Jessica Bennett.

Susie Banikarim (01:26):

And I’m Susie Banikarim.

Jessica Bennett (01:27):

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

Susie Banikarim (01:33):

And that we just can’t stop thinking about.

Jessica Bennett (01:35):

Today, we’re talking about Pacey’s relationship with this much older teacher on Dawson’s Creek, but we’re also talking about sex in the ’90s and how we understood it. This is part two of Hot for Teacher.


So, we’re talking about Dawson’s Creek and specifically the relationship between Pacey, one of the main characters, and his teacher, Tamara. And one of the interesting things that we’ve grappled with a bit, you and I, Susie, is how we talk about it.

Susie Banikarim (02:05):


Jessica Bennett (02:06):

Throughout our discussion, we’re sort of like, “Are we calling it an affair? Are we calling it a statutory rape?”

Susie Banikarim (02:10):

Is it an assault?

Jessica Bennett (02:11):

What is this? Is it an inappropriate relationship? And that’s interesting because, in the show itself, they don’t refer to it as inappropriate necessarily. They know that it is taboo, but Pacey himself describes it as falling in love. The official description of the episode on Hulu where it now streams, you can watch Dawson’s Creek, calls it an affair.

Susie Banikarim (02:34):

Yeah. And something that’s occurred to me is that the thing that we’re kind of grappling with is related to the fact that the show presents it in such a way that it makes it hard to see it as anything other than extremely consensual, right? Pacey is kind of the aggressor. Even the way that the townsfolk find out about the affair or assault or however we should be talking about it, is because Pacey and Dawson are having a conversation about it in the school bathroom, where Pacey is telling Dawson about how he’s had a conversation with his teacher that morning about wanting to have a more open relationship. And he says something hilarious like, “Once I get my learner’s permit, this woman is going to cave completely.”

Jessica Bennett (03:27):

Then it’s on.

Susie Banikarim (03:27):

Yeah, then it’s on. So, two things about that really struck me. One is that it’s a reminder that he can’t even drive. He doesn’t have his learner’s permit. That is really a child. And then, on top of that, that it’s again presented as he’s trying to get her to cave, he’s trying to persuade her. He is the aggressor and she is the one who is trying to protect them from peering eyes.

Jessica Bennett (03:56):

Right, right. And peering eyes, which are literally in the bathroom because there is another kid who’s smoking weed in the stall.

Susie Banikarim (04:03):

Yeah, yes.

Jessica Bennett (04:03):

Sort of crouched on top of the toilet so they can’t see his feet.

Susie Banikarim (04:07):


Jessica Bennett (04:07):

Who overhears the whole thing.

Susie Banikarim (04:08):

And that’s how they’re ultimately discovered, right? And again, it’s not presented as her suddenly realizing what she’s done and being mortified. She’s very angry at him because she’s like, “This relationship only required for you to be silent about it.” Right? “There was only one boundary, and that boundary was silence about this or not telling anyone.” And she literally says in that conversation, “The boundary wasn’t about sex.”

Jessica Bennett (04:38):

The dialogue in these scenes is just…

Susie Banikarim (04:41):

It’s wild.

Jessica Bennett (04:41):

Chef’s kiss.

Susie Banikarim (04:42):

Yeah, chef’s kiss. Exactly. So, I think we’re struggling with something real, which is that this was presented in such a way that it was almost impossible to see it as a negative or as a thing that was happening to him. It felt like he had a lot of agency.

Jessica Bennett (05:01):

And the other thing is, there’s sort of a tenderness. We are getting invested as viewers in this “relationship”.

Susie Banikarim (05:08):


Jessica Bennett (05:09):

We see Pacey get comfortable at her house. There’s a scene where he’s reading a magazine on her bed while she grades papers.

Susie Banikarim (05:16):


Jessica Bennett (05:16):

They have this banter. It is more than just a “triste”, and I think I said this before, but he describes it as falling in love with her.

Susie Banikarim (05:26):


Jessica Bennett (05:27):

And so, it’s interesting too because, outside of the show, the press is covering this. The New York Times calls the plot, “A sexual affair.”

