When a British cable channel produces a post-watershed teen drama that captures the attention of lesbians around the globe, you know something special has happened. When that drama sweeps the Visibility Awards on the world’s largest lesbian entertainment website, it’s fair to call it a phenomenon.
Dr. Ann-Marie Cook, Visiting Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Creative Industries and Innovation at Queensland University of Technology, watched Skins and fell as hard for Naomily as we did, but instead of channeling it into fiction or recaps like the rest of us, she decided to write a book about the phenomenon. We’ve published excerpts from two of her interviews (one with Kathryn Prescott and one with Lily Loveless), and now I’ve finally pinned her down and begged her to give us some more scoop on her project.
AfterEllen.com: Where were you the moment you realized you were smitten with Naomily?
Dr. Ann-Marie Cook: I wish I could say I’ve been a diehard fan from day one, but the truth is that I came to the show after series four had already finished. Although I’d heard of Skins, I never paid attention to it until I stumbled across the entries for Naomi and Emily on After Ellen.com’s Top 50 Lesbian and Bisexual Characters whilst doing some research for an article about schoolgirl romances. I was so busy with other things that I sort of forgot about Naomily until a few weeks later.
I would never actually wish to be sick, but developing a nasty chest infection that required complete bed rest is quite possibly one of the best things that could have happened to me because when I needed something to watch to pass the time, I turned to Skins so I could see for myself why people were making such a fuss about Naomily. I cheated a bit by going straight to series three, but I was completely hooked after the first episode! It was great to watch all of the Generation 2 episodes back-to-back and it created a more intense viewing experience because there was no time to ‘come down’ from that heightened emotional register you get into with every episode.
AE: What was your initial reaction to the storyline?
AMC: Yeah, it was alright [laughs]. Actually, I was totally blown away! I’m an academic with a background in film and television studies and even though I watch a lot of stuff, it is very rare for things to touch me as deeply as the Naomily storyline did. Part of it was down to the excellent writing, direction and acting. But mainly it was because Skins offered the most sophisticated portrayal of teenagers I’d ever seen and they treated the lesbian relationship with so much integrity and authenticity. It was totally refreshing to see Naomi and Emily portrayed as soul mates who share a genuine intellectual, emotional and physical connection that is natural, normal and ultimately no different from heterosexual couplings.
I was completely drawn in by the sensitivity and honesty Lily Loveless and Kathryn Prescott brought to their roles. I could feel in the pit of my stomach every single twinge of emotion that Naomi and Emily experienced in that rollercoaster of a storyline! It may not be scientific, but the “gut test,” as I like to call it, is a good measure of whether a storyline is just your average, bog-standard piece of entertainment or whether it’s really magnificent storytelling that seduces you into entering the fantasy world of the narrative so completely that you genuinely feel everything that happens. In this case, the storyline passed the gut test: I was utterly seduced Naomily!
AE: So seduced that you decided to make the leap from “fan” to “Naomily Historian!”
AMC: Well, I suppose to some degree I’m always trying to work out whether I can write something interesting about stuff I watch. I enjoy thinking about the deeper meanings of films and television shows and how they engage with various aspects of politics and culture. I’m especially interested in the way same-sex relationships are portrayed and received. So for those reasons, Naomily piqued my curiosity right from the start. It wasn’t until I saw the range of fan activities that I began to think of the storyline as a transnational, transmedia, pop culture phenomenon. A phenomenon is an occurrence or sensation of particular significance and I think that’s an excellent description of what happened with the Naomily storyline. Even though I recognised that it was something worth writing about, the idea of a book never occurred to me until a colleague who happens to run an academic press urged me to take the plunge.
I’m a big believer in the idea that things happen for a reason and it was certainly true in this case because the opportunity to write the Naomily book presented itself at a time when I needed a bit of direction. I had just come through a pretty grim period of dealing with a serious illness — and when I say serious, I mean the sort of thing that prevents you from seeing your next birthday. I had to put my research and teaching on hold and even though I wrote things when I felt up to it, and even got some of them published, I felt completely isolated from the academic setting that had basically been my world before I got sick. I did a lot of thinking about life and whether the research I was doing really mattered in the grand scheme of things to anyone but me. Even though I enjoyed the topics I wrote about, my heart wasn’t in the work the way it used to be and that realisation made me question whether I should switch to a different career.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s like you said in another interview: We’re not writing something that’s going to change the world here. But I see that there’s a segment of the fandom that feels the loss of Naomily so keenly that they are genuinely desperate for something new to satisfy their need for — how shall I put this effectively — “moarrrr Naomily!!!” So I do see this project as something that can reach out to those people and anyone else who is interested in the show.
AE: What Skins folks have you spoken to about Naomily?
AMC: Pretty much everyone! After I told [series co-creator] Bryan Elsley about what I wanted to do in the book he arranged for his personal assistant to put me in touch with everyone I wanted to interview. Having someone make those initial introductions on my behalf was so valuable because it was like having a seal of approval that opened some doors that might have remained closed if I’d attempted to solicit interviews on my own.
I’m really excited about being able to give readers a more complete picture of everything that was happening behind the scenes during the production process.