Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk: Happy Valentine’s?

It’s been a couple of days since the episode aired and it’s still running circles in my mind. I thought I would have it all out of my system with my lengthy post about Mon-El, but I realized too late that I disregarded many things from the latest episode that bothered me. That’s why I’m coming back to it now.

mrmrs1Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk incited many a fan’s already simmering anger into a hot, white flame. Some of that was because Mon-El (Chris Wood) was EVERYWHERE, and it was annoying. After the show, I actually sat and wondered whether he’s had more screen time than Kara (Melissa Benoist) – I don’t think he did (yet), but he came close. If you don’t see anything wrong with that, let me remind you that the show is called Supergirl, not Krypton Girl & Daxam Boy Saving the World (or alternatively Krypton Girl Cleaning Up Daxam Boy’s Messes as that’s closer to what happens).

Yes, still salty. And not just about the ever-present intergalactic fuckboy (it’s my favorite insult for Mon-El; I’m not sure who coined it, but that person has my everylasting love). Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk should have been a light-hearted comedy with superromantic undertones, but turned into The Manchild Show with superawkward undertones of double standards. How could the powers that be plus writers have messed this up so badly when the premise was so promising? I’m still shaking my head in wonderment.

When I first heard about the Valentine’s Day episode, it was stated that it would center around Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Maggie (Floriana Lima). They’d have some trouble, but would ultimately celebrate their love for each other. That’s how I remember an early press release. That was weeks before the episode was about to air. I wasn’t superexcited because I already had an inkling that mrmrs2the episode would also include some intense Karamel bonding (because that’s how these things usually go). Still, I wasn’t overly worried either because this first press release stated that Alex and Maggie would be in the middle of this (with possible inclusion of some of Maggie’s backstory which I was and still am dying to see more of).

As the weeks passed, it got more and more obvious that there would indeed be some Karamel, that there was going to be a guy called Mr. Mxyzptlk (Peter Gadiot) raising havoc, but I was still not worried. Sanvers was going strong, I was good.

The episode aired and the collective Sanvers fandom scratched its head: that’s it? There were about, what, nine minutes worth of Sanvers scenes? And you call this ‘centers around’ – whoever thought this up should consult a dictionary sometimes. But, okay, what was there was… very well-acted… some of it was touching, sweet, cute, romantic… not really sexy, though, was it? I mean, even the moment that could have been sexy (Alex donning a sexy black nighty? my heart skipped some beats there, seriously) kinda turned awry because of Maggie’s issues with the romantic holiday. It’s not her fault of course, it was part of the story.

Or maybe, it’s part of a bigger problem the queer fans of the show are becoming aware of now – the double standard regarding heterosexual pairings and homosexual pairings. And the episode was a good example of that, ending as it did with Mon-El climbing on top of mrmrs5Kara without much ado while Maggie and Alex are always shown kissing standing up with all hands accounted for.

Don’t get me wrong, the way Maggie and Alex’s relationship progresses is all shades of adorable and sweet, it makes us all swoon. It’s lovely. But even after ‘Maggie spent the night,’ fans seemed unsure if Alex and Maggie had had sex. I never questioned that because the scene in Supergirl Lives prominently shows an unmade bed and that, dear fellow shippers, translates to sex having been had. But the confusion is there and one has to wonder why. The answer is that the relationship doesn’t really progress beyond the sweet, the adorable – not on the screen. We hardly get to see them kiss, but even when they do they’re not exactly making out.

Now, I know what comes next. The big argument of the ‘family show.’ There have been few instances on Supergirl where people engaged in any kind of romantic or sexual relations, I’m aware of that. The instances where these occured were more comically woven into the storyline with Kara getting and ear- or eye-full. But fact is, these instances showed straight pairings (Winn and his Banshee-girlfriend, Siobhan [Italia Ricci], and Mon-El and Eve Teschmacher [Andrea Brooks]). When it comes to intimacy between Alex and Maggie, sexuality it reduced to a few kisses and touches above the waist. It’s as if the actresses have been given schematics of anatomical hot-zones – may touch: hair, face, neck, arms, foreheads; under certain circumstances: waist (but only when hugging or dancing); may not touch: anything else; plus: hands must be visible at all times.

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While at first, this was okay because they were at the beginning of their relationship and everything was slow and sweet, now it becomes awkward. Especially considering the progression of intimacy between Kara and Mon-El in the latest episode, and also Winn’s relationship with his potential alien girlfriend, Lyra (Tamzin Merchant); they very openly made out on top of the bar. This double standard shouldn’t exist. Same-sex couples are not inherently more sexual and do not need to be policed into degrees of sexuality that may be okay for exhibition on a family show. This is homophobia, it’s also bullcrap! Gay teens are watching this and they notice that a difference is being made as to what kind of affections they’re allowed to show in public compared to heterosexual couples. I don’t care about the sensibilities of overprotective parents: love is love. If you advocate for equality, you need to show these relationships as equal; there’s no way to do this half-assed.

And while we’re on the topic of Alex and Maggie: do they still have jobs? Or were they maybe fired because they played hookie that one time in Supergirl Lives? I seem to remember a time when Alex worked for the D.E.O., but lately her whole existence revolves around her relationship. While I love most scenes involving Sanvers (who am I kidding, I love them ALL), I don’t feel comfortable with Alex being cut from the work she usually does with Supergirl. For one, her job has always been important to Alex and she’s good at it, for another, they’re using Alex’ seeming absence to insert Mon-El into that position where he’s the one to help Kara, where he becomes the strongest bond and replaces Alex. I don’t have to spell out to you how fu**ed up that is, do I? Remember when Kara voiced her concern that Alex prioritizes her new relationship over their sisterly bond? Of course you do because that was just two weeks ago. Now the show does the same with Mon-El, and it doesn’t seem to raise any red flags with them.

Alex and Maggie’s relationship seems forced into corners of twosome-ness, restricted by unvoiced rules of touching with a random kitchen counter forced between them to contain the Gay. Is this how queer people live? Is this how straight people suppose we live or want us to live? Is this the only way they feel comfortable with us being around at all?

Okay, this post got deeper than I thought it would. Useless to say, I got my issues with how Alex and Maggie are represented by the show. And I feel this is a good time to point out sanvers12that my issues are with the show runners and writers, not with the actors. Chyler Leigh and Floriana Lima show very nuanced characterizations of the characters and their relationship, even if the material is not always up to par. I was very moved by Maggie’s emotional explanation about her coming out and that was due to Lima’s acting. The scene on the whole was way too short to have any real impact. I hope they’ll revisit the issue on a later date with Alex being able to show the same kind of support that Maggie has given her from the start.

As I said, the Sanvers scenes weren’t really at the core of the episode, there was just not enough of them to compete with the couple that took center stage: Karamel. Insert your argument here that as Kara is the lead of the show her relationship should be at the center of the show, if you must – I said my piece about that. Now, this relationship is so fresh they didn’t even have a confirming kiss yet, but are interrupted by Mr. Mxyzptlk declaring his love for Kara. From the promos, I figured he would be a funny side-plot to bring Karamel closer together, but, ho boy, that was so not what happened.

The problem with that whole storyline starts with Mxyzptlk basically being an intergalactic stalker. As many of the villains so far on the show, he’s come from the Superman side of DC and while I haven’t read up on what caused him to first emerge and test Superman’s patience, I’m almost sure that he wasn’t making advances on the man of mrmrs3steel like he is here on Kara. You know, it’s kinda different when you’re a girl and some imp of the fifth dimension watches you while you change into your supersuit… Think about this for a little while before we move on.

So, Mxy is a stalker, Mon-El was right about that at least, but how does that help Mon-El’s own misogynist case? If Mxy was supposed to be the tool to bring Kara and Mon-El closer together, someone screwed up because most of the episode, Karamel was fighting. And not in a cute bantering way about little nothings they made up in their heads because they’re still unsure about the relationship. These were essential questions, hashed out so violently and annoyingly I had to drown some of it out with painful groans. Banter I get, but this was war between two people who don’t seem to like each other much. Mon-El accused Supergirl of being full of herself and not listening to him and she gave back about him being controlling and full of male ego.