Susie Banikarim (05:36):


Jessica Bennett (05:36):

And they get into the salacious and impropriety of it, but they still call it that. The president of the WB network actually says, in an interview with the Times in that story, that the plot ultimately sent a positive message.

Susie Banikarim (05:49):

I’m sorry, what?

Jessica Bennett (05:50):

Because Ms. Jacobs would go on to lose her job and Pacey would be sort of ostracized at school. Interestingly, the voices who are kind of objecting to this are the ones that we might not expect.

Susie Banikarim (06:03):


Jessica Bennett (06:03):

Such as the New York Post.

Susie Banikarim (06:04):


Jessica Bennett (06:05):

Who calls the plot line, “An immoral exploitation of youthful curiosity about sex.”

Susie Banikarim (06:10):

Well, did it feel like an immoral exploitation of the youthful curiosity about sex when you were watching with your friends?

Jessica Bennett (06:18):

I mean, I don’t think so. And honestly, the taboo was part of what the appeal was.

Susie Banikarim (06:23):


Jessica Bennett (06:23):

So look, all of this is happening kind of in parallel in some ways to the Mary Kay Letourneau case, including how we talked about it. So, as you’ll remember, Mary Kay Letourneau, this is a case happening in 1996, just a couple of years before Dawson’s premiered. It’s happening outside of Seattle where I was, as a teenager.

Clip (06:42):

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.

Jessica Bennett (06:51):

So that case would spark this whole media frenzy. But it was basically portrayed, if you dig back into articles at the time, about two people so in love that they just couldn’t keep their hands off each other. They couldn’t stay away from each other. They happened to meet at the wrong place and the wrong time.

Susie Banikarim (07:11):

Yeah. It has so many parallels. She’s also a very pretty young teacher. Even though she’s 34, she looks quite youthful. And she very much pushed this idea that he was the aggressor, which is ridiculous in retrospect, that this 12 year old child was pursuing her. But when I talk about that case, when I talk about that case with you or with friends, I don’t really struggle with saying that it just is so blatantly wrong. Right? It’s so clear to me that a 34-year-old woman shouldn’t be having sex with a 12-year-old boy. And I don’t call it an affair or a sexual encounter.


I’m like, “Oh yeah, when Mary Kay Letourneau obviously assaulted her 12-year-old student.” And so, it’s interesting that the reason we struggle with this is because we’ve watched the relationship play out in a way that really supports that idea.

Jessica Bennett (08:03):

And unfold.

Susie Banikarim (08:05):

And that is the idea that Mary Kay was really pushing in the press, and that the press kind of accepted her version of events because there was this bias that a 12-year-old boy would love to have sex with Mary Kay Letourneau because she was hot, and that is all the 12-year-old boys care about. But when you spend any time with a 12-year-old boy, that is a baby. 12 year old kids are still watching cartoons on Sunday morning.


It’s really hard to think about them as adults. But it’s easier when you’re watching Dawson’s Creek because Pacey is a 20 something year old actor, so he doesn’t look like a child. He doesn’t physically present as a child. But if you look at pictures of Vili, who is the child that Mary Kay Letourneau essentially assaulted, he looks really young. And so, it does put it into perspective, I think.

Jessica Bennett (08:59):

And the thing is, the media is really buying into this. They’re helping to wrap this narrative up and also to perpetuate.

Susie Banikarim (09:07):


Jessica Bennett (09:07):

So, MSNBC brings in a psychologist for a segment about it. The segment is titled Predator or Lover? And in this segment, they note that, “All of us are touched by the adolescent love between Mary Kay and Vili.” Are we, though?

Susie Banikarim (09:22):

Are all of us touched by that? Because I don’t see it as an adolescent love. She’s 34, she has a child the same age as Vili.

