Thursday, January 17, 2008

THE L WORD: FOR BETTER, FOR WORSE

When The L Word debuted on Showtime in early 2004, no one really expected it to have the lasting success that it has since enjoyed. Now into its fifth season, the "lesbian drama" remains one of Showtime's most popular series, and it has garnered a loyal following of lesbians, bisexual women, straight women, gay men and straight men alike. It reaches audiences across the world, as far away as South Africa, Russia and Brazil. It led to last year's introduction of OurChart, a networking site for queer women with original editorial and multimedia content. And it has attracted such guest stars as varied as Anne Archer, Roseanna Arquette, Anabella Sciorra, Ossie Davis, Arianna Huffington, Camryn Manheim, and Snoop Dogg (among others). Season 4 saw the addition of actors Marlee Matlin and Cybil Shepard to the cast. In other words, The L Word has transcended both initial expectations as well as its target audience, making significant contributions to popular culture. Not to mention what it has done for lesbian visibility in the media.

Of course the show is not without its faults, and sometimes I wonder what keeps bringing me back season after season. Well, it's an addicting guilty pleasure and in a class of its own in terms of representation of queer women on TV. Besides the teen drama South of Nowhere, which I have written about previously, as well as a new series, Exes and Ohs on LOGO (MTV Network's "gay" channel), The L Word remains a forerunner in lesbian visibility. Something which, as GLAAD has pointed out, is seriously lacking on television these days. So I keep watching, despite the show's sometimes painful flaws. But that's not to say there is nothing positive. In fact, there is quite a lot of positive things about it. So, allow me to share my thoughts on the "Best and Worst" of The L Word.


"DANA, MOST GIRLS ARE STRAIGHT ... UNTIL THEY'RE NOT" -- WHY I WATCH

Naturally, I can't speak for every viewer of the show, but here are my opinions on the positive aspects of
The L Word.

1. Positive representations of lesbians and their lives
It's a television show, so it can't be expected to reflect reality at all times (or even most
times). That's what we have "reality" TV for. But The L Word challenges stereotypes and preconceived notions about lesbians. The women on the show are attractive, successful, independent and interesting. The author of a 2005 article for New York Metro asserts, the women of The L Word, while oft-times criticized for being "too beautiful" (on a recent broadcast of The View, guest Jennifer Beals was asked "Aren't there any ugly lesbians?"), finally help gay women to break free of the long-held stereotypes. The author states, "After years of living down our dumpy reputation, perhaps it behooves us to put our best, most made-up faces forward, for a change. I mean, how many “anomalous” dykes does it take to prove to straights and gay boys that not all lesbians wear bolo ties and Birkenstocks?"

For gay women, there is an affirmation of their lives and sexualities. Producer Ilene Chaiken says about the show, “There’s a unique anthropology to our lives. It makes these stories especially worth telling because most people don’t know these details. The lesbian characters we’ve seen were mostly created by men. We’ve been marginalized from the culture for a very long time, and I think that we’re ready to claim our rightful place.” A 2005 article in Inside Entertainment contends, "The L Word is groundbreaking simply because it’s helping to reshape the lesbian image within the mainstream, and is an archetype for lesbians to own and embrace their sexuality. At a time in North America where homosexuality and gay marriage are politically contentious issues, The L Word may well be a catalyst to change and expand cultural attitudes on the intricacies of women’s sexuality."

