April 13, 2005

Lesbians on TV: More Than Meets the Eye-Candy

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Last season, being a gay male was, as Carson on Queer Eye would put it, “the new black.” This season, it’s being a lesbian.

Previously relegated to the deepest recesses of a young male’s computer hard drive:(MyDocumentsschoolworkstufffiles
othinginhereseriouslystoplookinghappytime) or even in the more archaic location of underneath the mattress, lesbians are now seeing the light of day on television. From Britney and Madonna on MTV to your favorite primetime drama, it’s hard not to see something lesbian-related whenever you turn on the boob tube — forgive the pun. But is what we are seeing truly indicative of the acceptance of lesbians on television or merely a cheap spectacle for ratings?

A few years ago we saw a veritable “eruption” of programming featuring gay males: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy premiered, Will and Grace topped ratings, Queer as Folk shocked audiences, while Spongebob Squarepants … just confused. Fast forward to 2005 and we see a whole different story: Queer Eye’s and Will and Grace’s ratings have dropped, Queer as Folk, which includes gay men and women is on its last season, while Spongebob is … still confused and confusing.

With the homoeroticism of Wonder Woman, February sweeps saw a slew of lesbian appearances to save the day (a.k.a. boost ratings). To that end, networks have resorted to temporary and sometimes accidental romantic entanglements between female characters to attract viewers — mostly males the age range 0-100.

Not surprisingly, this tactic is working. The Marissa-Alex tryst on The O.C. helped bolster the show’s already excellent sophomore season ratings. Although their love affair was a great ratings twist in The O.C.’s tumultuous storyline, anyone who follows the show closely knew that Marissa was destined her to return to heterosexuality with Ryan, because that is where her lackluster acting isn’t as pronounced.

Also premiering in February, Queer Eye for the Straight Girl brought “jeujing” to the female gender. Instead of four gay males invading someone’s privacy, Bravo added a lesbian into the mix, Honey Labrador — insert your own joke here. Even NBC found it necessary to out Elizabeth Rohm’s character Serena Southerlyn on Law and Order, just mere seconds before leaving the show permanently. But perhaps the biggest sweeps shocker was the introduction of gay marriage in Springfield and the revelation of Aunt Patty’s homosexuality on The Simpsons. This brings up the topic of lesbian characters and actresses in Hollywood. Why must we assume that a woman, who isn’t married, barefoot and pregnant in a kitchen by the age of 30 — or at least hasn’t dated Colin Farrell — must be a closet lesbian? Case in point. Marcia Cross of Desperate Housewives was been rumored to be a lesbian, mostly due to the fact that she is near 40-years-old and yet to be married.

Sure, television has come a long way from its first lesbian kiss on L.A. Law, to various sitcom smooches on shows like Roseanne, Friends and Ellen to Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s cult favorite Willow-Tara romance.

Now, we have Showtime’s The L-Word, a mature, adult look at lesbians living in L.A. The show’s second season premiered last month to high praise. Although some say the show can go over-the-top with the realism of its sex scenes — hence its premium cable location — The L-Word at least tries to delve into the psyches of its eclectic cast of characters. Well-written and intriguing, The L-Word is on the completely opposite side of the lesbian curve than that of shows like The O.C., from totally ignoring the issue to basing an entire show on being a lesbian.

Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. It’s not that we need more lesbians on television — though most guys wouldn’t mind the extra girl-on-girl action — instead, we need characters and story lines whose sexual preferences and acts aren’t the crux of the show.

Archived article by Ed “Chong” Kim
Sun Staff Writer