Jessica Bennett (09:30):

Right. But that’s so interesting because we are the journalists now. We would be the ones covering this case were it to happen now, and we would come at this very differently than the journalists did back then. All these articles were sort of quoting both sides of the debate, that both sides is-

Susie Banikarim (09:44):


Jessica Bennett (09:45):

… that I feel like the New York Times is constantly being criticized for, and I get a million hate tweets about it all the time. But they’re very much doing that with this story. And so, in one article in the Chicago Tribune, they bring a Beverly Hills woman on who had run a dating club for older women and younger men.

Susie Banikarim (10:03):

But presumably men who were over the age of 18.

Jessica Bennett (10:06):

Yes, presumably.

Susie Banikarim (10:08):


Jessica Bennett (10:08):

But she says, she is quoted in print in the Chicago Tribune in 1998 saying, “You don’t break up a loving couple. The male here is much more a man than someone older because he is committed to her.”

Susie Banikarim (10:20):

Wait, so commitment makes you a man because I’m pretty sure two 10-year-olds in a relationship can feel committed, but that doesn’t make them adults.

Jessica Bennett (10:28):


Susie Banikarim (10:28):

That’s such a weird way to define manhood.

Jessica Bennett (10:32):

But then, what happens next is, Mary Kay Letourneau gets out of prison in 2004. She is registered as a level 2 sex offender. Vili, the boy now man, then petitions the court to reverse a no contact order so they can see each other. They get married the following year, and Entertainment Tonight negotiates exclusive access to stream or broadcast from their wedding.

Susie Banikarim (10:56):

Wait, like a celebrity wedding? They treat it like a celebrity wedding?

Jessica Bennett (11:00):


Susie Banikarim (11:01):

That’s wild. And then, they really lead into the narrative throughout their married life, right?

Jessica Bennett (11:07):

So Mary Kay and Vili, even before they’re married, they do things like co-author a book. This book was only published in France, which I guess can tell you something about France, but it’s called Only One Crime: Love. They then later, once she’s out of jail, host this special night at a bar in Seattle called Hot for Teacher Night, where he’s the DJ and she’s the special guest. They’re kind of turning this into a gimmick.

Susie Banikarim (11:35):

I mean, the thing that’s also interesting about the book, and maybe even the Hot For Teacher Night, is that he’s still really quite young, right? Because it started when he was 12. So, how much is he really co-authoring this book or making these decisions in their life? You have to imagine that their relationship is so odd because she was quite literally his teacher, and then she had two children, right, when he was 13?

Jessica Bennett (12:01):

Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing that almost makes me uncomfortable talking about this is that they do have two grown daughters now who are in their 20s.

Susie Banikarim (12:09):

I mean, she has since passed away from cancer, and her and Vili had gotten a divorce before that. But there is this absolutely wild interview that our researcher, Sharon found that I could not stop watching, that this channel in Australia did, Australia’s 7NEWS, at a time where Vili is now in his mid-30s, the age she was when they had this. I mean, it’s the thing, I don’t even know what to call it. I guess this relationship, right? And you see very clearly in these clips of them being interviewed, that he is deeply uncomfortable with what’s happened to him. There’s this really weird scene between them where the interviewer is actually being challenging and saying to her, “Wasn’t this inappropriate?”

Clip (12:53):

You were a teacher, Mary. You can’t say, “I was immature.”

Mary Kay Letourneau (12:55):

It doesn’t matter. But you don’t know him.

Clip (12:57):

No, but I don’t need to know him in this discussion. He’s the child.

Susie Banikarim (13:01):

And she is saying to Vili over and over again, “Well, who was the boss?”

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:05):

Who was the boss?

Vili (13:06):


Mary Kay Letourneau (13:09):

Who was the boss back then?

Vili (13:10):

There was me pursuing you.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:10):

Who was the boss back then?

Vili (13:10):

This is ridiculous.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:10):

No, who was?

Clip (13:12):

This is ridiculous.

Mary Kay Letourneau (13:13):

Who was? Just say it.

Susie Banikarim (13:15):

She just keeps saying it over and over again. “But who was the boss?” And he literally says on camera…

Vili (13:20):

This is getting weird.

