More than entertained

The Small Screen

I know I’m fortunate to be in a generation where LGBTQ mediums are more accessible than in the past, but I am also critical of the images, the products and messages sent out through them. Like every favorite television show of mine, I have praises and criticisms of these shows; “The L Word” is no different.

During my senior year of high school, my parents went down to Florida to visit some relatives of ours, leaving me and the family dog alone for a week. I had recently heard about a new show called “The L Word” and was curious to see it. I took a day off from school (lied and said I was sick), drove to the local Hollywood Video and rented the entire first season on DVD. Needless to say, the rest of my day was spent vegging in front of the TV watching some of the most beloved and hated characters in queer viewing to date.

Going to local gay friendly bars or friend’s houses to watch “The L Word” became a Sunday night tradition. Every week there was new drama, more sex and ultimately more and more ways to praise and critique the show.

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My love affair with “L Word” lies in the love of its existence and the depth and hilarity of its characters. My problems lie in its lack of representation of the LGBTQ community and how it addresses issues that affect the LGBTQ community.

Through seasons three and four, we meet Moira, who has a love affair with Jenny and runs off with her back to L.A. Moira’s decision to transition into Max is much like a flip of a switch, analogous to a light-bulb turning on, much like an “A-ha!” moment.

The decision was seen as rash, and the development of his transition to Max was short-lived and misunderstood. Ultimately, it left viewers questioning why Moira/Max was a character in the first place. Unfortunately, at the end of season five, the biggest contribution of Max has been that he saw Adele for who she was before anyone else could.

At the beginning of the series, Alice is comfortable and firm in her identity as bisexual. However, even with her fooling around with men in the first season, Alice is portrayed as a lesbian. Even in season five she comes out and says she is a lesbian. So what changed for Alice? Was bisexual a safe term to come out as or did she feel like lesbian was a more comfortable identity to be around her friends? Both of those scenarios do not fit here. Alice’s friends should accept her for whoever she is, not who the writers think is more acceptable within lesbian circles.

The show portrays a very narrow view of lesbians and queer women. If you lived without peripheral vision and had not met a lesbian or queer woman in your life, and just watched this show as a reference, you’d perceive all lesbians were white, upper-class or wealthy, and could get themselves out of any financial bind. The only times they allude to class issues within “The L Word” is when Helena no longer receives money from her mom, and when Tasha is dishonorably discharged from the military and turns to working at the show’s equivalent of Wal-Mart.

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Like “Queer as Folk,” the show is very glamorous, and fashion has become a focal point of the show’s appeal to a broader audience. But there comes a time when fashion, frilly outfits and exclusive parties are not the lives of everyday lesbians and queer women, but the lives of the famous, rich and privileged.

Criticisms aside, I am happy that “The L word” exists. As someone who is a part of the LGBTQ community, I see the show in different glasses than my straight friends. I remember my first girlfriend, my first broken heart, my first everything. I can appreciate the show’s ability to relive my experiences through fictional characters going through the same things I did less than a decade ago and living through now. When I was 17, it was a relief to see lesbian characters in these mediums, and not just seeing and hearing lesbians alluded to negatively in mass-media markets. And as much as it helped me to see these images, I can’t begin to imagine how it must feel for women in their 70s, 80s, even 90s — where their sexuality was “illegal,” let alone publicly acknowledged.

Some of my friends say that I take the show way too seriously, and that people only want to be entertained, not lectured to. Sure, I love to be entertained, who doesn’t? But there lies a real danger in just wanting to be entertained and not being critical of television and other mediums, especially ones that attempt to be socially conscious and aware.

“The L Word” sixth and final season starts next spring. While I am excited to see how the show pans out in the end, I will also be thinking beyond how many times Bette and Tina will break up and get back together, how many hearts Shane has broken, or where Jodi will go now. I’ll also be asking the question, “Where can we go from here?”

Samantha Korb has joined Q-Notes as our new “The Small Screen” columnist.
She is a student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

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