Straight takes on “The L Word”

 
 

by Malinda Lo

This morning, PopCandy drew my attention to two articles about The L Word, which wraps up its fourth season this Sunday night on Showtime. Now, we at AfterEllen.com cover The L Word a lot. So much so, in fact, that sometimes I forget that anybody else actually watches the show and even thinks about it. But these articles — written by two straight women — have reminded me that yes, other people watch the show, and no, they're not always gay. It's an eye-opener, lemme tellya.

Alice is confused

Let me just pull out some of the most intriguing quotes from these articles for you to look at:

The first article, titled "To L With It!" (great title) is written by Hillary Frey and is published in the New York Observer. The article's subtitle is "How Showtime's sultry Sapphic saga stopped talking to straight women," which gives you a good idea of how Ms. Frey feels about the program. Here are some of her surprising conclusions:

In its first season, The L Word was not only shocking—oral sex at the doctor's office?!—it was genuinely surprising; instead of a soft-core, girl-on-girl version of Melrose Place that would appeal mostly to lesbians and beer-clutching straight men, it wound up being a massive hit with women on both sides of the sexual divide.

Um, I would like to think that if The L Word can be credited with one thing, it is that it clearly showed that lesbians are not interested in "soft-core, girl-on-girl" versions of Melrose Place. If straight women still think that lesbians like that stuff, well, the divide between straight women and lesbians is wide indeed.

(Click "read more" for more enlightening tidbits from these articles.)

Let's go on. Here's more of Frey's take on why The L Word no longer appeals to straight women:

Since [Tim, Jenny's ex, left the show], almost every man on the show has been an unrepentant dick. … [She explains how Melvin Porter, Mark the creepy videotaping guy, Angus and Henry are not very good straight guys.] And back to Henry: On last week's episode, he was clipping his toenails in the living room. I have never seen a man do this in my life. It's a cliché—shorthand to illustrate how rude, selfish and plain old gross straight men are. It was a cheap shot at a man who, until this point, was treated with respect by the writers. By extension, it was a cheap shot at the women viewers who like men and live with them.

If there's anything I can tell you about Ilene Chaiken, it's that she has said she never writes with any particular audience in mind. I'm pretty sure she wasn't taking a cheap shot at women who like men, but welcome to the land of bitching about The L Word! And by the way, lesbians do not by definition dislike men or avoid living with them.

Phyllis is a ridiculous character. She tells her daughter and husband that she'd like to throw her entire past life in the garbage. That's where straight lives are now tossed on The L Word: in the trash.

That's right: Straight lives are tossed in the trash, right alongside the lives of butches, Latinas, Asians and sane lesbians.

The L Word has gotten one character right, the female-to-male transsexual Max. … Last season, he had a fling with Billie, a gay party-promoter played by Alan Cumming. But in the end, Max—who isn't even a lesbian and, in fact, loathes his woman's body—might be the savior of The L Word. Take that affair. … it was a choice that seemed in keeping with the original spirit of the show: shocking, and surprising. Instead of building walls between the genders, between gay and straight, between promiscuous and virtuous, The L Word was back to breaking them down, inviting us all into a world that many, if not most, viewers had likely never seen.

Um, wow. Max is the "savior of The L Word"? I grant you the sex scene with Billie was kinda shocking, but other than that moment of shock, his character's story line has left a lot to be desired. And I'm pretty sure Max's transition underscored, for lesbian viewers, the walls between genders.

So the second article, titled "Women's Work," is written by June Thomas is published on Slate.com. Thomas, unlike Frey, loves this show. Why? Because, she says, "The L Word has become a workplace drama—and it is very satisfying." She points to Bette's job at the university, Tina's job as a movie exec, Shane's job as a hairdresser and mom (wow), Helena's "job" as a gambler, Max's job as a programmer, Alice's job as a dot-com entrepreneur and Jenny's job as a writer as evidence that The L Word is now focused on careers.

I suspect this new focus on work is a reflection of the show's maturity. After all, at a certain point, rational motivations—like paying the mortgage—overpower our libidos.

Well, I grant you the ladies of The L Word do work, but frankly, they have worked since Season 1! That's what lesbians do! Probably a lot of straight women work, too, right? And did you catch all the sex that happened in the workplace? I don't think rational motivations were overpowering for, um, Bette (and her student as well as her co-worker), Shane (who hooked up with her buddy "mom"), Jenny (who tried to seduce the girlfriend of a critic who panned her book), Max (who tried to date his boss's daughter) or Helena (who is dating the woman who is funding her job as a gambler). But, OK, I like the fact that the women work, too.

My favorite part:

No matter, we can leave all the rumpy-pumpy to the girls on South of Nowhere. They're still too young to worry about work.

Ha! Hahahahahahaha. (That was a sarcastic laugh.)

My conclusions? The divide between straight and queer women is vast and deep. This saddens me a bit. I grant you that I may be an anomaly: I live in San Francisco, I'm a lesbian who works for a lesbian website, and the vast majority of my friends are gay (I think I know about two straight people). But damn, I didn't know we were that different. What do you folks think?