Susie Banikarim (13:22):

It just seems impossible that you wouldn’t have trauma, right? You’re a 12-year-old boy, you have two children at 13. Having two children at 13 even in and of itself is, I think, kind of a traumatic experience. And that then, the mother of his children is in prison and is acknowledged as a sex offender by the legal system, and that she continues to pursue the relationship while she’s in prison. So much so that when she gets out, again, we weren’t there, but I assume she really pushed the idea of them getting married.


So, it’s hard to imagine that their dynamic was not super weird every step of the way. And he’s actually pretty clear that now, being the age she was, that he would never do what she did, which I think is also interesting. It’s like, he is now able to see what their age difference was because he is a 30 something year old man who has daughters. So, you have to also assume that over the course of time, this thing has become clearer and clearer to him in a way that you can’t absorb when you’re 12. You think you’re an adult at 12. I remember being 12 and thinking, “Why do people treat me like a child? I’m an adult.” But 12 year olds are kids.


My niece and nephew were kids well past 12, to be honest. In good ways. I am happy for them that they got to be children. And it feels like he really didn’t get that.

Jessica Bennett (15:03):

So, both of these relationships, actually I shouldn’t even use that word. Let’s call them stories.

Susie Banikarim (15:09):


Jessica Bennett (15:09):

Mary Kay Letourneau and in Dawson’s Creek, the plot line of Ms. Jacobs and Pacey really get at this trope that is now familiar. This idea of the older woman seductress.

Susie Banikarim (15:23):


Jessica Bennett (15:24):

And it’s not as if Dawson’s is the first to do this. They mention in the show, The Graduate, this is the video that Ms. Jacobs is renting from Pacey in that very first scene. Do you remember that Hot for Teacher song?

Susie Banikarim (15:38):


Jessica Bennett (15:38):

By Van Halen, 1984?

Susie Banikarim (15:40):

Yes, I do remember that. I mean, also, The Graduate was a very popular film. And also, the song from the film, Mrs. Robinson, which was a Simon & Garfunkel song, became really popular and it was about the older woman seductress. It was sort of glamorizing her.

Jessica Bennett (15:54):

So Dawson’s comes in ’98, and then comes American Pie in 1999 starring Jennifer Coolidge as Stifler’s mom who has sex with Stifler’s friend on the pool table on prom night, and basically cements into the zeitgeist, the term, MILF.

Clip: (16:13):

Single malt?

Jeanine Stifler (16:13):

Aged 18 years. The way I like it.

Susie Banikarim (16:19):

And I guess, for anyone who might not know what a MILF is, it’s an acronym for mother I’d like to fuck.

Jessica Bennett (16:26):

At some point, I will go down the rabbit hole of looking up the linguistic trends here because I bet there is a spike in usage of that term in books-

Susie Banikarim (16:34):

100%. It became very commonly used.

Jessica Bennett (16:37):

… searches. And weird fact that I know, it becomes one of the most popular searched porn terms.

Susie Banikarim (16:45):

Oh my God. That is a weird fact, but also fascinating.

Jessica Bennett (16:45):

It’s a whole sub category.

Susie Banikarim (16:46):

Right. I mean, it makes sense because, again, that relationship or whatever you call it, in American Pie, is presented in a way that you can really imagine the boys glamorize and hope for, that they start looking at their friend’s moms-

Jessica Bennett (17:01):

Oh my gosh, yeah.

Susie Banikarim (17:02):

… and being like, “Which one of these women is going to be my sexual awakening?”

Jessica Bennett (17:06):

The other thing I need to mention is the Fountains of Wayne song, Stacey’s Mom.

Susie Banikarim (17:12):

Oh, gosh. I remember Stacey’s Mom.

Jessica Bennett (17:15):

Which comes out in 2003 and has a really crazy music video. I mean, I can still, I know all the words-

Susie Banikarim (17:19):

Same. Yeah, same.

Jessica Bennett (17:20):

… to that song. I’m not going to sing here, but-

Susie Banikarim (17:22):

Yeah, I think for everyone’s sake, neither of us should sing on this podcast.