In this clip, Bette finds out that Tina and her are going to have a baby



2. Straight viewers can relate!
One of the things that has come as a surprise to many of those involved in the show is its appeal to a wide demographic. It's true, straight women love the show. Why this should com
e as a surprise, I'm not really sure, since gay women certainly don't seem to have much of a problem watching and relating to shows and movies about straight people. Nevertheless, it can certainly be viewed as a good thing that straight people like the show. Jennifer Beals, who plays the character Bette on the show, said in a 2004 interview with Steppin' Out Magazine, "I think the show makes clear, all of us have the same issues of love, loneliness, work, ambition, and family. We share all of those concerns. The L Word helps normalize these relationships." Straight women can watch the show and see that many of the issues that the women on the show face are no less alien to them than the issues being faced by the ladies of Sex and the City. In a time in history pivotal to the civil rights movement for LGBT individuals, something like a television show that makes the lives of gay people seem less alien is a good thing. When speaking on the controversies surrounding gay marriage and how something like The L Word can make an impact, Beals (who is, by the way, heterosexual), has this to say: "It's based in fear, fear of the other, fear of what is not like you," she says. "But when you are able to see lives on a day-to-day basis, rather than reducing it to politics, then it humanizes a whole community of people that were otherwise invisible. I think pop culture is really helpful in letting people see another side of life
Here is one of my favorite scenes from Season 4, where all the women are talking on the phone with one another. I mean, who can't relate to this?




3. Not afraid to poke some fun -- Camp runs rampant
I'm always up for some fun gay camp, for some hilarious exaggerations of stereotypes. (I loved the movie But I'm a Cheerleader). The L Word sometimes toes the line between camp and actual perpetuation of stereotypes, but overall things tend to turn out fairly well. For someone unfamiliar with "gay culture" and lesbian stereotypes, this stuff might just go over his or her head. Which might be why some straight reviewers have been unable to appreciate the show. On the other hand, some gay viewers might find themselves offended by what they view as outright stereotypes. I say that it should, for the most part, be taken in jest and enjoyed. Season 1 might have had some of the best material, and a writer over at AfterEllen wrote a terrific article back in 2004 called All-Girls' Camp: Playful Exaggeration of Lesbianism in "The L Word". The author, Nora Spencer, explains the characters as following:
"The characters on the show aren’t meant to be literal embodiments of all lesbians, but caricatures of lesbian stereotypes, playful exaggerations of lesbian extremes: Bette (Jennifer Beals) is the type-A breadwinner; Tina (Laurel Holloman), the fertile housewife; Shane (Katherine Moennig), the sensitive stud; Dana (Erin Daniels), the dyke tennis player; Alice (Leisha Hailey), the quirky bisexual; Ivan (Kelly Lynch), the gentlemanly gender-bender."

Spencer also refers to the various "campy terms" used in the show, such as: "Lesbian bed death", "The Lesbian Urge to Merge", "Has-bian", "Turkey baster", "U-Haul" and "Dyke Drama." She also refers to the idea of the "Lesbian look" which is brought up a number of times in Season 1. One of the most hilarious exaggerations of the idea that all lesbians can fit into a certain "box" occurs when Dana is trying to determine whether a woman she is interested in "plays for the gay team", as Alice refers to it as. What ensues is a "mission deployment" by the women of the show where they use visual cues to try to determine said woman's sexuality:

BETTE: Well, she's got some good lezzy points for her walk and the way she moves that chopping knife.
SHANE: But she's way femmy on the coiffure tip.
ALICE: Yeah, and her reaction to the two of you kissing was split because she didn't freak out which was a good sign, but she hardly paid any attention.
TINA: But you guys, she's got nine in the lez column and she only has seven in the straight.

Overall, the show's ability to sort of poke-fun at lesbian stereotypes makes for some great comedy.



4. The arrival of ethnic diversity and issues of race
From the beginning the show had at least some diversity. Bette, one of the main characters (played
by Jennifer Beals) is biracial and her sister Kit (played by Pam Grier) is black. In Season 1 the issue of race was explored somewhat during a few episodes in which Bette and her partner Tina (played by Laurel Holloman) were in group therapy. In their group was a black woman named Yolanda who harped on Bette for supposedly not identifying as a black woman. Bette criticized Yolanda for placing her sexual identity behind her various other identities. Additionally, when Bette and Tina were trying to decide on a sperm donor for the child they planned to have, race also came into play. Bette wanted to use an African American donor so that their child would be representative of the both of them. Tina wondered whether she was prepared to be the mother of a biracial child and whether it was too much "otherness" to place on a baby (Ultimately, the did use a black donor).