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Well, kids, I hate to break it to you, but maybe you should have a sit-down and ask yourselves if these characteristics you find in the other are not a dealbreaker? You know, I’m not naive, at least not when it comes to cultural theory and tv, I know what this episode was supposed to do, the kind of mechanisms it was supposed to set in motion. As I said: Mxy tool to bring supercute straight couple together. While the end-result was somehow achieved, everything about their get-together was violently toxic and wrong! Mon-El posed as a slightly less dangerous version of Mxyzptlk himself. While Mxy tried to blackmail Kara into marriage with him, Mon-El is still pouting his way into Kara’s pants. He’s accusing her of things that are preposterous, doesn’t listen to her (though he promised he would) when it comes to his education as hero; he’s behaving alternately like a spoilt brat and a caveman and while Kara called him out for it (at least in this episode), she still saw no problem with getting hot and heavy on the couch after Mxy was finally gone.

You have to wonder if the writers know who Supergirl is, at her core? There’s no denying that Mon-El doesn’t know who she is because his case of the jealousies was so insane I don’t even wanna mention it (but I will come back to that later). Mon-El seems exactly the kind who accuses other people of things he would do if places were reversed. Maybe he wanted to be swept off his feet by Mxy? I don’t know. At this point, I’m so confused by this Karamel relationship and the mere existence of Mon-El on the show… I might either take a chill pill and ignore that whole part or stop watching. It’s fucking insane!

Another insane thing: how did Mon-El even get to work in the field with Kara? Yes, I saw those training montages, too; cute. But I also remember Kara being shot at with missiles and Alex having to train two years before J’onn let her out into the field. And Mon-El has made his share of mistakes which usually stem from not listening to Kara who’s kind of his superior, right? But somehow he gets to have an opinion. And his opinion on dealing with Mxyzptlk is killing him? Yeah, it seems like an especially good idea to let someone like that work for the D.E.O. Or not.

alex-kara-winn1I’m being sarcastic and you know why: the inconsistency within the basic workings of the show annoy me. Those inconsistencies usually occur where Mon-El is concerned. I know that some people are saying that Mon-El is still learning and all… but while he’s learning, people are dying. And yes, I quoted James back at these people because so far, Guardian has done a much better job protecting people than Mon-El who supposedly has some superpowers of his own.

Interestingly, in the comics Mon-El (and his differently-named variations) has the same powers as Superman. The only difference between them is that Mon-El is allergic to lead, not Kryptonite. They went a different way on the show, probably to not undermine Kara as the lead (which happened anyway), but maybe also to tone down Mon-El’s overbearance. Remember when Mon-El woke and choked Kara and threw her through a glass wall? Yeah. We’re always told that men are stronger than women, it’s a statement we barely question until it’s proven wrong. Kara defeats Mon-El by the end of the episode (Welcome to Earth) and we learn in Survivors that his powers don’t equal hers.

It’s one of the things that puts a strain on their relationship in Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk. Mon-El is questioning Kara’s approach to dealing with Mxyzptlk, claiming that killing him is the only way. He questions her abilities, and – not for the first time – her motives. At the end of the episode, this all seems to come to the point that he’s jealous of Mxyzptlk, for him being able to give Kara things Mon-El can’t give her. But his behavior seems to show a lot more than just jealousy aimed at an imp who doesn’t stand a chance with Kara (seriously, Mon-El, have you met Kara? the girl who made it her goal in life to protect people? the girl who loves potstickers and ice cream and kitten videos?). His anger redirects itself at Kara because she doesn’t share his point of view, even though he is the self-declared expert on creatures like Mxyzptlk. Now, what could possibly hide behind that?

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A male ego, maybe? Some inherent supposition that as a man he’s better equipped to deal with Mxyzptlk? He actually says that he’s trying to protect Kara’s honor. Can we acknowledge how ironic that is, comical even? This is the girl of steal, buddy, you’re not equipped to defend any part of her. Not even the part you think you own now that you’re dating. Because she can do that herself! Jealousy is not a cute or romantic gesture boys and men show in protection of their lady loves. It speaks of an inherent believe that men own the woman/girl they’re dating and no other man (person?) has a right to her or her time or her attention. And one may wonder where Mon-El even got the notion of that believe. Isn’t he the man who only the week before claimed that the romantic entanglements on Daxam included the catchy motto: The more the merrier?

It’s insulting that the deeper you go into the Mon-El narrative, the more inconsistencies you discover. The more throw-away lines and concepts you discover. For example, Daxam’s romantic and sexual culture seems to adapt to any kind of situation the writers of the show come up with. In The Darkest Place, Mon-El tells James and Winn that on Daxam they had arranged marriages, in Luthors we have that line about polyamorous love (or at least the implication, I’m pretty sure they didn’t think this through), and in Mr. & Mrs. Mxyzptlk, Mon-El claims Kara as his lady and how dare you even talk to her, she’s mine! or something.

Is this just bad writing or don’t they really care about what they write about Mon-El? As I wrote in my other post, there’s a sense of schizophrenia surrounding Mon-El where he’s far bigger than his story allows, where there seems to be a meta-voice calling him out for who he represents as a stereotype (for example, when Mxyzptlk calls him ‘tall, dark, and blandsome’). I get a sense that the writers don’t care about or for him which would be sad if I did care, but is ultimately disruptive because the storytelling gets really bumpy. Inside the narrative, these inconsistencies could probably only be accounted for if Mon-El lied about mostly everything, outside the narrative… I don’t even know… is it bad writing? A character that was forced onto the writers and now they treat him like the scum he is? Is it gonna be explained or will we just have to live with Mon-El for the rest of the show? Is he set up to fulfill his comic-self’s narrative and get forgotten in the phantom zone?

The one storypoint (I’m not calling it a storyline because there’s not enough of it to call it a line) Kara has this season seems to be her fear of losing the people she loves. In loving Mon-El, is Kara set up to lose him to lead poisoning? Will she be the one forced to deliver him to the phantom zone once he’s poisoned or is this part of Mon-El’s story done and over with? I’m speculating, but since Mon-El isn’t really much of a character, could it be that he’ll just be a plot device the writers drag along until they plan to use him?

I have another speculation for you: regarding Winn’s new love interest and his lack of luck mrmrs6in love. The way he met Lyra feels like a certain set-up for me. Winn is attacked by random alien thugs for no reason and then rescued by a female alien who then shows an interest in him? I feel like those three were working together to get Winn’s attention. Maybe they’re looking for Mon-El (that intergalactic search party/death squad we’ve seen in Supergirl Lives?)? Maybe they want a shot at Supergirl?

I think I’m all thought out now. The Valentine’s episode wasn’t really my cup of tea. I’m also questioning the decision to have all the main players (except James) get coupled off. The superhero-tale gets drowned in all the love drama and since I didn’t see the same happening on Arrow, I wonder if this has to do with the hero being a woman (please, let me be wrong because if The CW pulls out this fucking trope, I’m outta here!).

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Well, thoughts and comments are welcome. I don’t claim to be all-knowing, this is my interpretation of what happened, and you’re welcome to disagree.

 

 

 

 

 

Mon-El: disruptive character

Mon-El of Daxam… Yes, this is another blog post about the character on The CW show, Supergirl, and another unfavorable one.mon-el1

It’s not about the comic character which I have just now looked up and find little fault with. I just wanted to have a look at where he comes from, creatively, what happens to him and how he connects to Supergirl in the comics. There’s little on the latter. There seems to only be one instance where they meet and, like early on in the show, it’s a rather violent encounter.

But let’s talk about the one that insults so many sensibilities, the bone of contention, if you will, for something that already feels like fandom war.

