Is Liz Lemon our last under the radar asexual?

Representation on television—with the obvious caveat of still having a ways to go—is getting better and better. We have more types of sexualities and relationships being portrayed onscreen than ever before. Perhaps one of the most elusive enigmas in terms of sexuality on screen is asexuals. From a institution point of view they have nothing that Hollywood so values in onscreen relationships—namely sex scenes and accompanying narrative/humor. But as we get broader representation we are starting to see some characters declare themselves as such; like on Sirens or (possibly) the latest season of Bojack Horseman.

Which brings us to Liz Lemon. 30 Rock bridged a weird time in comedy; straddling the sort of subtly nasty humor so prevalent in 80s and 90s sitcoms with the more politically aware comedies of now.

tumblr_kxprzizwl71qzmvhdo1_400
“Is that supposed to be sex, Lemon?” “It is the way I do it.” 

Liz’s sexuality arguably falls in the cracks of the former here, with jokes about her not just discomfort with sex and sexuality but her active distaste for it rarely getting serious treatment.

 

But it seems to me like Liz is a poster child for asexuality. On numerous occasions she expresses desire for a romantic relationship that is free from sex, bemoaning the seemingly contractural obligations she has as a girlfriend. She longs for a relationship where you just watch TV and no one tries any “funny business.”

Had the show been on now I’m not sure much would’ve changed; Tina Fey has proven time and time again that she’s not very interested in analyzing the comedy she puts out in the world, and I’m betting that Liz’s sex negativity would be just another hilarious gags that the SJWs expect her to apologize for rather than a nuanced look at sexuality. Even still, her time on TV possibly marks one of the last characters whose disinclination towards sex could skate with a slap on the knee instead of discussion. Here’s to many more asexuals gracing our screens in years to come.

Advertisements

Dead-Pansexual

deadpool-costume.jpg

Let’s kick this off with the truth: No, Deadpool is not overtly pansexual in the new “Deadpool” movie. And no, that may not matter as much as you think.

For starters, this movie got made by the skin of its teeth. There’s a chance it got made using illegal creative means to get made, and there’s about a 70 percent chance that it wasn’t Ryan Reynolds. The movie has been in creative development for a decade (seriously) and hasn’t changed much since 2010.

It’s somewhat remarkable, given all that, the movie works as well and seems as timely as it is. Though I had a great time in the theater, the movie isn’t too much more than a wink and sarcastic comment about superhero tropes while still doing those exact same things. It’s fun and creative, but it’s not revolutionary—particularly not in the way the comic character can be. 

Our titular hero protagonist spends a lot of the film shrugging off the label of “hero” (even before he throws on the tights), and making snide comments about superhero movies and studios (about the X-mansion: “Such a big house. Weird that I only ever see you two. It’s almost like…the studio couldn’t afford another X-Man.”). But as distinct and clever as this commentary comes off, it’s not exactly in service of any revolutionary goals: He’s still trying to kick the bad guy’s ass and restore himself back to who he was, primarily so he can go back to life with his girl the hooker with a heart of gold Vanessa. As Deadpool himself says at the beginning, this isn’t a comic book movie so much as it is a love story. And basically every comic origin story involves lost, heteronormative love.

It’s hard to say if the film even makes any overt or intentional references to Deadpool’s shifting sexuality at all. Arguably almost any mentions can be played off as immature, “but no homo” jokes, and get about as far as Agent Coulson did when he first introduced himself to Pepper Potts: It’s a hat tip to those in the know, but it’s not integral to understanding the film.

And yeah, that sucks. Deadpool is such a unique and interesting character that seeing him flattened into the traditional superhero mold even as he actively decries himself against it is hard to shoulder, even if it ends up being pretty fun to watch.

But for now it’s important to note that the creators and people integral to the production of future Deadpool movies (director Tim Miller, or “an overpaid tool” as the opening credits refer to him and star Ryan “God’s perfect idiot” Reynolds) believe him to be pansexual—and have stated so publicly.  That elevates this beyond just “queer-baiting” where writers like to flirt with fandom pairings without ever publicly acknowledging them. Deadpool’s ever-shifting sexuality (itself still debated in the comics) is not merely a subtextual bastard. It’s an influence running in the back of the minds of the creators.