Jessica Bennett (17:30):

… The song lyrics are literally that Stacey’s mom has got it going on. She’s all I want, and I’ve waited for so long. I’m not the little boy that I used to be. I’m all grown up now, baby can’t you see?

Susie Banikarim (17:42):

So awkward for poor Stacey, this whole thing.

Jessica Bennett (17:45):

So awkward. Another Hot for Teacher pop culture reference I want to make sure to mention from around this time is actually from Saturday Night Live. So, Norm Macdonald does this bit for Weekend Update. This is when Mary Kate Letourneau pleads guilty, and he says that, “She’s been branded a sex offender.”

Norm Macdonald (18:03):

Or as the kids refer to her, “The greatest teacher ever.”

Jessica Bennett (18:07):

And honestly, LOL. It’s a good, funny bit. It comes not long after a South Park episode makes a similar joke.

Clip (18:16):

He’s totally underage. He’s taking advantage of him.

Clip (18:18):

You’re right. We’re sorry. We need to track this student down and give him his Luckiest Boy in America medal right away.

Jessica Bennett (18:24):

But essentially, what all of these things are saying is that to lose your virginity to an adult when you were a child, and a hot teacher in particular, is worthy of a medal.

Susie Banikarim (18:33):

Well, if you’re a boy.

Jessica Bennett (18:34):


Susie Banikarim (18:35):

And actually, this sentiment hasn’t really changed, honestly, as much as we’d hope. I saw a Fox News clip not that long ago about a female teacher in Colorado who’d been arrested for allegedly having sex with her 16-year-old student. And even now, this was the host’s response.

Clip (18:50):

This is what bothers me. Why did she-

Clip (18:53):

The fact that she had sex with a student?

Clip (18:54):

… No, that she went to jail for it.

Clip (18:57):


Clip (18:57):

Come on. 16 year old? I would’ve died for that.

Jessica Bennett (19:00):

So, we’ll pause there. We’re going to talk more about what has or hasn’t changed and how Dawson’s Creek handles the plot line when one of the female characters has sex. After the break.

Susie Banikarim (19:25):

There’s another interesting thing that struck me, which is that at the same time that we’re seeing Pacey lose his virginity to this teacher, there’s this other pretty significant plot line where Dawson has a crush on this girl, Jen, who’s played by Michelle Williams. And at some point, she admits that she is not a virgin, and he rejects her over that. There’s a multiple sort of episode arc about how upset he is and how disappointed in her he is, and that he may not be able to continue to pursue a possible relationship with her because of her virginity. It’s a very gross storyline, to be honest. The level of shock he has around it, and the shame that she has to have around it, how terrible she feels about herself because she’s not a virgin. And that was so strange to me because-

Jessica Bennett (20:21):

It’s happening at the same time-

Susie Banikarim (20:21):

It’s happening at the same time.

Jessica Bennett (20:22):

… that we’re basically high-fiving Pacey.

Susie Banikarim (20:24):


Jessica Bennett (20:24):

And the other thing too is, you can criticize shows like this for showing that double standard, but also, it is still so prevalent.

Susie Banikarim (20:33):


Jessica Bennett (20:34):

That double standard exists. So I almost am like, “Well, at least they’re portraying it accurately.”

Susie Banikarim (20:38):


Jessica Bennett (20:38):

That probably is what happens still today. You high-five the kid who’s sleeping with the teacher and losing his virginity to her, and then you scorn the girl who is found out to not be a virgin.

Susie Banikarim (20:50):

But also, just not a virgin because she’s had sex with a person her own age. It’s like-

Jessica Bennett (20:54):


Susie Banikarim (20:54):

… she’s having a normal teenage relationship, something a lot of teenagers do, which is have sex in high school. That is not so uncommon. And yet, she’s portrayed as kind of this slut, and he’s portrayed as having the sexual awakening. It’s a really interesting contrast and very stark.

Jessica Bennett (21:11):

Yes, yes. I’m so glad you raised that, Susie, because there are all these kind of tiny nuggets hidden in episodes like this.

