So, during Thanksgiving vacay, I had a slight cold and was unable to sleep. When I am unable to sleep, one of my fave things to do is to watch bad lesbian* movies. Seriously, I have seen them all.
(*I use lesbian only here as opposed to "lesbian and bisexual" because it has been my TV and movie-watching experience that shows with self-described bisexual characters are even more rare than those with lesbian characters. Thus, for me to label this post as being about "lesbian and bisexual" movies seems inaccurate and, ironically, invisibilizing. Kind of like when certain magazines, blogs, and travel guides are labeled "gay and lesbian" even though they're obviously only targeted toward gay men).
So, what makes a bad lesbian movie, you might be asking? (Oh, by the way, this post is navel-gazey. In fact, I thought of it while in the throes of fever so there's that. Just move along now if that's not your thing.)
In my humble opinion, bad lesbian movies:
A) Are Overly-Political
I know, that coming from me. LOL.
Yet, despite what one might assume by reading my radicalesbianfeminazioogedyboogedy blog, I think some lesbian movies and shows go a little overboard with the political themes, so much so that the activism feels contrived. I like a movie that is progressive and social justice-y, but in an understated way.
See, I get political burnout pretty easily, so, when I watch TV and movies, I often just want to be entertained. Although, I should also note that I'm not easily entertained by much of the hetero-dude-centric mainstream TV and movies. I should also note that I don't, actually, go out actively looking for things to get annoyed about. That just happens to be a natural consequence of watching the aforementioned bits of "entertainment."
As my Netflix suggestion queue likes to explain, I have a strong preference for "Gay and Lesbian Movies With a Strong Female Lead." If you put the word "shallow" at the beginning of that phrase, that would probably be a more accurate descriptor. Unfortunately, such shows are few and far between.
Think: D.E.B.S. and Imagine Me & You, but NOT Itty Bitty Titty Committee (srsly its portrayal of radical feminist lesbians? Granted the characters are supposed to be teenagers, but still, I am clearly way too boring of a feminist).
Anyway, my point is that my favorite scenes in The L Word were not, say, of the characters forming a human chain in front of Bette's "obscene" art gallery, they were of the gang just hanging out in the coffee shop talking about ladies. And, well, isn't women talking with women about other women already way subversive in TV and film?
B) Use Lesbians To Drive the Development the Heterosexual Characters
The movie that inspired this post, which I watched while sick mind you, was Love on the Side. It starts off okay. A new lady, Linda, comes to a small town. She's hot and, despite garnering the attention of the local straight dudes, she only has eyes for the waitress at a local diner, Eve.
Linda, you see, is an Avowed Lesbian. In a small town. Complications ensue. Dun dun dun.
Eve is heterosexual and totally into this asshole guy named Jeff. But, when Linda expresses her interest in Eve, Eve appears to become kind of.... curious. Linda looks like a model and unlike Jeff, she is smart, is nice to Eve, and she encourages Eve's art hobby. (As a tangential note, Eve makes several comments about herself that indicate we're supposed to view her as fat and kind of homely. I think "shorter than Linda, not fat, and conventionally attractive" would be a more accurate descriptor of Eve, but whatevs).
Anyway, the movie continues with Eve and Linda getting to know one another better, with Linda chain-smoking a lot (it's how she stays so thin and hot, apparently), with Linda posing nude for Eve to draw her (which, admittedly, Linda initiatied in kind of a creepy and forward manner by randomly taking off her shirt when the two were alone together, because lesbians totally do that all the time!), and with Eve and Linda deciding to go on a double-date with Jeff and another guy. As two heterosexual couples, not two same-sex couples.
I don't know. It's all very strange. Probably because it involves an orgy of unreciprocated lust. Eve wants Jeff, Jeff wants Linda, and Linda wants Eve. (No one wants the poor sap Linda took on the double-date).
Because this all takes place in a small town, the viewer is led to anticipate that maybe this movie is Eve's coming-out story. Like, maybe she'll finally realize that Jeff has very few redeeming qualities and that, by comparison, Lesbian Linda From The City is quite the catch. But, about halfway through, we learn that nope, it's not that story at all.
Because actually, this story is Jeff The Asshole's story. See, at a certain point, Jeff realizes that Linda really is a lesbian, really isn't interested in him, and that he really doesn't have a chance with her. After Linda comes to the same realization about Eve's heterosexuality, Linda gives Jeff a good talking to about how great Eve is and how he doesn't even appreciate Eve's greatness. (At this point, I had taken another shot of Robitussin, but still, I wasn't sure what was so awesome about Eve. I mean, she's okay and I would be nice to her and stuff. But I also wasn't understanding Linda's obsession, which seems to have sprung forth from the aether within seconds of meeting her).
Anyway. So, naturally, after spending much of his adult life alternately ignoring and being a jerk to Eve, Jeff begins modeling his behavior after Linda's and starts Being Nice to Eve. For instance, he thinks it's swell that she's such a good cook and then he even takes down the playboy pinups hanging on his wall. He becomes a really great guy, basically.
These realizations and shifts in behavior seemingly occur overnight, so it's not clear what motivated them. Nor is it clear what happened to Linda from about 3/4 of the movie onward. She seems to have hooked up with some other random lady in town and they are last seen wearing matching waitress outfits at the diner. So.... I guess Linda is over Eve and she now lives and works with her new lesbian lover? (Insert U-haul joke here). Who knows. Who cares?
Because, well, what's important to remember here is that Lesbian Linda totally helped some straight guy get the lady in the end (and, I tell ya, there just are not enough movies where the guy gets the lady in the end). Because: Jeff and Eve now live together in New York and are probably going to get married! And bonus: not only did Lesbian Linda help Jeff become a Nice Guy who will treat Eve right, she encouraged Eve to go to art school and gave her the confidence to actually move from her small town to the Big City!
It's like someone started to produce a lesbian movie and then halfway through decided to turn it into a bad heterosexual romantic comedy in hopes of it Appealing To A Wider Audience Base. Which is too bad, because I think many viewers would have actually found an Eve/Linda romance-coming-out-story more appealing, truer to the characters, and more compelling than Asshole Becomes Nice, Gets Lady ( + We Have a Hot Lesbian To Look At).
C) Result In the Death of a Lesbian Character
I'm not okay with the death of Tara Maclay, but at some point I would like to address the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliche and what is and is not offensive about it in a post of its own.
Since I'm too lazy to do that today, I'll just leave it at this: Writers and producers have to be careful about killing off lesbian characters and also, I would argue, Strong Female Leads in general. Until either are given more representation in TV and film, people are going to react strongly to the deaths of these characters.
My reaction to Tara dying in Buffy* wasn't so much that "It's always wrong to kill lesbian characters!" but more "Can't we just have one tiny little fucking non-tragic depiction of a lesbian relationship in life?"
*Also, do things still need spoiler alerts if they happened a decade ago?