However, the majority of the cast remained lily-white until Season 2 when a "Latina" joined the cast
in the form of Carmen de la Pica Morales (played by Sarah Shahi). Now, I put Latina in quotes because the actress playing Carmen was actually a mix of Mediterranean and Persian heritages, although the character was supposed to be Chicana. Now, there is plenty to say on this issue as well as on the issue of how Carmen's Mexican family was portrayed. But I will save any comments for by "Worst of" list. At least the show was trying to be inclusive. And in Season 4, while we lost Carmen, we gained another "Latina" character, Papi (played by Janina Gavankar -- again not a Latina actress). Another lesbian of color arrived in the form of Tasha (played by Rose Rollins), a black woman serving in the military.

While The L Word may not be as diverse as it could be (still hoping for some representation of Asian women), it certainly does better than many other shows -- including hits like Sex and the City. And for that, I have to give it some praise.

5. Transgender issues
Season 3 was hailed for bringing the arrival of The L Word's first "butch" character. One of the criticisms of the show was how femme all the women were. The characters that came closest to being "butch" was Shane (played by Kate Moennig), who was really more of the waifish
, androgynous type. Jenny's (Mia Kirshner) new girlfriend Moira (played by Daniela Sea) really did seem to be what we would call a "butch" lesbian. But not too far into the season Moira revealed that she actually had always felt like she was meant to be a man. So she began a transition into Max and we got the first real transgender character on the show. In Season 1 and 2 we saw the character Ivan (played by Kelly Lynch), who was a Drag King and quite possibly transgendered, but that issue was never explored in detail. In Max/Moira, we got the first glimpse at transgender issues.

Unfortunately, many people feel that the issue was not dealt with well and that poor acting skills further detracted from a potentially powerful storyline. I have to agree that the storyline could have and probably should have been a lot better, considering how misunderstood transgender issues are. But at least they tried, which is at least one step forward.



6. Coming out in Mid-life
In Season 4 Cybill Shepherd made her debut as Phyllis, the Vice-Chancellor of the fictional California University, where Bette landed a position as Dean of the Art School. Shortly into the season, Phyllis reveals to Bette that she thinks she is a lesbian. Throughout the rest of the season we see Phyllis experience her first love affair with another woman and come out to her family, thereby ending her marriage of thirty years. In Season 5, Phyllis is in a serious relationship with another woman but is thinking about playing the field, finally seeing all the options that are open to her. Sexuality in older women is something that is rarely seen on TV in the first place, so it is refreshing to see a middle-aged woman experiencing a sexual awakening. And it is also true that there are many women who marry young and take years before they fully realize/accept their real sexual identity. I'm glad that the show is featuring this demographic of women.

7. Leisha Hailey, Comedic gold and Group Dynamics
Probably my absolute favorite thing about The L Word is Leisha Hailey, who plays the role of bisexual journalist/radio host/internet writer Alice Pieszecki. Hailey was not widely known before landing her
role on the show, although gay women might have known her from a small role in the 1997 lesbian film All Over Me, or from her position as lead singer in the pop duo The Murmurs, or as former girlfriend to musician k.d. lang. But after landing the role of Alice, women everywhere fell in love with her. Her acting skills are genuinely good, with dead-on comic timing and the ability to generate heartfelt emotion during more dramatic scenes. Her on-screen chemistry with Erin Daniels, who played Dana in Seasons 1-3 also contributed significantly. From Alice tagging along while Dana planned to come out to her parents at their Country Club ("I can act Republican!") in Season 1, to the two of them role-playing in Season 2 ("Captain, my Captain!") to Alice's psycho-obsession in Season 3, whether as best friends or as lovers, those two were comedic gold. And even with Dana now gone, Alice continues to be one of the best parts of the show. And viewers seem to agree. Leisha Hailey was voted as #1 on the AfterEllen Hot 100 list of 2007.