Mon-El’s (Chris Wood) arrival was already foreshadowed in the season 1 finale, when a pod – much like Kara’s (Melissa Benoist) – falls to earth, just as the extended Danvers family was celebrating having survived a year of herodom. This also marks the show’s switch from CBS to The CW, a network that’s also showing other superhero shows from the DC Universe (multiverse?).

This switch brought several changes: Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart) left National City (it seems this is due to Calista Flockhart not wanting to leave L.A. for an extended amount of time), Lucy Lane (Jenna Dewan Tatum) disappeared, but I guess you could say she got replaced by someone with the same initials: Lena Luthor (Katie McGrath). Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh) turned out gay and got a girlfriend, another new supporting character, Maggie Sawyer (Floriana Lima). And Kara broke up with James Olsen (Mehcad Brooks) with karolsen1a completely random ‘I’m trying to find myself as Supergirl’-explanation before turning around and… well, encountering a new love interest: Mon-El of Daxam.

Now, all of these changes are important. And some of these changes might already lessen the appeal of the show (I, for one, miss Cat Grant; I’m happy about Alex coming out and finding love; I guess I’m good with Lena Luthor, she seems to have more of a story than Lucy did, though I miss that character too) for some. Personally, I was super-good with all that was happening around Alex and maybe I didn’t pay too much attention to what was developing on the Kara-front.

Early in season 2, people started to complain that Kara was losing her appeal as hero because her only storyline seemed to revolve around Mon-El. I didn’t find him too important at first, but as he was given more and more screentime, I got annoyed. Because he wasn’t interesting. His storyline of being new to earth was amusing at first, but nothing to write (home) about. He was just a dude like we’ve seen before.

Now, it didn’t take a rocket scientist to gather that Mon-El was set up as Kara’s love interest. I was just hoping against hope that they wouldn’t do that, that they wouldn’t just dump Mon-El on us and expect us to like him because he was male and straight and white and cis. Fact is: Mon-El was completely unnecessary.

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Look at the show at the end of season 1: Kara has Alex as her greatest supporter, her best friend; James as a love interest, someone who supports her and is just as adorably giddy to fall in love with her as she is at falling for him; Winn (Jeremy Jordan) was a little bit of a fuckboy, but still a friend – a friend who sometimes screwed up, a nerd friend, and a white dude; Cat was her mentor, J’onn (David Harewood) a stand-in dad; and then there was Eliza (Helen Slater), a supportive mom. Add random villains-of-the-week, an absentee cousin who sometimes helped her out. The show had all the pieces.

I’m not saying that the show should cling to all its components because they worked. But I wish the show runners had exhibited a little more discretion in its changes. Because shooting down James as love interest just to introduce another love interest whose only qualifier is being white is fucking racist! And the shippers of Karolsen are right to be pissed about that. From the beginning, Kara and James had great chemistry, a friendship that grew, hearteyes, the works. The CW could have at least waited to see how it played out between them. This early on the show, probably nobody thought they’d be together forever, maybe they could’ve been set up as endgame with a long interval of… whatever happens when you’re that young. But the network decided that it was better to bring in… a generic white, straight dude (and don’t even give me that line that on Daxam everybody is basically pansexual because ‘the more the merrier’ – I’m not buying that shit, because it was a throw-away line that stands in direct contrast to what Mon-El said in The Darkest Place about arranged marriages).

A generic white, straight dude without any merit other than being a love interest. And while his undeveloped skills at becoming an earthling may have been moderately entertaining at first, they soon became tedious as he was given more screen time than his underdeveloped character deserved.

I’m aware that there’s a backstory waiting to happen at some point. But the show runners keep putting it off and Mon-El doesn’t get any more interesting without it. (This actually seems to be a pattern, since they’re doing the same with Maggie. Lena Luthor has been given more backstory so far than Mon-El and Maggie put together.)

His lack of character, story or relevance are already off-putting enough, but the show is making Kara revolve around his (lack of) story. He seems to be going through phases that kara-supergay1need her immediate assistance: first call-home-but-not-communicate phase, then being-daxam-enemy-of-kryptonians-everywhere, then interested-in-Kara-but-basically-an-ass, then now-wanting-to-be-a-hero-to-get-into-Kara’s-pants, then still-being-an-ass-but-now-they’re-selling-it-as-being-cute-or-something (I haven’t figured this one out yet, probably because it’s the shittiest piece of crap I’ve encountered on any show for awhile).

I’m not sure what the show runners are trying to accomplish at this point because they’re sending mixed messages. While the tropes and themes and stereotypes we know read that Mon-El and Kara will be a couple, banter and be cute and loving, the sheer truth of what is being said and done seems to contradict all that. Because one is perfecty clear: Kara is not happy about falling for Mon-El – if she is indeed falling because it just doesn’t feel like love. It’s not generic, it’s forced, it’s fucking painful to watch how she warps herself into someone who could be with this needy boychild. If what happened at the D.E.O. in Mr. and Mrs. Mxyzptlk is supposed to be banter then some of the writers need serious lessons in how to write banter because Kara and Mon-El were outright yelling at each other. That was a disturbing example of what that relationship starts out with, I dread to see how it progresses. And some of the things being said about Mon-El by James and Mxyzptlk (Peter Gadiot) seem to echo fan-sentiment too blatantly to be completely random or accidental.

It almost seems that Mon-El doesn’t just split the fandom, the show itself tears itself apart over him. Maybe because he’s not a supporting character like everybody else, supporting in their function toward the main character. Maybe he’s a disrupting character. Not an antagonist, but a character that changes the fabric of the show so much that he destroys it? The show is called Supergirl, it prides itself on its feminism, a female-positive, catgrant1female-empowering, female-supporting show. And yet here we have a character who’s trying to possess the female lead, gets jealous and pouty until she attends to his needs. His half-hearted attempts at adapting to Earthly cultures and habits have taken up at least half of the season while aliens who’re just as foreign as he is, without the benefit of being able to pass (on sight) as Earthling, seem to be adapting quite well.

And just as food-for-thought: has anyone realized how he tips the gender-balance of the show toward male? You can most easily watch this in Luthors, when Alex comes out to the superfriends… you have Kara sit at the table with James, J’onn, and Winn; then Alex and Maggie join them and the numbers are even – until Mon-El brings more drinks and is included into the inner workings of this quasi family. Why do show runners feel the need to do that? It’s a female-lead show, why not have at least an equal number of female protagonists, if not a greater number (*cough, cough* like in season 1). But then frail male egos among viewers would implode, right?

You can now accuse me of being salty. I am. What they’re doing to Supergirl (both as a show and a character) is not right. And on the note of being salty: this is not about me (or other fans) wanting Kara to be with Lena or Cat, or just basically being a bisexual/lesbian. While I wouldn’t mind either of these scenarios, I’m not really invested in Kara’s love life. She could be with a doorknob if she only had great chemistry with it and could still be a superhero, still have emotional connections that extended beyond having a boyfriend. This character is important for future generations of women and girls, just as Xena and Buffy were important to my generation. I hate to see young girls and women being let down by a female hero that should make them feel good about themselves. Sure, Xena and Buffy weren’t perfect, but it was never argued that they were the heroes of their own show (not seriously, anyhow, Buffy had her moments, but she usually came out of her boyfriend-trouble a tougher chick).

We hate Mon-El because he lacks substance; because he’s misogynistic and undermines the essence of Supergirl, both as a character and a show; because he’s not good enough for Kara Zor-El, not a good match; because he’s like white bread – bland, tasteless; because we’ve seen characters like him a gazillion times and are sick of the likes of him; because we’re expected to like him despite his lack of appeal; because his entitlement enrages us; because in defending him, some fans show how much it is about him and not about Kara being happy; because he’s completely and utterly useless and mainly a meninist claim on a female-positive show. We don’t hate him because Kara being with him keeps her from being with a woman (we’re queer fans, we never expect ONE happy same-sex couple on a show, much less two; and while some of us may ship Kara with a woman, we’re all aware that there’s snowball’s chance in hell of it happening; believe me, we’re used to that kind of disappointment).