Susie Banikarim (21:18):


Jessica Bennett (21:19):

This is sort of what we wanted to do with this show, but these tiny nuggets that as I was delving into research and going down this rabbit hole, I kept noting like, “Oh, actually, this is telling us something larger about society today.”

Susie Banikarim (21:30):


Jessica Bennett (21:30):

This is showing us how little has changed.

Susie Banikarim (21:32):


Jessica Bennett (21:33):

One is the way that student teacher relationships have long been kind of minimized, but more so when it is the woman as perpetrator.

Susie Banikarim (21:42):


Jessica Bennett (21:42):

In one news segment, looking back on the Mary Kay Letourneau case, they actually refer to her as, “The last person you would suspect of being a molester of children.” And I just read that line and I was like, “Wait, why?” Because she’s a woman?

Susie Banikarim (21:56):

Because she’s an attractive woman.

Jessica Bennett (21:56):

Because she’s a mom?

Susie Banikarim (21:56):

Because she’s got children.

Jessica Bennett (21:57):


Susie Banikarim (21:57):

We just really struggle to see women as having the potential or the agency to be criminals, to do criminal things, to do things that we find ugly because for some reason, that just feels like it’s against the nature of how we’re supposed to perceive women. And we also struggle with seeing boys as victims, as vulnerable.

Jessica Bennett (22:18):

Right. Absolutely. And actually, it’s worth noting that these cases, and I’m talking about cases where the perpetrator is an older woman and the victim is often a boy, get more media coverage than the male equivalent.

Susie Banikarim (22:32):


Jessica Bennett (22:32):

And so, simultaneously, we’re high-fiving, but it’s extra salacious and it’s getting more media coverage. And there was this whole moment in the ’90s and early 2000s when this is all playing out, when it almost seemed like pretty female teachers molesting their underage male students was an epidemic because it was getting so much attention.

Susie Banikarim (22:54):

I also remember that there was a lot of discussion about why this wasn’t a good thing. It seemed like that needed to be explained over and over and over again. I remember, because I was quite young, that these stories were fascinating to me because I couldn’t wrap my head around why a woman would want to risk her whole life to have sex with a child, and that wasn’t ever really explored. It was always just kind of this salacious thing, like, “Here we go again. Here’s another teacher who’s done this thing.”

Jessica Bennett (23:28):


Susie Banikarim (23:29):

But there was not a lot of understanding of why these things happened.

Jessica Bennett (23:33):

And I think, another thing we’ve touched on is that the boys in these instances are often portrayed or perceived as older and more mature-

Susie Banikarim (23:44):


Jessica Bennett (23:44):

… and pursuing the older women. This we know was certainly the case in Dawson’s Creek with Pacey, also because that actor was much older in real life.

Susie Banikarim (23:52):


Jessica Bennett (23:52):

And it’s notable in that clip we heard earlier where Tamara says, “You’re not a boy,” to Pacey.

Susie Banikarim (23:57):

You’re a man.

Jessica Bennett (23:58):

LOL. Actually, he’s very much a boy. And in fact, the age of consent in Massachusetts where this supposedly takes place is 16, and he is aged 15.

Susie Banikarim (24:06):


Jessica Bennett (24:07):

So, he is very much a boy who cannot consent. But I think that this plays into the way that we sometimes take cases of men’s assault less seriously.

Susie Banikarim (24:16):


Jessica Bennett (24:16):

Because we assume that boys always want sex.

Susie Banikarim (24:19):

Yes. Didn’t Monica Hesse write a good piece in the Washington Post about this around when Mary Kay Letourneau died?

Jessica Bennett (24:26):

Yeah, actually, this was quite recently. She’s a columnist for the Washington Post who writes on gender issues, and she did this column about that case and the repercussions of it. And she has this line where she says, “Female students abused by male teachers have encountered their own measure of victim blame, but not usually accompanied by the same level of tittering, the implication that these horny teenage boys probably wanted it and were lucky to get it.”

Susie Banikarim (24:51):

Yeah, that really summarizes a lot of what we’re saying here.