And on the topic of comedy, the group scenes of the show really continue to be some of the best. Season 1 saw a lot more of these, we drifted away from them in later seasons, but have luckily begun to see a return. One of the things that works best about the group scenes are the great dynamics between the characters. They are funny, warm and really embody female friendships. That's what people like to see. Season 1 was filled with parties, poker games, sleepovers, and roadtrips to Dinah Shore weekend. I hope that we see more of that in Season 5 because those group scenes really are some of the best parts of the show.

Here is a clip from Season 1 that highlights some of the group interactions:




8. Beautiful women
Okay, so I'm not completely shallow and I know that one of the criticisms of the show is that all the women are pretty gorgeous, but it also does make it enjoyable! Besides, it isn't fair to expect the show to represent all gay women. Nobody expects a show like Sex and the City to be representative of all straight women after all. So in addition to all the other great things about The L Word, getting to see gorgeous women like Rachel Shelley, Jennifer Beals, Sarah Shahi, etc. is just an extra perk!


"IS THIS A BISEXUAL THING?" -- THE THINGS THAT MAKE ME SQUIRM

1. Big gaping holes where plot should be

Even some of the best shows on TV unfortunately have the occasional plot hole, but some of the ones that turn up on The L Word are incredibly annoying. It makes you wonder if some of the writers just joined in without watching or reviewing previous episodes. One of the biggest annoyances is the case of the disappearing character. In Season 1, we learn that Marina (played by Karina Lombard) was in a long-term, live-in relationship with Francesca. Francesca was the financing behind Marina's business, the cafe The Planet. At the start of Season 2, Marina has attempted suicide and has returned to Italy to stay with her mother. Suddenly, Francesca is never mentioned again and the character Kit is trying to buy The Planet from Marina's family, when in Season 1 Marina had been trying to figure out how to buy The Planet for herself and win her autonomy from Francesca. So that didn't make any sense to someone who had actually been following the details of the show.

In Season 2, Jenny and Shane become roommates and get a third roommate, the token "straight guy" Mark who turns out to be a voyeuristic creep. But at the end of the season, Jenny has decided to let Mark continue living with them. Season 3, Mark is gone and it isn't mentioned at all what happened to him. I didn't really care much what happened to him, but still -- where did he go? Carmen was a main character on the show in Seasons 2 and 3 and at the end of Season 3, her and Shane were supposed to get married until she was left at the altar by Shane. After that she completely disappeared and wasn't mentioned again. I thought that this was completely peculiar, since all of women on the show represented her main group of friends. Why did everyone stop being friends with her? Naturally, they did this because they had dropped the actress Sarah Shahi from the show. But they could have tied that storyline off a little better, like said that she moved away or something to get over her and Shane's break-up or something. In Season 4, the character Papi showed up and suddenly became buddies with everyone. In Season 5, she's disappeared. Most viewers didn't like Papi very much, so maybe that's why they got rid of her. But, again, no explanation? In my opinion, a well-written show should have some sort of explanation for these types of character disappearances, even if it is only one line thrown in.

