“Skins” Retro Recap (3.07): “JJ”


Hey, you. Oh, you. You hung in there for these series three recaps even though this one is wildly late, and for that I offer you my three-fold explanation for its tardiness: 1) I write these recaps in the middle of the night, mostly, because I have a billion other deadlines to meet, and new shows and news stories take precedence, and also sometimes so does sleep. 2) I was finishing writing a book about American foreign policy in the ’90s, and the energy leap from Rwanda and Bosnia to James Jimmy Cook is as hard on the body as time travel. 3) The last time I wrote about JJ, I got the hate-iest hate-mail to ever be hated, and I’ve been reluctant to stick my face in the way of a moving fist again.

See, because what I did was say how much I like JJ and how it makes perfect sense to me that Emily shags him in this episode. The funniest hate mail I got wondered if I sleep naked in a pile of cash or what, since I am clearly on AfterEllen and E4’s payroll, which: Tell that to the duct tape holding my watch together, for starters. And the most infuriating hate mail I got — and I got a dozen of these babies — told me to stop making excuses for the Skins writers, because clearly the only reason Emily shags JJ is because "some straight guy" yanked off his straightness all over the script.

And I gotta tell you: There are few things in the world that piss me off like that kind of myopic, ill-informed, arcane clubhouse-think. If that’s your thing, that whole "boys can’t make good stories about lesbians" thing, grab a pen and paper ’cause I’ve got some names for you. Ready? Bryan Elsley, Jamie Brittain, Jack Thorne, Ed Hime, Malcom Campbell. Creators, writers and Keepers of Keys and Hearts in the Land of Naomily. Dudes, the lot of them. Now stick that piece of paper in your denim ideas bag and jot down this: Joss Whedon, Terry Moore, Greg Rucka, J.H. Williams III, Michael Cunningham, Ol Parker. Again: dudes. And here’s what you’re looking for: Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Strangers in Paradise, Batwoman in Detective Comics, The Hours, Imagine Me & You.

Now, after you’ve watched and read all that glorious content, pop in your L Word season three DVD — lesbians: written by lesbians, for lesbians — and come back here and tell me only gay women should be allowed to write queer characters.

I’m not having a knee-jerk reaction to the criticism, it’s just that I wasn’t trained to write about TV. I studied history at university, and I’ve spent years and years of my life following the thread of the Them Vs. Us mentality, and it never ends well. Ever. Ever, ever, ever. No matter how or why you apply it. And it’s ultimately ironic that a person would use that kind of argument on this particular episode when one of Emily Fitch’s finest moments is when she refuses to let JJ — someone who needs labels to unravel the mystery of causation — corner her with a single definition.

And I’m also not being flippant. I’ve had months to think about this, to come at it from every possible angle. I mean, I know we’re not computers; we’re Human Beans. Our emotional output is very rarely based on raw data or hard facts. We all have perception filters determined by our past experiences and stereotypes and levels of education and economic classes and ethnicity and religious upbringings and a whole host of other things. And so if you’re watching Skins series three in real-time and you see Emily hop into bed with JJ so soon after her night at the lake with Naomi, your mind jumps to Tina Kennard from TLW and Lindsay from Queer as Folk, and every American show that promised a gay character, and then turned her into Sweeps exploitation. And you’re like, "No, godda–it! Not Emily Fitch! She’s too special!"

I get that. Oh, how I get that. But we’re past that now; we’re on the other side. You’ve seen the truth and beauty of Naomi and Emily’s whole story. So, why are we still saying "straight guys blah blah whatever"? Is it because we’re a minority, the lesbian community? Yeah? Well, here’s a minority group for you: People on the Autism spectrum. Take off your Gay Goggles for a second and imagine you’ve got Asperger’s. Imagine you want a life like a normal person, whatever that means, and watch JJ through those glasses. (And I don’t just mean do that with JJ. Do that always. Do that with everything.)

One of the great things about Skins is that it treats every character the same. And why should it not? Life punches us all in the nuts sometimes, we connect the dots from fuck up to fuck up, we live. If you want something easy, watch 90210. If you want something real, hang on — because JJ is about to make some magic.

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