And to those who will now undoubtedly ask me why I still watch the show if I hate it so much: I don’t hate the show, I love the show. And as someone who loves the show, I want it to be its best. Parts of it are so good they make me cry, other parts are so bad… they also make me cry. Part of being a fan is to criticize one’s fave where it’s wrong – and not being persecuted for it by the rest of the fandom. I have a right to criticize because it’s my show too.

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[On a different note: I’m aware that this post sounds like I see nothing wrong with Supergirl as a show beyond Mon-El being part of it. This is not so, and I’m planning on adressing some other issues at a later date – if I decide to keep watching the show.]

 

Of three white dudes and female casualties

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On Tuesday I watched one of my favorite tv characters die. Just minutes later, I defended her death on Tumblr. Today is Friday and I’m no longer willing to defend a woman’s death on tv.

poi9This is to say, of course, if Root’s (Amy Acker) death actually takes – I’m a Xenite, I know how these things sometimes go.

If you’re a tv junkie like me, you have probably heard about the tendency of tv makers this year to kill their queer female characters. I’m not even sure where the number is at right now, but with the latest addition of Root, well, you got me there. I didn’t watch any of the other shows where queer female deaths occured, but I do watch Person of Interest – and with only three episodes left, I will watch it end for sure.

To me, it’s one of the best written shows there is. If you look at how it all started, with two white dudes saving numbers from week to week. Then came Root and the Machine suddenly became vulnerable, hacked. And then the premise changed completely with a second A.I. – a more powerful A.I. – taking over… the story line is so compelling, and it all got so much worse that one couldn’t help but wondering if we’re not already there ourselves, with technology accompanying our every step.

And who could resist loving those characters. Given, I’m as always more interested in the female characters, but I also started to like Reese (Jim Caviezel) and Finch (Michael Emerson) early on. They tried so hard to make a difference, one number at a time. They could infuse a scene with necessary humor with just one look or a hand-off remark. And yet they didn’t lack depth as the show invited us to look into their pasts.

But what the show really needed – and the makers realized that – was a female character. poi6A strong, morally incorruptable female character. Joss Carter (Taraji P. Hanson) was that character. She was everything those boys (meanwhile there were three, even though Fusco [Kevin Chapman] wasn’t a main player yet) needed to keep them on track, to help, to criticize. She was a good guy where Finch and Reese’s organisation was a little shady.

And then she died. She was shot. She died a hero. And I thought to myself: why her? Why not Fusco? I mean, I accepted the fact that Reese and Finch were untouchable, even though both of them had plenty of times they could or maybe even should have died (‘should’ by probability, not because I don’t like them). But as the main characters of the show they’re untouchable. (As I said, I’m a Xenite. I grew up with a show that let its main characters die and die again. Same with Buffy, but I accepted that Person of Interest was not that kind of show.) But what about Fusco? He certainly wasn’t as likable as Carter. He wasn’t as instrumental to the story and with his corrupt past he was also a perfect sacrifice. He could have died saving Reese earning him a postmortem hero status. But it was Carter who died.

Yes, I know, Taraji P. Hanson went on to become the iconic Cookie Lyon on Empire but I was sad and I was angry, because I loved Joss Carter. Fortunately for the show, they’d introduced some other great female characters. Yes, I’m talking about Shaw (Sarah Shahi) and Root (Acker), but I’m also talking about Paige Turco’s Zoe Morgan. Her ‘disappearance’ was so gradual that we hardly even began to wonder why she was never seen again (and, yes, I’m aware of Turco’s role in The 100 – she went on to bigger things, too, and good for her).

poi8With Carter’s death, both Shaw and Root’s roles became bigger, their characters more important, more defined. Their relationship became one aspect of their characterization and it was an interesting and popular decision. They were canon – for about 5 seconds. Then Sameen was captured by the bad guys (and Sarah Shahi had her twins). Too little, too late? She could have been the queer character who died and started ‘We deserve better’ but she wasn’t. Because she didn’t die and the makers of POI made that clear by showing she was still alive – and held captive by Samaritan.

We were all elated. But there was also a piece of the show missing without her. Root’s sadness, the way everything grew over Team Machine’s head – they were desperate for Shaw who could save any day with her no-nonsense attitude and an eyeroll (plus some firepower but that goes without saying with Shaw). But somehow everybody survived that time… of course, in the case of Carl Elias (Enrico Colantoni) it was even more than that. We thought he was dead, but incredibly enough he wasn’t. Now, with our three white main dude characters we’re kinda used that they’re invincible, but why bring Elias back for another round, especially since his black counterpart, Dominic (Winston Duke), actually died? There’s no reason for this, really, other than it fit the storyline and he was white (and a bigger part of the story so far, I know).

I guess we can do a little math here if you want: Carter died, Fusco lived. Kara (Annie Parisse) died, Greer (John Nolan) lived. Quinn (Clarke Peters) was arrested and written off while his second Simmons (Robert John Burke) tortured us a little longer with his presence. Zoe (Turco) and Control (Camryn Manheim) were interesting supporting characters for a time but then written off, same with Grace (Carrie Preston). Martine (Cara Buono) and Dominic (Duke) died. If you add up – you were far more likely to disappear or get killed on this show if you were female and/or black. And then there was Leon Tao (Ken Leung) who acted as the comical relief in the first two seasons – never heard from again. There are more: Peter Collier (Leslie Odom Jr.), Cal Beecher (Sterling K. Brown), Alicia Corwin (Elizabeth Marvel).

Finch, Reese and Fusco lived through all 100 episodes (so far) – whether they’ll survive the finale, we’ll see. According to imdb.com, Amy Acker is still listed as Root until the final episode (though I think this might be a mistake and she’ll only appear as the Machine’s voice from now on – unless she’s indeed immortal), but she only appeared in 65 episodes.poi3

Looking at these number, I’m disappointed. It almost seems like Person of Interest fooled me into believing those great female characters had a greater impact on the show’s story than they actually did. Sarah Shahi only appeared in 47 episodes, not even half of the show, but her character seems so much more vital to what happened. But maybe that is the societal fallacy of how big women’s role is on tv. Maybe we all believe that when a woman talks half of the time in a conversation that she dominates it? I don’t know.

Person of Interest is a great show, well-written, with great characters, an evolving story. But it isn’t perfect as far as equal representation goes. It took one of my favorite tv characters from me on Monday (even though I watched it on Tuesday), and another with Joss Carter – a loss nobody seems to care about anymore, maybe because she wasn’t queer, maybe because she was black.

My current favorite show, and Person of Interest is that, is only exemplary of what is a main theme in Hollywood – films and tv alike. The main white dudes don’t die, minority characters are always at risk, female characters are expendable and rarely get their own show. If they do, it’s a show for women, because men couldn’t possibly be interested in all that drama. It kinda makes you miss the 90s, yeah?

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A Complicated History: Snow-White and the Queen

I am trying to remember how I looked at Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs (or Schneewittchen und die sieben Zwerge, as I came to know of it as a kid) before the most recent interpretations that have popped up on tv and the movies – and I can’t. The brothers Grimm are an important part of German culture and as I grew up in it, I was always aware of them but I can’t even remember if one of my parents read the fairy tales to me and somehow I don’t think so. Maybe someone did it in kindergarten, I’m not sure, but I always seemed to have known them (or some of them). And I’ve always seemd to have known about Snow-White, and in retrospect it actually seems one of the most important of all the Grimms’s fairy tales.