2. Did you have a personality transplant? -- Character 180's
This is one of the most obnoxious things about the show in my opinion because it really reflects poor writing. Good writers should be able to create believable character developm
ent. Obviously, people do change over time, but it shouldn't just happen out of nowhere. Some of the characters on The L Word are seriously all over the place and viewers just can't follow. One great example is Helena. When she appeared in Season 2, she was the perfect example of a "power lesbian." She was successful, determined, and pretty predatory. She knew what she wanted and went after it, not caring who she stamped on along the way. "Giving" would be last word that anyone would think of to describe Helena, and pretty much no one liked her. But in Season 3, Helena has inexplicably become Alice's best friend and was suddenly the nicest person in the world -- helping Alice through her break-up with Dana, using her private jet to fly everyone to a basketball game, paying for Shane and Carmen's wedding in Canada. What the hell happened? I think the writers wanted to keep Rachel Shelley on, which makes sense because she's beautiful and a pretty decent actor. But in Season 2, the Helena storyline seemed to not have anywhere else to go. So I guess they decided to give her a personality transplant rather than create a new character. An AfterEllen writer comments on Helena's transformation: "The (questionable) writing was really on the wall when Alice started acting like Helena was her BFF (Best Friend Forever). Why was Alice practicing yoga with Helena and insisting on her inclusion in The Group? What happened over the summer that made these two so tight? Maybe Alice had something to do with the soul transplant that transformed Helena from the umbilical cord-twisting villain of Season 2 into a three-dimensional human being."

Meanwhile, the viewers were left extremely confused.

Tina is another character that has been all over the place. At the end of Season 2, her and Bette have just gotten back together and had a baby girl, Angelica. At the beginning of Season 3, their relationship is suddenly failing and Tina has gone from being a sweet and caring person to pretty much a bitch who is having a cyber-relationship with a man. Later she decides to leave Bette to pursue relationships with men, yet she still identifies herself as a lesbian. She acts very confrontational and is always yelling at Bette whenever they are together. As AfterEllen writer Karman Kregloe stated in an article on Season 3, "
Tina deciding that she's bisexual is one thing, but it's as if she's become repulsed by her former lesbianism. And the notion of Tina's sexuality being in question felt more like a plot device than a complex issue with which the character had been struggling. Representing the only long-term lesbian relationship on the show (on any show, for that matter) as an “8 ½ year aberration” isn't terribly revolutionary. If viewers wanted to see that, they could watch…anything else on network television." Season 4, her relationship with "the man" ends pretty much out of nowhere after she realizes that he is, well, a man and suddenly she appears to be attracted to Bette again. What??! Now, in Season 5, she is totally over the man thing and wants Bette back. Writers, get your act together.

3. Jenny Schecter
Along the line of character 180's, Jenny is one of the few characters that drives me crazy. In Season 1, she went through her sexual awakening. In Season 2, out of nowhere she went through some kind of nervous breakdown and became a cutter and we the viewers had to suffer through her crazy journaling and visions of carnivals and other crazy things. In Season 3, she became somewhat bearable, or as one reviewer put it: "Who would have thought that the self-obsessed little nut job whose dream sequences became the stuff of viewers' nightmares could grow up and win the Season 3 award for Most Unlikely Transformation Into a Sympathetic Character?" But, unfortunately it did not last and in Season 4, Jenny suddenly was a famous writer and did some crazy shit, like adoption a dying dog so that she could pretend to be someone else and seduce the veterinarian girlfriend of a journalist that gave her a bad review (following that?) Then she wrote a book called Les Girls in which she basically wrote about all the other women, hardly changing their names. Now Les Girls is being made into a movie and Jenny has transformed into a complete diva-bitch. It has actually gotten to the point where it is humorous, and thank God Mia Kirshner is a good actor. I might actually have to change Jenny to one of my favorite things about the show after season 5 has ended. But the writers have turned Jenny into like fifteen different characters, and we never know who she's going to be next.

