Friday, September 19, 2014

The L Word and Media as Culture

There are few shows made today that can capture and define a community as much as The L Word did for the lesbian community. Created in 2004 by a lesbian woman, Ilene Chaiken, who wanted to give the public a glimpse into a widely misunderstood world, the L Word serves as one of the only mainstream representations of lesbians which actually has lesbians behind it.

Ok lets get one thing straight(pun intended): this is a really bad show. The writing is mediocre, the acting is mediocre, the music is horrible, and overall it’s a melodramatic soap opera. But I love it, and so does every queer woman I know. Not because it’s a great show but because it gives a mainstream voice to people who are not in the mainstream. Many straight people don’t realize that as a gay person you have straight culture shoved down your throat, on TV in movies, and more importantly in real life. To watch a show then which focuses solely on this minority of people gives voice to people who are often overlooked in media.

This isn’t the only reason its adored by the lesbian community, its also because as a gay person it is hard to get interested and invested in straight plotlines and romances, so when the relationships reflect yours they’re much more interesting and investing.

Perhaps the most important thing the L Word does is connect a community. If you meet a lesbian anywhere in the world, above the age of 16, they’ve probably watched the L Word, and if you have both watched the L Word you have something in common, right away. This is important for such a small community that doesn’t have any one thing that connects all of these people besides the fact that they’re homosexual.

Another thing the L Word does, and maybe the most profound is that it teaches women about lesbian culture. When you look at typical mainstream perceptions of lesbians they are either a straight man’s fantasy of women with laughable love scenes (Blue is the Warmest Color). Or they are slipped in as secondary characters to get some queer people to see it. These couples are either seen as a happy, stable and frankly boring lesbian couple with kids (The Kids are Alright), or as unstable crazy, alcoholic fuck-ups who are killed off just as soon as they get into a relationship (Skins). As a teenager this is a grim future. You’ll either be used for men’s pleasure, or you’ll move to the suburbs and bake cookies, or you’ll become a prostitute drug addict and die before the age of 30. Where’s all the fun, adventure, and hope that’s offered our straight counterparts? Its in the L Word, with crazy lesbian parties and bars and book circles. It gives young queer women the hope that they will have a life, an exciting, fun life. It shows them that there’s other people like them who have affairs and one night stands, who come in all different shapes and backgrounds.

Some of the dialogue seems especially geared toward educating people. For example one character will say “We’re going to the Dina Shore Golf game next week” and another will say “What’s that?” and the first will look into the camera and give a detailed description of what it is and why its started and how it became a foundation of lesbian culture.

The L Word is an example of the profound effect that TV or film can have on people. It can give hope and education about things that not everyone knows about. It can give voices to the voiceless and leave its mark. Even though the L Word has been off air for about 5 years, it is still so vital to the lesbian community who use it as a unifying point and probably always will.

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