Thursday, November 6, 2008

What's This Canadian Blogger Talking About? (Updated)

"Is this because I'm a lesbian?"

Another day, another opinion about Grey's Anatomy trying to straighten itself out like a Saturday Night Fever star hooked up to an E-meter. This time it's Vancouver Sun blogger Shelley Fralic who caught my attention, mostly because I'm not entirely sure what she's talking about:
Sometimes, even in television, relationships just don’t work out, lesbians and otherwise. And you have to wonder why the ABC executives would be skittish about a gay storyline. It’s not like this one was breaking any new ground: gay relationships are now almost standard fare on TV, and no one much bats an eye over them any more, whether they’re on daytime soaps or on primetime chart-toppers like Will & Grace and Brothers & Sisters.
That, of course, is incorrect. Eyes are still batted, and they'd be batted even more if network television bothered paying attention to lesbians, which they don't. At all.

And as much as I liked the early seasons of Will & Grace, its gay characters were pretty much neutered. That was arguably what allowed it to become a mainstream hit: heterosexual viewers were willing to laugh at the wacky comic capers of a nonthreatening dancing homo monkey like Jack McFarland, but with the understanding that he would always act more like an impertinent, spoiled child (albeit one with jazz hands and a fondness for sexual innuendo) than a real live gay man with a real live sex life. Fussy, lovelorn Will Truman was likewise acceptable because he spent more time tending to his neurotic hag, Grace (who, as a heterosexual character, was afforded numerous love interests and an active sex life), and the frivolous Jack than having a personal life of his own. It represented real progress in some very important ways; in other ways it was just us treading water.

As imperfect as the treatment of gay male characters and their relationships has often been on network television, they have attained much greater visibility than lesbian characters and subplots. One could theorize all day about the reasons for this, but there are no lesbian leads on scripted broadcast programming this year.

(My own thoughts on the matter tend to boil down to this: sexism partially accounts for the lack of interest in lesbian storylines on TV and in movies -- if writers and producers can hardly be bothered to create quality roles for straight women, it should go without saying that lesbians and bisexuals aren't going to be very high on their list of priorities either -- and then there's the fact that gay men are more likely to run things behind the scenes at TV shows than lesbians, which means they have the power to create the kind of gay-inclusive programming they've always wanted to see as viewers, programming that traditionally involves male characters more often than not.)

Grey's Anatomy's Erica Hahn has been the only lesbian supporting character on scripted broadcast programming so far this season. She came out at the start of last week's episode, in a torrent of emotion that made her quasi-girlfriend flee the apartment in the terror, and will exit the show tonight. Hahn's burgeoning relationship with a female colleague (whose sexuality so far would be defined as bisexual or bicurious) was the only lesbian relationship regularly shown on primetime network television, and the whole thing was just a few episodes long and included lots of gay panic and heterosexual sex. If that's what passes for "almost standard fare" on TV nowadays, you can sort of see why this is a serious turn of events that should not be reduced to something as simplistic as "Lesbian love story too hot? Nah, just too dull", though I do agree with Fralic's assessment of the aborted Grey's storyline as ill-conceived and unbelievable.

UPDATE (11/07) - Here's a columnist who gets it. Lisa de Moraes of The Washington Post takes aim at everything from girl-girl ratings stunts and the ridiculous "chemistry" press release (which you can find in the first update at the bottom of this page) Shonda Rhimes issued earlier this week to the utter uselessness of GLAAD.

You can read more of my exasperated rants about "Grey's Anatomy" by clicking here, but frankly I warn against it.

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