Here is Jenny being crazy in Season 4, in a way that is actually quite hilarious:



4. Dana, Dana, Dana!
In Season 3, Producer Ilene Chaiken decided to explore the issue of breast cancer. In order to really make the storyline have an impact, she decided that it had to affect the character that viewers most identified with. Since Season 1, Dana was a viewer favorite. She was funny and awkward and people loved her. Her and Alice's relationship was fantastic, and their chemistry was so believable. Ilene decided that Dana would be the one to suffer from breast cancer. But not just suffer, Dana would have to DIE. Basically, this was the worst idea ever. The idea was to really have an impact on viewers, and Dana's death really did have an impact. But not in a good way. People (including many of the show's actors) were pissed off, and mostly didn't understand why it was necessary to kill off one of the most beloved characters in order to advance some type of social message. Many pointed out that it would have been far more inspiring to have had Dana go through cancer and survive. Erin Daniels, the actor who played Dana for three years, admitted to being devastated when she discovered the fate of Dana, and revealed: "It wasn't my decision to leave the show, and I was very sad to see Dana go." "I was pissed. I was really pissed off," Said co-star Kate Moennig on her reaction to discovering Dana would be dying in Season 3.

The show has gone on, we've now had 2 seasons sans Dana. But it really was probably one of the worst decisions that the writers made. Fans will tell you that it hasn't been the same without her. While the show has pulled through, the dynamics will never be completely the same.

Here is a short video that was put out by Showtime to try rationalizing this terrible decision (although the interviews with the cast kind of contradict the message they were trying to put out). This video is followed by a hilarious clip of Dana and Alice shopping for sex toys.





5. Adios, Carmen.
This is sort of a personal thing for me, because I just loved Carmen. I thought that she was smoking hot and had a great personality and her and Shane had fantastic chemistry. Mo
st people didn't believe that Shane would really go through with marrying Carmen, and it might have been realistic the way that they had it end. But, really, do you walk out on a girl like Carmen?? As Karman from AfterEllen put it: "The resident heartbreaker pushed the needle too far this season when she cheated on and ultimately abandoned at the altar Carmen de la Pica Morales, aka The Sexiest Woman Alive. This plot development begged the asking of the big questions, like did Shane sustain a head injury while doing those rad skate moves? Did the hair care chemicals go to her head? What happened to Shane's character arc around commitment from last season?" There was something so real about the Carmen/Shane relationship. Carmen was the one person that really seemed to "get" Shane and the two of them were obviously really in love with one another. It would have been a good storyline to have the two of them ultimately come back together, after Shane went off and played the field for awhile again. But I guess leaving someone at the altar is kind of unforgivable. But even though the writers decided to end it, it would have been nice to see Carmen stay. People liked Carmen. They could have found something else to do with her.

Here are two scenes of Shane and Carmen together (the first a fight, the second a happy one)




6. The Disappearing Bisexual
In Season 1, Alice was presented to us as bisexual. And sure enough, she had relationships with both men and women in that season. Season 1 was also full of others, mostly Dana, teasing Alice about her bisexuality. This was probably realistic, since the relationship between bisexuals and lesbians has historically been tenuous. Bisexual women are frequently accused of being "fence-sitters" or of just trying to hold onto their heterosexual privilege. In Season 2, when Alice was falling for Dana, her bisexuality was explored a little bit as well, such as when Dana's fiancee Tonya tries setting Alice up with a man. But then after Dana and Alice get together, any mention of Alice's sexual orientation pretty much seems to disappear. Near the end of Season 3, when Tina is going on a date with a man, Alice says to Dana, "You're right. Bisexuality is gross. I see it now." She was pretty much kidding, just trying to get Dana to laugh. But still, it did send out an interesting message, especially since she has yet to sleep with a man since Season 1.

Jenny also seemed like she was going to be a bisexual character, since she was in a relationship with a man for many years. She even told a friend in Season 1, "I think I'm bisexual." After ending her relationship with Tim, she even dated a man for a while. But then she went on to identify as a full-on lesbian, promoting the stereotype that bisexuals are just in a transitional phase.

Of course, giving a male lover to one of the characters is likely to elicit a negative viewer response, as the relationship between Tina and Henry did. So the writers are in kind of a jam, but honestly? They never should have made Alice bisexual in the first place if they didn't intend on following through with it. The show has really propagated the invisibility of bisexuality and the idea that bisexual women are really just confused or not really serious.

