Anyone with anything to sell is obsessed with the quest for better customer data. Would viewers prefer James Bond to be blond and English or dark haired and Scottish? Will toothpaste sell better if the person in the ad is wearing a blue shirt or a red shirt? What buzzwords and pictures will sway undecided voters toward one party or another? In a perfect marketing world, with enough data, much of life could be boiled down to the exact inputs necessary to produce exactly the desired customer response. However, accurate, complete data for most things is impossible—too many factors are unpredictable or variable—but that doesn’t prevent the illusion of one day finding the magical formula for success.
Focus groups are often used to determine drivers of popularity in marketing before a product is released and after the product is released consumers provide additional feedback in the form of actual consumption patterns. This feedback loop is one of many components of the entertainment industry, and the cumulative data of viewership trends provide a treasure trove of information about what viewers like and don’t like. Obviously, a better understanding of the audience of a movie or TV show will enable producers to make tweaks that will maintain and expand viewership in among the target demographic. Put plainly: give the people what they want and they’ll keep coming back for more.
So what do queer women want? Or rather, who do they want? I have sometimes wondered: if a full analysis were done of every highly popular queer female character on the big and small screens, would a picture of an “ideal” lesbian character emerge? Are there cross-cutting traits among these characters that if combined into a single character would predict the certain and fantastic success of that character? The question is not just philosophical because if yes, studios could use this set of traits as a template for their queer female characters and have an instant hit with the queer female community. It would be a win-win for everyone. Frankie Emily Porter-Rosenberg, the queer female community’s newest darling, coming soon to a screen near you.
In an amateur effort to find out whether, using some easily available data, it would be possible to even begin reaching preliminary conclusions about the drivers of a character’s popularity, I did my own informal analysis. Using our Top 50 Lesbian and Bisexual Characters survey in 2010 (of which I looked at the top 25), a Best Lesbian and Bisexual Character poll in 2013 and a Best Actress in a Queer Role poll in 2016 that probably can be viewed as a proxy for character popularity (I took the top 16 of each of the latter two). Together, these three reader polls represent six years and 57 queer female fan favorites. The lists don’t represent the ultimate, authoritative fan favorites of the global queer female community, but they probably do in general represent popularity trends in the queer female community.