Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Representation and misrepresentation

I’ve been reading a book called ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’ which just happens to have a lesbian character in it. She’s not a central focus of the book but just happens to be somewhere on the landscape. And that’s when I noticed it. The ‘scavenging.’ We’ve all done it at one time or another. Scavenged through some or other content to find that which we can relate to best. The athlete may search for athletic content; the new mom, anything to do with babies; and the gay person looks for ‘gayness’!

Novels are one thing. There isn’t much gay reading material out there. Try finding a gay section in your local book store for one thing. They’re not easy to find. And if there is one, they’re often embarrassingly positioned right opposite the ‘religious’ section, or next to the ‘psychology’ area. But that’s another issue.

Television on the other hand is slowly embracing gay and lesbian themes. When 'The L Word' hit our small screens a few years back, all the girls with Mnet thought we’d struck gold. ‘An exclusively lesbian series? No way?!’ Yes way! But even that was flawed. The one thing I just could not understand was why every advert bracket seemed to be filled with spots appealing to Afrikaans men. Boere-musiek CDs were advertised as were other male-oriented products. Didn’t see any lesbian-related ads there. No Indigo Girls or kd lang CDs up for grabs; no Subaru adverts trying to sell us cars. Didn’t even see any women-oriented ads, like tampon adverts or ones advertising lipstick or shampoo for goodness sake. I mean what could the brief have been for those Mnet sales execs: ‘Um, we’ve got a lesbian show so let’s go out there and try to sell some Kilpdrift and coke and Boere-musiek CDs.” Missed opportunity there. Don’t they know the power of the Pink Rand? Eish.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that there we were still grateful for the token gesture. The series was full of gorgeous women who did all sorts of amazing things. And despite the fact that I’ve yet to come across real-life-lesbians who’re like those 'L Word' divas, we loved and supported the series because they did occasionally (very occasionally) reflect our lives. Any lesbian reading this now (who has also followed the series), knows exactly what I am talking about. Alice’s legendary wall-drawings of women and their ex-partners springs to mind.

But ‘The L Word’ is the exception. Most of the time, gay people have to ‘sift’ like crazy through hours of television to find any representation of who and what they are. The recent debate in the US over the inclusion (or rather exclusion) of black actors in movies and TV programmes is a similar parallel. Token gestures abound. And sometimes they’re the worst characters on the block. When you only crack the nod in one in 100 shows and you’re depicted as an evil, psychopathic manic (as in Andrew on Desperate Housewives); or the depraved (Bad Girls); or the unfeeling bitch (ER’s Carrie Weaver) – it gets frustrating. It gets a little depressing when you’re represented as all of these things, when really you’re just the girl or boy next door, who happens to love someone of their own sex.

Stereotypes are easier to handle though I guess. The dyke-lesbian everyone can safely spot from a hundred paces away or the limp-wristed queen who’s depicted as so impotent that no one could possibly be offended, dahling. It’s a little harder to find meaningful plots with meaningful characters who just happen to be gay (as a by-the-way, as most straight characters are depicted).

And so, for the time being, we will have to be content with the tokens, and the occasionally all-out-goodies, such as 'The L Word', and just head for the kitchen when those Boere-musiek CD adverts come on.

But come on people. One in ten is a significant market. Perhaps it’s even a scavenger hunt! Speaking of which, I'd better get back to my book. I'm still hopeful that this lesbian character will develop into something more.

1 comment:

YM said...

Clearly the SA programmers were expecting lots of macho men getting excited about some girl-on-girl action re the L-Word. Talk about creepy mindset. It's time lesbians got into positions of influence eg re programming, film/ TV-making, writing, journalism, media, law-making etc and got started on enlightening the rest of the world. Hopefully, this blog project and book of yours will be one of those contributing towards the change.