7. "A Very Special Episode"
This goes along with the whole breast cancer thing -- the concept of using the show to explore some sort of "social issue." Unfortunately, when the writers decide that they want to put out a message about something like breast cancer or PTSD, it comes out sounding like a public service announcement or after school special. I have no qualms with a show exploring an important issue like cancer, but the writers have to explore the issue in a way that isn't so cheesy. For example, when Dana was going through cancer her and Alice went to meet with Dr. Susan Love. Scribegrrl, AfterEllen's L Word episode recapper, describes it best:
"Yes, it's masquerading as part of the episode, but it's really just a random PSA that can't even get its message across because everyone who sees it will think "what the hell am I watching? I thought this was The L Word?""

The way that they have tried to explore the war in Iraq and the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy of the military is at times downright hilarious. Take this
scene, as described by Scribegrrl, where they are I think trying to show that there are different opinions on the war:

"
Max and Grace arrive at the Planet. Max introduces Grace, who's wearing a T-shirt that says "War is terrorism with a bigger budget." The group welcomes her; Jenny compliments her T-shirt. They all proceed to recite their favorite T-shirt slogans, which include "Kill one, and it's murder; kill thousands, and it's foreign policy" and "God doesn't take sides in war.""

Tasha (who is a soldier, on-leave from Iraq) is looking very uncomfortable. Their recitations of T-shirt slogans sounds unnatural and ridiculous. I'm sorry, but there are other ways to have done that. Something else that really was pointless was how they sort of tried to explore PTSD, by showing some terrible nightmares that Tasha had about serving in Iraq. When a really complex issue like that is just sort of touched on like that, it makes it come out seeming trite. In Season 5, Tasha is going to be investigated for homosexual conduct. Hopefully they will actually be able to deal with this without it just seeming like a political statement.

Other things that the show has tried to make statements about is censorship, funding of the arts and cutting. All of these have seem somewhat contrived in my opinion. The point is, it's a television show and it only reflects reality to a certain extent. I understand the desire of the writers/producers,etc. to want to use their power to make certain political/social statements. But most times, it just doesn't work out well and it reduces complex issues to something else while running the risk of having the show turn into a "A very special episode of The L Word."


8. Transgenderism and butch lesbians
I had to give the show props for including its first transgender character (and I did). But I also have to include the necessary criticism for the way that the storyline ultimately played out. In a something scathing article on this storyline, AfterEllen writer Malinda Lo states, "
It's too bad that as soon as that “real butch” sauntered onto the scene, she transitioned from female to male in a clumsy storyline that reduced the complexity of transgender issues to a stereotypical war between the sexes. To make matters worse, Moira's transition into Max was written in a way that not only dismissed the possibility of butch identity, it ridiculed it."

Lo points out that the transgender issue is one that really did need to be explored, as it is an issue that is becoming increasingly prominent within the lesbian community. She gives praise to some of the sentiments raised on the show, such as when Kit says to Max/Moira, "
It just saddens me to see so many of our strong butch girls giving up their womanhood to be a man." Lo explains that this is a sentiment probably shared by many lesbians. But ultimately she feels, and I feel this way as well, that the show made gender into a binary, either/or issue rather than exploring its fluidity. The character of Moira is portrayed as very kind and gentle, whereas after she transitions into Max she suddenly is portrayed as aggressive, hypersexual and angry. Among other things, this promotes the stereotype that masculine characteristics can only be seen in men. As soon as Moira arrives in L.A. she is consistently ridiculed by the other women. Bette comments that Moira came from a place where she probably had to define herself a certain way, as "either/or" while Tina finds it interesting that Jenny would want to "role play" like that. As Lo says, the show basically "conflates gender expression with role-playing" and by having Moira make the transition into Max, the show missed the opportunity to positively portray an authentic "butch" identity.