Jessica Bennett (24:54):

The other thing, and in many ways this is the whole premise of our show, but there are real world consequences to the way we talk about this stuff. Even the little nuances and language that we keep getting at, like, “Is this a relationship? Is it an assault?” These actually have impact in the larger world. And so, while I was searching for studies on this, I found this 2013 analysis by the New Jersey Star-Ledger, where they looked at cases of teacher-student sex in New Jersey specifically. There were 97 of them, and they actually found that the men in those cases average longer jail terms than the women. Why is that? Well-

Susie Banikarim (25:33):

Yeah, because we see that as a real crime.

Jessica Bennett (25:35):

… Exactly, exactly. It’s like, women are victimized in so many ways and things are still unequal, but when we talk about this issue specifically, we are often minimizing the experiences of the boys. It wasn’t even until the year 2000 that all 50 states in the United States made the language of their statutory rape laws gender-neutral, meaning that there was a minimum age for girls to consent, but not for boys.

Susie Banikarim (26:01):

One thing we haven’t really talked about is that if you’re a boy consuming this, if you’re a teenage boy in your friend’s basement in Seattle watching the show with you, and you are going through something that is similar in some way and you have complex and not great feelings about it, you’re being taught that those feelings are completely invalid. You should just be psyched.

Jessica Bennett (26:22):

Right. You should be high-fiving your friends.

Susie Banikarim (26:23):

And this really gets at something, right, which is that we adultify boys when they are children, when they are boys, especially boys of color, to be clear, right? In this country, if you’re a Black boy, you’re a man. Right? But then, when men become older, when they become men who should be accountable-

Jessica Bennett (26:40):


Susie Banikarim (26:40):

… we dismiss their bad behavior as, “Oh, they’re just boys. Oh, boys will be boys,” and locker room talk-

Jessica Bennett (26:46):

Locker room talk.

Susie Banikarim (26:47):

… and all these ways in which we kind of dismiss their agency when it’s convenient for them to dismiss their agency. But when we actually should be giving them grace to make the same mistakes as other children, we refuse to accept that about them.

Jessica Bennett (27:02):

So, that brings us to, has anything changed? Maybe in fact, rewatching this was actually a good thing because it did force us to grapple with some of these complexities in how we perceive it.

Susie Banikarim (27:15):

I don’t feel like I understood the complexity of this show at all when I watched it the first time. Because you’re neutering it over that complexity as you present it, it kind of doesn’t have a real impact, right?

Jessica Bennett (27:27):

Right. And yeah, is it the responsibility of shows to send a real message? I don’t know. Do they have to get at that complexity and grapple with it? It is interesting though because I think shows now that approach this subject do have a little bit more complexity and nuance, and they pay some attention, in many cases, to the aftermath, and also the trauma.

Susie Banikarim (27:51):

Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is, obviously, there’s this idea or this concern now of how we take art from previous eras and deal with it, right? Because art is supposed to reflect the time it’s made in, right? So, I guess we don’t need it to explore that complexity because that was the culture. That is how people saw things in that moment, and part of why we consume art that was made at a certain time is to understand what views and culture and zeitgeist was in that time.

Jessica Bennett (28:23):

Well, and to be fair, actually, that probably is how many people would still perceive this.

Susie Banikarim (28:28):

Yeah. I don’t even know if that’s something that’s changed. I don’t know if you… Did you watch Pretty Little Liars? There was a student-teacher plot. In that case, it was a female student and a male teacher, but that was also presented as kind of a love story, and that wasn’t that long ago.

Jessica Bennett (28:41):

And Riverdale too, right?

Susie Banikarim (28:42):


Jessica Bennett (28:43):

This is the teen series. I think it just ended based on the Archie comics, where Archie has an affair with his teacher. And interestingly-

Susie Banikarim (28:49):

Which was not in the original comics, to be clear.

Jessica Bennett (28:52):

… Okay, okay. Good point. And the executive producer behind that show had actually worked on Dawson’s.

Susie Banikarim (28:58):

Oh, wow.