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It certainly is one I remember well. And I’m not talking about Disney’s interpretation, either, because I’m pretty aure I never watched the movie. And it confused the hell out of me when I heard people mention that the dwarfs had names and the prince kissed Snow-White awake because that’s simply NOT what happens in the original text. If you think about the things that Disney kept in the story, and the things that they changed, you certainly detect an agenda (one that keeps vanity in women very much alive and adds heterosexuality/true love to it) but that’s not what I want to discuss here. I want to talk about the relationship that makes this story relevant, the one that gives it meaning, a purpose: the one between Snow-White and the Queen, between a little girl and her stepmother, the one between two women destined to be adversaries, and between innocence and witchcraft.

While this post is merely an introduction to this topic, I want to look more closely at the following texts: the Disney movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)(as it is an important part of American culture, probably more so than the original fairy tale), Mirror Mirror (2012) and Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) which came out the same year (one as comedy, one as drama), and Once Upon a Time (2011), a tv show that has discussed the relationship between Snow White and the Queen (Regina Mills) for almost three years now, most elaborately (adding layers to both the story and the characters). Additional texts will be the original fairy tale in an English translation, Emma Donoghue’s interpretation of the story in Kissing the Witch and Snow White: A Tale of Terror, probably my favorite interpretation of the text as it is a horror movie.

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You may wonder at my fascination with this relationship, I have thought about this, too. But it is not only ‘my’ fascination, obviously, since Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of it either. The brothers Grimm have left us with a mere skeleton of a story: this happens, then this, and in the end this. They did not draw characters, putting up mere stereotypes to drive their lectures home. You are never told what happened to Snow-White’s father, he’s never mentioned beyond the fact that he marries a second time, you don’t know how Snow-White got along with the new mother before that woman’s envy of the girl’s beauty drove her to desperate measures (and let me remind you that Snow-White was seven at the time she exceeded her stepmother’s beauty). We don’t know how long she’s been living with the dwarfs or how long she lay dead in the glass coffin before the prince found her. These holes in the narrative can, have been and will be filled with new interpretations for a long time to come. And to build a whole tv show around this tale… yes, I am fascinated by ABC’s Once Upon a Time, I’m also frustrated with it and the way it handles some of its narratives. But at the center, there’s Snow White’s (Ginnifer Goodwin) tale, her relationship with Regina (Lana Parrilla), her stepmother, who wasn’t always evil, whom circumstances changed… and I’m going to talk about it at length.

You may have noticed that I sometimes write Snow-White and sometimes Snow White. Recent interpretations seem to have adopted the latter version but the translation of the fairy tale uses the first one. I will probably do the same, using the hyphoned version for the original text. It does make sense since to me she had been Schneewittchen before she became Snow-White. Some of you may also know that there is a second Snow-White in Grimms’s tales but I will not concern myself with her as in the German version she is actually called Schneeweißchen and is not the same character.

I think this is all I wanted to say in this introduction. I hope I will be able to shed some light on this relationship, or at least discuss it knowledgable. I feel like I should begin with the Disney film but I still haven’t watched it… we’ll see.

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The Meta of Pitch Perfect: the Shower Scene

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That infamous shower scene. A discussion of the movie would not be complete without at least mentioning it. Its function within the movie is obvious and yet, as a mere plot device, the movie could have done without it. The scene is unconventional on different levels and the fact that it has made it into the script (and ultimately into the movie) is probably due to one deciding factor: it is a parody/reference to another (popular) text – Glee.

You don’t have to look far to see Pitch Perfect’s symbiosis with Glee, the whole concept of the movie seems to build on the show’s popularity with criticism and mockery thrown in for good measure. The shower scene is put in as a reference to what I coined ‘locker room gaiety.’ There are several instances on the show where recruitment is preceded by a shower scene – Will Shuester (Matthew Morrison) hears Finn Hudson (Cory Monteith) sing in the shower and although he refrains from entering the shower stall, he recruits Finn on the grounds of having heard him sing in the shower. This scene is paralleled by one where Finn hears Sam Evans (Chord Overstreet) sing in the shower and recruits him later.

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Pitch Perfect takes this up but follows through, if you want. Chloe (Brittany Snow) barges into Beca’s (Anna Kendrick) shower and makes her audition for the Bellas. But this is just the part of the plot that could have been established differently. The important part is the popcultural reference to Glee, the laugh it elicits among those who love or hate the show.

But the scene has another meaning, another purpose – one that may have been underestimated by the makers of the movie. The lesbian innuendo. While the scene is meant as a comedic nod toward another text, it quite effectively unleashes ‘the gay.’ And it doesn’t matter that gray sweater guy/Tom (Cameron Stewart) is put into the scene as a heteronormative convention, a buffer to contain the homoerotic tension between Beca and Chloe – the mere fact of two women, naked in a shower stall, singing to each other while looking deeply into each other’s eyes… it’s too gay to not function.

And the scene works on this premise, and it works for several reasons: one is that it is a scene between two women. Considering the plot of the movie, it, of course, had to be two women. The premise of the plot works with two same-sex a cappella singing groups and the focus is on the Bellas and Beca Mitchell as unrivaled lead. But even if the premise was another, it would not have worked with another pairing. A man walking into the shower of another man? Unthinkable (Hollywood is too sensitive toward its male audience; just ask the makers of Glee why they never actually did it). A man walking in on a woman showering? Sexual harrassment! A woman walking in on a man showering… well, that could work in a society which does not constantly perpetuate the male as the dominant and the female as the passive part of a heterosexual relationship. The dominant female in Hollywood is a man-eater, not a likable lead character in a mainstream Hollywood production.

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Another reason the scene works is Chloe’s character – someone who is insensitive to personal boundaries. She is the one person who the audience can ‘forgive’ this indiscretion, and also the one Beca would forgive. There is an underlying reasoning of ‘she doesn’t know better.’ Of course, this is also meant to disable the homoeroticism of the scene, same as Tom. These obvious devices, however, do not work; and one can easily argue that they are not supposed to work either. Neither Chloe or Beca are ultimately labeled as straight. Sure, there are Tom and Jesse (Skylar Astin) who act as love interests but the great thing about Pitch Perfect is that it does not focus on these heterosexual love stories; it focuses on the Bellas as a diverse group of strong women who come together as friends, allys and – in possibility, at least – lovers.

The shower scene conveys this possibility. And it is not the only scene which hints at it, either. This could easily be interpreted as ‘queer baiting’ but for the fact that there is a nonchalance about these scenes, they are not drawn out, there are no flashy neon signs pointing them out to the audience. They are altogether too subtle, too unselfconcious, more endearing than sexy. They live from the one thing that is so rare, so special and at the same time inexplicable: chemistry. The chemistry between two characters that more often than not equals the chemistry between the actors portraying these characters. Anna Kendrick and Brittany Snow alias Beca Mitchell and Chloe Beale have it. And that’s the ultimate reason the shower scene works.

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The New Lesbian

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The 1920s saw the birth of the “New Woman,” (Miller, 1992) a sophisticated breed, independent of men and free to explore love in all its facets. 60 years later, Donna Deitch took a novel that was already twenty years old and created a “new lesbian” for the American movie, a breed that claimed its happy ending against all odds. This “new lesbian,” however, did not replace existing lesbian stereotypes; it merely gave female homosexuals a mirror image they did not have to fear.

Until the 1980s lesbian representation in American movies was closely linked to the theories of scientists and psychoanalysts like Havelock Ellis and Sigmund Freud. While “congenital inversion” was seen as a hereditary disease and the invert therefore a victim, it still insisted on homosexuals being doomed to a life in misery. And lesbians – however few there were – in American movies before the 1980s were also doomed, often not even to live. (Rule, 1976)

In 1961 The Children’s Hour, a movie version of Lillian Hellman’s controversial play of the same title, was remade. The play, as the 1960s movie, is about two female school teachers who are accused of being lovers by one of their students. Though the girl who made the accusations is protected by her innocence the movie shows the cruelty of an adult society towards people who are (supposedly) different and results in the death of one of the teachers – because she realizes that the accusations may be right in her case. The lesbian dies, and a stereotype is born: the suicidal lesbian that is hopelessly in love with her best heterosexual friend, or teacher, or fill-in-the-blank. This lesbian stereotype is not exclusively linked to movies since it originated in literature but movies are the media that holds it up to this day. One has only to watch Lost and Delirious (2001) to be confirmed that lesbianism and suicide are still closely linked together.