9. The Latina lesbians
This is something that I have mentioned before. I actually had a post back in December 2006 about the way in which The L Word cast South Asian actresses to play Latina characters. You know, maybe it isn't as big a deal as I'm making it out to be. But in my opinion, there is just something really strange about it. It sort of sends the message that people of color are interchangeable, like us white people can't tell the difference between someone from India and someone from Mexico. Don't Latina women deserve to actually see themselves represented, rather than getting someone who can't even speak Spanish well?

In addition to casting not one but two non-Latinas, the show also somewhat poorly
represented Latino culture. In another article by Malinda Lo, the author describes the show's "brush with Latino culture" as "a well-intentioned but somewhat clumsy introduction to Latino culture, featuring overgeneralizations and an unfortunate reliance on stereotypes." She additionally notes that in the Carmen storyline viewers unfortunately get nothing "more than a cursory exploration of what it means to be closeted in a traditional Latino household in Los Angeles." Lo explains that "Latino" culture is extremely varied, and a particular family's view on homosexuality will be largely dependent on the particular country they come from, their awareness of LGBT issues, their degree of education, and many other things. The Carmen storyline unfortunately portends to speak for all Latino families, which is no more fair than making the Dana "coming-out" storyline speak for all White families.

But the show got another chance to represent Latina lesbians with the character Papi. But things didn't seem to improve at all. In Season 2, Carmen didn't speak about her ethnic identity very much at all, although we got more of it in Season 3. Papi, on the other hand, seems to identify much more as a Latina, hanging out at Latin clubs, peppering her speech with Spanish phrases, etc. It's too bad, though, that the character ends up being completely over-the-top and exaggerated. She seems like a caricature of a Latina, and that is unfortunate.

In this clip, Carmen comes out to her family:



10. Product Placement
The use of the TV show to promote Showtime's new website OurChart was embarrassing and annoying. OurChart was inspired by "The Chart", originally a web of sexual relationships within the lesbian community created by Alice and later turned into a radio show, hosted by Alice as well. In Season 4, "The Chart" evolves into "Our Chart", a website created by Alice. At the same time, it became a real website, which I mentioned earlier on in this post. The show's promotion of the site, however, was ridiculous:

"
Jenny pulls out her MacBook Pro, supposedly in order to read her Publisher's Weekly review. Alice doesn't think that's a good idea, but Jenny says it's purely for informational purposes. It turns out to be purely for infomercional purposes: Jenny launches into a spiel about OurChart.com, otherwise known as LittleChickensBankbook.com. Leisha and Rachel and Mia all try to get excited and interested in the spindles and circles on the computer screen."

11. The THEME SONG
Season 1 didn't have a theme song, or really any much of an introduction at all. And you know what? I didn't mind that so much. What's so bad about diving right into the show? Who really wants to sit through two minutes of the same thing every week anyway? But, alas, in Season 2 we got a theme song and introduction. In a review of Season 2, one writer said, "
There are also a few new disappointments, starting with the new title sequence. Perhaps responding to complaints they received last year about the lack of one, the L Word editors have introduced a kitschy, fun collage of the L Word cast in various poses to open the episodes. The sequence is entertaining; unfortunately, the theme song by Betty that goes along with it is, well, cheesy and cringe-inducing (both the lyrics and the music). It actually makes you long for last season's electronic dots."

But, you can decide for yourself.



Well, overall, the show really does have its ups and its downs. But it also has been revolutionary in its content, and hopefully it will pave the way for more representation of the gay and lesbian community on television. And I probably will keep watching for as long as Showtime decides to keep renewing it!

1 comment:

beth said...

Great, great, great post! Your analysis was spot-on, and I loved the vids and pictures (expertly chosen). Well done!

And I totally agree about almost all of your negatives (although, that theme song doesn't grate me the way most other viewers feel). There "disappearing bisexual" in particular present an interesting double-bind for the L Word writers, but one that I don't feel was handled very well.

And let's not even get *started* on killing off Dana.