Jessica Bennett (28:59):

I don’t know if those two things are interconnected, but just interesting point.

Susie Banikarim (29:01):

But it is because these shows all feel like they’re kind of part of the same universe, right? These teen shows that were on the WB, which is now the CW, even ABC Family or Freeform or whatever it’s called now, they all do have very similar tropes and themes, and a very common trope that writers use is this teacher-student storyline, even now, right?

Jessica Bennett (29:22):


Susie Banikarim (29:22):

And I think that’s interesting that there’s still so much fascination with this concept. I think it’s because lots of people have crushes on their teachers, so it feels like a universal experience to sexualize your teachers.

Jessica Bennett (29:34):


Susie Banikarim (29:34):

What shouldn’t be a universal experience is that your teachers are sexualizing you.

Jessica Bennett (29:39):

And remember my friend Rosie?

Susie Banikarim (29:41):

Of course.

Jessica Bennett (29:41):

I wanted to ask her what the teens she works with might think of this relationship today.

Rosie Bancroft (29:47):

So when I think back about Dawson’s and thinking about the kids that I work with, if they were to be watching it today, they would be appalled, in a good way. They would know that it was wrong. They would know that it’s still a problem, even if it’s a female teacher, which I feel like we were in the infancy of discovering. I also think they would be compelled by it being a boy and a woman, and him being tall and cute and allegedly having all of this sexual prowess. I think that it would still seem muddy to them.


The other thing that I feel like is different now in terms of the kids these days is that they have an awareness about sexual abuse, and they are inclined to come in and see us in the counseling center at our school, especially girls will come in and talk about things that have happened to them that make them really uncomfortable. And they will be received in a place that is like, “Yep, this is rough and we need to help you.” And yes, this is a product of a much larger system.

Jessica Bennett (30:58):

Okay. So, where does all this leave us? There is something about consuming these stories as teenagers that really does stay with you.

Susie Banikarim (31:07):


Jessica Bennett (31:07):

And I think my friends and millions of other teens felt like we too were kind of coming of age with these characters on Dawson’s, even though they might’ve been a few years older, and even though in real life, they were actually much, much older.

Susie Banikarim (31:21):

Yeah, right. I mean, I wonder, have the actors on Dawson’s Creek ever reflected on this in any way?

Jessica Bennett (31:26):

Yeah, actually they have. I mean, Joshua Jackson is interesting because he was obviously a little bit older, and he also grew up in Vancouver, British Columbia, which is just a few hours north of Seattle, which is where the Mary Kay Letourneau case played out, at the same time he was recording and filming Dawson. So, I think he was very aware of it. And he was actually asked a couple of years ago, in an article, what he thought now looking back on that storyline in Dawson’s. And he was pretty thoughtful about it.


What he said was, “We still treat teenage female sexuality very differently than we teach or treat male teenage sexuality. Do we think that the show should have judged it differently? Maybe, because it’s part and parcel of that double standard. But on the other hand, I think it’s necessary to show storylines that have humans making mistakes.”

Susie Banikarim (32:16):

I guess he’s making a good point about the double standard, but is it true that this is just about humans making mistakes? It’s not really presented as that much of a mistake on the show, at least for him.

Jessica Bennett (32:26):

Yeah, that’s true. I mean, it’s complicated. I guess, in some ways, I sort of appreciate though that they didn’t turn it into a lesson. I don’t know that I would’ve responded to a kind of scoldy afterschool special.

Susie Banikarim (32:39):

Yeah, that makes sense. I mean, that wouldn’t have worked. It’s not like that would’ve been popular. So, part of it is that you have to present messages in a way that’s appealing to the audience.

Jessica Bennett (32:47):

But I don’t know, maybe others have a different interpretation. I mean, the show’s all available online. I hope that those listening might go watch it and tell us what you think. You can email us at [email protected], or you can DM us on Instagram @inretropod. Thanks for tuning in.

Susie Banikarim (33:08):

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 (33:23):

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 (33:28):

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 (33:37):

 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 (33:49):

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 (34:07):

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.