Desert Hearts is based on a novel that was published just three years after The Children’s Hour was shown in American movie theaters. The novel, Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule, tried to eliminate some of the myths that were engraved in the American mind where lesbianism was concerned. Rule created female characters that discovered their homosexuality and embraced it. Lesbians finally achieved a happy ending – in literature.

But it took twenty years for the novel to reach the big screen; having finally reached it, however, it showed the same effect on movie-making as the novel had in its respective media: it established a positive image of female homosexuality.

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 In Comparison

Despite the similar accomplishments of novel and movie their differences are significant. Without even having read the book or having watched the movie one difference immediately catches the eye: the titles. Desert of the Heart. Desert Hearts. While the first one seems to poetically describe Reno, Nevada, as the place where marriage finds its final resting place in a divorce, the second sounds like a reno-vated version of “the Lonely Hearts Club.” And the titles also predict the endings of both: where Reno is romanticized the two protagonists stay, where it is trivialized the female lovers leave.

Though the movie claims to be based on the novel it pretty much changes all essentials, even down to the names of the leading characters: Ann Childs becomes Cay Rivvers, Evelyn Hall becomes Vivian Bell. But there is a reason for this as the novel uses several biblical images that the movie erases. The names are a not very subtle hint toward Adam and Eve with Evelyn saying at one point to Ann: “You could almost imagine there were no other people.” The desert surrounding Reno leaves the English teacher in “catholic desolation,” although she is of protestant upbringing. Christian symbolism is a cross Deitch does not care to bear on her shoulders and she eliminates it together with the criticism of Freudian theory which Jane Rule has once called “a religion to parallel, without needing to replace, Christianity.” Evelyn’s interdependent marriage to George had provided this criticism but in the movie Vivian says of the reason why her marriage to Martin failed: “[It] drowned in still waters.” There is nothing left of the dominant figure that terrorizes his wife because he cannot compete with her professionally. Vivian has to find her own way our of a marriage that left her unfulfilled without her knowing why, while Evelyn is more or less forced to end her marriage. “The new lesbian,” therefore, has to find her way out of dependencies on her own; she has to choose to free herself of male dominance. For very much the same reason, Deitch explains Cay’s father’s death with a heart attack, not as a suicide. Ann’s struggle with the way her father died is the reason for many of her decisions – or indecisions – but it ties her to a dominant male figure, a provider. In the movie Frances is the only one obsessed with the absent Glen, and it makes her cling to Cay who is a female version of her father. Deitch inserts a slightly incestuous theme through Frances’ lingering love for Glen through Cay and puts Frances’ intolerance towards homosexuality in a hypocritical light showing her own homoerotic feelings toward Cay. In the novel, Frances does not even disapprove of the relationship between Ann and Evelyn; she only wants her step-daughter to be happy.

These differences are the most striking but not all of them are listed. Only the basic frame of the story is left intact: A woman comes to Reno to get a divorce and falls in love with a younger woman. They stay together. Apart from that the movie interprets the novel freely and becomes a piece of modern interpretation of homosexuality because of the changes made. Desert Hearts would not have become a lesbian classic had it clung to Jane Rule’s original ideas; it needed to become a movie about “the new lesbian” for “the new lesbian.” And this is why, though the plot takes place during the 1950s, Desert Hearts is very much rooted in the 1980s.

Let us have a closer look at this “new lesbian” the movie provides us with: deserthearts2

Introducing Cay Rivvers

On their way to the ranch, where Vivian Bell (Helen Shaver) will spend her six weeks of residency that are required to get a divorce in Reno, Frances’ and Vivian’s conversation is interrupted by the introduction of Cay Rivvers (Patricia Charbonneau), Frances’ “daughter.” The scene is induced by Frances Parker (Audra Lindley) exclaiming: “Oh, brother,” then we hear a car go by, before the scene is cut from Vivian’s turning head to Cay’s – giving it the indication that they turn towards each other – as she puts her own car into reverse with screaming wheels and in the following cut pulls up next to Frances’ car driving backwards. Vivian and Cay are introduced by Frances, a bizarre setting for a first meeting but taken in strife by Frances who is quite used to her step-daughter’s exuberant nature. Cay makes a quip about having to call Vivian “professor” but has to put her car back into drive due to an oncoming car.

As soon as Cay pulls up to Frances’ car we hear Buddy Holly singing “Rave On” as if out of Cay’s radio. Her car itself is a black convertible that misses its backseat, as we are to learn later on. Everything about Cay is young and daring and modern. Most of her clothes leave the viewer wondering if the actress left her own clothes on when she entered the 1950s movie set, this especially applies to a set of cut-off jeans. With all these indications it really is no surprise when the audience learns that Cay is not only a lesbian but an out lesbian. Her self-assured attitude toward her sexuality frustrates Vivian later in the movie when she herself is struggling to be out in Cay’s presence. She exclaims: “No fear, no confusions, so self-assured…” Only to be interrupted by Cay shouting: “I don’t act that way to change the world. I act that way so the goddamned world won’t change me.” It is their only real argument, their conflicting views stem out of their different experiments with homosexuality and the fact that though Vivian is older she does not have Cay’s sexual experience. And she never had to fight with the kind of social marginalization Cay hints at in this scene.

It is also another car-scene. There are quite a number of scenes that take place in a car – not the least of them the first kiss of the two leads –, the one between Vivian and Frances being the first. It puts the people in the car into a frame, one could also say a cage, as the audience’s perspective becomes a voyeuristic one. In the scene with Frances the close confines make Vivian, who is a private person, uncomfortable. She is forced into an intimate setting and a conversation with a stranger. Frances’ easy-going nature is a direct contrast to Vivian’s awkwardness; the two women could not be more different. The car represents Vivian’s situation: she is trapped in a strange place she does not want to be in. Her only shield from the outside world – and the blazing sun – are her sunglasses. She puts them on just before she meets Cay. However, both women take their sunglasses off as they are introduced.

The glimpse we get of Cay is the same Vivian gets: it is quick, it is loud and it is wild. In the commentary to the movie, director Deitch tells us that there had been a couple of actresses who wanted to play Cay just to be in that scene, doing what Cay is doing. It is a daring introduction, but it is also a superfluous one. We are yet to learn that Cay’s “wild streak” is an act she puts on, often to impress women. But this is not the person Vivian falls in love with; Vivian falls in love with a young woman who is sensitive and thoughtful and does not dare to step out of the confines of her surroundings. She also falls in love with her friend, because that is what Cay becomes to her after she sheds the aggressive act.

Female relationships

As I have already written, Deitch focuses her attention much more on the female relationships than Rule did by eliminating dominant male figures. Walter (Alex McArthur) is pretty much the only man who is tolerated in the midst of strong female characters. The combinations of the female encounters are an interesting mix of friendship, comradeship born out of necessity, but also antagonism. Lucille (Katie Labourdette), another divorcee in Frances’ care and painfully reminiscent of Lucille Ball, verbally attacks Vivian early on but cannot compete with the quick intelligence of her opponent. However, as time on the ranch passes slowly, Vivian finds herself in Lucille’s company yet again when the two are out riding with Cay and Buck (Tyler Tyhurst), the ranch hand. Lucille relates to Vivian that she had been in a mental institution because she could not cope with the guilt she felt over the failure of her marriage but that Buck is helping her getting back on her feet. Vivian agrees, saying that Cay’s friendship is helping her also. This revelation compels the redhead to warn Vivian about getting too close to Frances’ daughter as she was “kicked out of college for unnatural acts, as they say.” The English professor is not to be deterred, however, and Lucille makes it clear that she does not approve of homosexuals, which only earns her another witty remark by Vivian that she is not above criticism just because she is straight.

As with many of the one-on-ones between the characters the pace of this scene is deliberately slow. The characters talk, relating not only their opinions but also their inner selves. Vivian is not shocked by Lucille’s revelation of Cay’s sexuality as Cay has been far too open about it, already, even if not in words. At some point in the novel, Vivian’s stance toward homosexuality is described: “If she had never actually made love to another woman, she was intellectually emancipated in all perversions of flesh, mind, and spirit. Her academic training had seen to that.” I do not necessarily approve of the choice of words here but the short passage accurately pinpoints what some writers of lesbian fiction try to ignore: you do not have to have slept with a woman to intellectually know how to do it. In the movie, Vivian’s knowledge is expressed in boredom with Lucille’s intolerance. In her line of work, Vivian has probably encountered quite a few lesbians – among faculty as well as students – and she cannot even pretend to be shocked anymore. But her knowledge is theoretical and does not prepare her for the force of her own or Cay’s feelings as they are later discovered and explored.

The desert acts as the local setting of the conversation but the backdrop is a metaphorical one. Lucille is eager to share with Vivian the nature of her relationship with Buck. She says: “Amazing what a little understanding will do.” All that is missing at this point are her fingers making quotation marks as she is clearly not talking about “understanding” at all. Vivian does not take the bait, though. Her reluctance to talk about any intimate details of Lucille and Buck’s relationship is clear and she steers the conversation to seemingly safer grounds mentioning her own friendship with Cay. But this leads Lucille to talk about Cay’s sexuality instead. We have a recurring theme in this sequence: Homosexuality before a heterosexual background. The whole movie seems to work on this premise as the setting is Reno, which is known for three things: marriage, divorce and gambling. Though gambling may not necessarily be a heterosexual institution, marriage and divorce are. In detail these scenes emphasize the aforementioned theme: Frances and Vivian watching a romantic movie and talking about Cay, Cay and Silver (Andra Akers) in the bathtub with Joe (Antony Ponzini) preparing dinner in the kitchen, and, of course, Vivian and Cay leaving the courtroom after Vivian’s divorce is finalized. But what is accomplished with these scenes? Are they an indication that “the new lesbian” has to stick out, or come out, against heterosexual conventions? Or are they merely underlining what is obvious: the majority of people is heterosexual and will always be the background before which lesbians and gays have to live their life? And does that have to inevitably mean having to put up with intolerance from people who are not educated enough to see that love is love whether it is between a man and a woman or members of the same sex?

The Party’s Over

After an evening spent at Silver’s and Joe’s engagement party, with heterosexual love but also convention surrounding them and not even the possibility to dance with each other, Cay and Vivian are yet again in deep conversation in the private confines of Cay’s car. Both are a little drunk but unwilling to end the evening and because they are a little drunk the conversation between them takes on a flirtatious note. They drive out to the lake where they continue their conversation and Cay finally confronts Vivian first with her supposition that the professor is attracted to her, later with a kiss.

The focus of attention at this point is not on Cay’s frank intentions toward Vivian; it is on Vivian’s inability to rein in her own feelings. She struggles with her reasons for divorcing Martin, her feelings for Cay, and the chaos that is raised in the aftermath. Helen Shaver gives the audience a first glimpse at her character’s vulnerability, but also of the passion that lies underneath the surface. The fight within Vivian is an old one of conventions one was brought up to and the pursuit of what will make one happy. If these two clash, and they usually do when one discovers one’s homosexuality, one has to chose. For the drive in the car Vivian lets her inebriated state take the blame but this does not work when Cay finally kisses her. And she kisses her back. Vivian is coming out and this is a process that director and actress show in a teasingly slow development. But it is believable, because one does not cope with one’s own homosexuality over night.

Although not the center of attention, Cay’s life alters as well. She relates to her best friend Silver that she may have “found somebody who counts,” a phrase she had also used earlier with Frances. While her behavior – and Frances words – attests to the fact that she is sexually active with a number of women, though we are only introduced to Gwen, her words assure the audience that she is looking for love, a convention that was hitherto a privilege granted only to heterosexuals in movies.

Love as a privilege of heterosexuals. This may seem odd to viewers of today’s generation, a generation that has seen two cowboys fall in love on Brokeback Mountain and women sharing their lives on The L-Word. But up to Desert Hearts homosexuality in the movies was reduced to sexual acts, often linked to violence and social outcasts. Lesbians in the movies before 1985 were prison guards, criminals, or other manipulative women in a power position to another woman who was than exploited by the lesbian character. These lesbians often had to use force to get what they wanted: sex. Love was not part of the equation.

It is, however, in Desert Hearts. And it is even put in the context of the heterosexual stereotype of “the one.” It is not any woman Cay falls in love with, it is Vivian, and she tells her new lover frankly that she has never been in love before. And one could at least assume that the same holds true for Vivian also. Has she been in love with Martin, or did she merely bow to conventions in marrying him? The novel says she did. But even if she had been in love with her husband once this feeling is long gone. And as the desert can be seen as a metaphor for her life with Martin, the lake, Cay leads her to, signifies the end of it; the end of her marriage, the end of her life without love, the end of the cruel dryness of the desert. The rain acts as the surprising effect of recognition and leaves her drenched and kissing Cay. And as much as this moment signifies the end of order for Vivian, which she is afraid of, it is also a beginning she does not recognize as good at first – though she does not see it as a total disaster either.

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Lovers and Critics

In 1986 Vincent Canby wrote about Desert Hearts in “The New York Times”: “The film is the first fiction feature to be directed by Donna Deitch, whose previous experience in documentaries and commercials appears to have left her with a terribly literal idea of what movies should be. ‘Desert Hearts’ has no voice or style of its own. It’s as flat as a recorded message from the telephone company.”

In 2003 Sarah Warn, then chief editor of Afterellen.com1 wrote about the movie: “But overall, Desert Hearts is just as interesting and compelling as it was almost twenty years earlier when it won a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1986, and serves as an example of the heights you can achieve without a big budget if you have strong actors, the right story, and a director who knows how to pull it all together.”

One of the differences between these two reviews is that the first one was written by a man and the second by a lesbian. Is that also the reason why the second is so clearly in favor of the movie and the first one is not? There is no question that Desert Hearts has its value in American movie history, but is this value limited to its accomplishments for the lesbian audience?

The focus of this paper lies on proving that Desert Hearts created a “new lesbian” (as I have called her). A female homosexual that was neither a sexual predator or a social outcast, a woman that, recognizing her difference, does not despair and commits suicide. It is the most important aspect of the film and probably the reason that it is still recognized today – even if predominantly by the lesbian community. But I would not have written a paper about if I had thought that it was a bad movie. The criticism in “The New York Times” is harsh. It reduces the movie to parts of the dialogue that even Sarah Warn admits is “clunky and corny.” The features that make Desert Hearts a compelling story, the acting and the groundbreaking love-scene, are dismissed or left out.

In his review for the “Chicago Sun-Times” Roger Ebert calls the movie: ”[a] spiky debut, with a tumultuous love scene, which is more than a nostalgia trip despite the redneck 50s setting.” And although he does not entirely praise the movie as many reviews by lesbians have done and still do he acknowledges the strong acting, especially of Helen Shaver, and the “undeniable power” that for him comes “from the chemistry between Shaver and Charbonneau.” His conclusive statement is the following: “The movie makes no large statement; it is not a philosophical exploration of lesbianism, just the story of two women and their attraction. It’s not a great movie, but it works on its own terms.”

I think, I can almost agree with that assessment as I can also agree that some of the lines are indeed “corny.” But does that answer my question of the significance of the movie for non-lesbian viewers? No, it does not.

The DVD cover quotes the “Sunday Times,” that stated that the love scene in Desert Hearts far exceeded the eroticism of the love scenes between Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke in 9 ½ Weeks. This comparison is a strong one as I can still remember having read a lot about 9 ½ Weeks and its effect on representation of sexuality in movie encyclopedias. So is this Desert Hearts ultimate value for the heterosexual mainstream movie-goer? A love scene that has a greater appeal than the ones in 9 ½ Weeks? As sad and bizarre as it sounds, yes, that seems to be the case. In preparation for this paper I have read that the actresses who were signed up for playing lesbians on The L-Word, a television show that bows a lot to stereotypical representation of lesbianism despite the fact that it is done by lesbians, were required to watch the love scene between Helen Shaver and Patricia Charbonneau because of its authenticity as well as its erotic power. Sad and bizarre, indeed.

24 Years Later

“The new lesbian.” She is strong, independent, out, and proud. And she is also beautiful, which she has not always been, especially in the prison movies of the 60s and 70s. But where is this lesbian that was new in the 1980s now? She’s still there, and she has not changed much. The L-Word is yet again a perfect example of the representation of “the new lesbian,” but we can also look at some movies that would probably not have been done if it had not been for the groundbreaking Desert Hearts, or at least not in quite the same fashion:

In It’s in the Water a Texan socialite falls for a lesbian nurse of a hospice for AIDS-patients. The story is eerily familiar as the dark-haired nurse is a little tomboyish, and the blonde socialite struggles with her unfulfilling marriage. Luckily, director Kelli Herd adds a gay couple and a cast of Texan originals to the plot or it would probably have been called a rip-off of Desert Hearts.

Another set of the tomboy and the beauty is The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, where two teenage girls fall for each other, the tomboy being a daughter of lesbian upbringing, who has to work at a gas station after school. Young women are also in the focus of the plot of Better Than Chocolate. Luckily, in this comedy both women are already out and nobody has to struggle with the drama of recognition. But once again, we have a tomboy who struggles economically.

The bottom line of lesbians in movies seems to be: you have two beautiful women with one of them being a tomboy, but by no means a butch. The tomboy is the out lesbian, while the femme of the duo often struggles with her sexual identity but never financially. She is usually also the one with the higher education level.

The new lesbian” has become an old stereotype in the more than twenty years since Desert Hearts. But she is still the one positive representation of lesbian life we have. She stands out among the lesbian killers of television crime shows, the suicidal lesbians of the teen drama, the experimental straight girls caught in a lip-lock that one can see on most television programs during sweeps weeks. Desert Hearts has introduced her and she is here to stay.

Sources

Articles:

Miller, Nina, “Making Love Modern: Dorothy Parker and Her Public,” In: American Literature 64.4 (1992) 766-784

Books:

Rule, Jane. Lesbian Images. New York: POCKET BOOK, 1976.

Rule, Jane. Desert of the Heart. Tallahassee, FL: Naiad Press, 1983.

Sobek, Daniela. Lexikon Lesbischer Frauen im Film. München: belleville, 2000.

 

Movies:

Desert Hearts, produced by Donna Deitch, directed by Donna Deitch, screenplay by Natalie Cooper, based on the novel “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule. Cast: Helen Shaver (Vivian Bell), Patricia Charbonneau (Cay Rivvers), Audra Lindley (Frances Parker). Samuel Goldwyn Company. 1985.

9 ½ Weeks, produced by Mark Damon, directed by Adrian Lyne, screenplay by Sarah Kernochan, Zalman King, Patricia Louisianna Knop, based on a novel by Elizabeth McNeill. Cast: Mickey Rourke (John), Kim Basinger (Elizabeth), Christine Baranski (Thea). Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). 1986.

Better Than Chocolate, produced by Sharon McGowan, directed by Anne Wheeler, screenplay by Peggy Thompson. Cast: Christina Cox (Kim), Karyn Dwyer (Maggie), Wendy Crewson (Lila). British Columbia Film. 1999.

Brokeback Mountain, produced by Diana Ossana, directed by Ang Lee, screenplay by Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana, based on a short story by Annie Proulx. Cast: Heath Ledger (EnnisDelMar), Jack Gyllenhall (Jake Twist), Randy Quaid (Joe Aguirre). Paramount Pictures. 2005.

It’s in the Water, produced by Dee Evans, directed by Kelli Herd, screenplay by Kelli Herd. Cast: Keri Jo Chapman (Alex Stratton), Teresa Garrett (GraceMiller), Derrick Sanders (MarkAnderson). Kelli Herd Film Company Inc. 1997.

Lost and Delirious, produced by Greg Dummett, directed by Léa Pool, screenplay by Judith Thompson, based on the novel “The Wives of Bath” by Susan Swan. Cast: Piper Perabo (Pauline “Paulie” Oster), Jessica Paré (Victoria “Tori” Moller), Mischa Barton (Mary “Mouse” Bedford). Lions Gate Films. 2001

The Children’s Hour, produced by Robert Wyler and William Wyler, directed by William Wyler, screenplay by John Michael Hayes, adapted for the screen by Lillian Hellman, based on a play by Lillian Hellman. Cast: Audrey Hepburn (Karen Wright), Shirley MacLaine (Martha Dobie), James Garner (Dr. Joe Cardin). United Artists, 1963

The Incredibly True Adventures of Two Girls in Love, produced by Dolly Hall, directed by Maria Maggenti, screenplay by Maria Maggenti. Cast: Laurel Holloman (RandyDean), Nicole Parker (EvieRoy), Kate Stafford (RebeccaDean). Fine Line Features. 1995.

The L-Word, produced by Ilene Chaiken and others, directed by Rose Troche and others, teleplay by Angela Robinson and others. Cast: Jennifer Beals (Bette Porter), Mia Kirshner (Jenny Schecter), Pam Grier (Kit Porter). Showtimes Networks. 2004-2009.

 

Informations on Movies

http://www.imdb.com

Reviews

Canby, Vincent, “Film: ‘Desert Hearts,’ About Women in Love.” The New York Times: <http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9A0DE5D9133FF937A35757C0A960948260&gt;

Ebert, Roger, “Desert Hearts.” http://www.robertebert.com:

<http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/19860606/REVIEWS/606060301/1023&gt;

Warn, Sarah, “Review of ‘Desert Hearts’.” http://www.Afterellen.com:

<http://www.afterellen.com/Movies/deserthearts.html&gt;

1 AfterEllen.com was founded in 2002 by Sarah Warn and has since “become the leading entertainment site for and about lesbian and bisexual women, with news, reviews, interviews and commentary on lesbian and bisexual women in TV, movies, music, and more.”

The Meta in Pitch Perfect: Introduction

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Pitch Perfect was supposed to be fun – nothing more. And, after all, it is a comedy/musical and nobody expects deep thinking to happen during or after watching something like this.

And then the fandom built and suddenly you’re overanalyzing every scene, every look, every song and you come across something (I came across it) that can best be described as a meta-discourse.

What do I mean when I say, meta-discourse? Meta in Greek means (among other things) ‘beyond,’ in cultural studies it means ‘self-referential.’ And I think both definitions are fitting.

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As an example, think about Beca (played by Anna Kendrick) and Jesse’s (Skylar Astin) picnic where he tries to talk her into watching a movie with him and she tells him that she doesn’t like movies because the endings are too predictable, giving the example “the boy gets the girl.” Talking about movies in a movie already constitutes as meta-text despite the self-referential recognition the movie might put on what is actually being said. And let’s just say that this quote in particular opened a can of worms.

Starting this blog, I actually thought that I could simply write one post about PP and be done with it. But then I tried to summon my thoughts into one post and kept thinking of things to add. Suffice to say, there’s a lot more to this movie than catches the eye.

So, this post is to say: yes, I’ll be writing about Pitch Perfect, about the songs, the movies mentioned, about toners and same-sex shower scenes. I hope I can shed some light on the question of why this is such a good movie – when everybody merely expects some light entertainment.pitchperfect2