For now it’s purely subtextual. And yeah, that is annoying, or at least disappointing. “Deadpool” is not progressive in that way, aside from some homoerotic subtext and winking jokes—aka, not progressive. But the film’s success so far can’t be ignored, and while it’s sure to impact what X-Men and superhero films look like in the future, there’s probably hopefully nothing but good vibes and green lights on the horizon for the Merc with the Mouth. And the people making it seem to be itching to bring in some LGBTQ-love.

We’ve already seen what they can do with some test footage.

The Burden of Reppin’

Today a much talked about interview with Kristen Stewart, the starlet reportedly “confirms the rumors going around about her sexuality.”

“Rumors” is almost mild for the scrutiny Stewart has put up with regarding her personal life, so the most surprising thing to come from the interview was the fact that the actress even answered the question at all.

Kristen Stewart Nylon cover“Google me, I’m not hiding,” Stewart told Nylon. “If you feel like you really want to define yourself, and you have the ability to articulate those parameters and that in itself defines you, then do it. But I am an actress, man. I live in the fucking ambiguity of this life and I love it. I don’t feel like it would be true for me to be like, ‘I’m coming out!’ No, I do a job. Until I decide that I’m starting a foundation or that I have some perspective or opinion that other people should be receiving…I don’t. I’m just a kid making movies.”

It’s an odd response because Stewart certainly didn’t owe anyone an answer, but by engaging she was taking a tentative step towards acknowledging a personal side in a (very) public light.

Her words were still ringing through my head as I ran into another actress, Anna Faris, in my Twitter feed. Apparently a brazen reporter asked her about the rumors of her husband cheating on her.

I have always kind of believed that part of the rumors of celebrity couples were sort of true – because they had never been a part of my life. I thought, ‘Maybe there is a kernel of truth to that.’ ”

For us it was like, ‘What the heck?’ This has been blindsiding to us. We have an amazing relationship.

It has been weirdly stinging.

It struck me as an incredibly thoughtful response. She didn’t have to engage with these rumors at all; neither of these women did. They don’t owe the world their personal lives, and they certainly don’t owe them insight to them.

But Faris’ response seemed like a genuine attempt to acknowledge some of the hardships of marriages (particularly when subjected to the glaring cruelty of the paparazzi’s flash) endure. It’s not that Faris’ marriage troubles are universal, but I can see how someone reading them might be inspired to engage with their partner(s) about the uncomfortable uncertainties you feel in your relationship—even if you know the rumors aren’t true.

But KStew’s problems are even less universal. In this day in age, heterosexuality is still the default, and not everyone is trying out the average LGBTQ* couple in the public domain. It’s not as simple for Stewart to say “I’m dating X” or even to say “well I’m taken,” because even the acknowledgement of a same-sex relationship is a label, for most readers.

I guess I find it odd that Stewart acknowledged the rumors and dangled a hint without really weighing in on the issue, but I’m not surprised. That’s the sad fact of LGBTQ* politics these days: It would’ve been cool for KStew to acknowledge her same-sex relationship (if that is what she’s talking about) and then manage to talk up some LGBTQ* politics. But I can’t ask that of her. I wish she would’ve spread her spotlight around like a disco ball, but I can’t fault her for wanting it to shut off entirely.

Heavy is the head that wears the disco ball. But she strikes me as an intelligent young woman, so I would’ve loved to get her insight the same way I “got” Faris’.

Some of my best friends are white males

In my Twitter journeys this morning, I happened across an article from Todd VanDerWerff in which he recommends USA’s new show “Mr. Robot” as an alternative specifically to viewers who have put up with enough from “True Detective.”

“Men are forever defining themselves against some weird, hidden code of masculinity that supposedly their grandfathers had access to but they can’t seem to crack,” writes VanDerWerff. “So let me suggest something else: Literally everything fans say they want from True Detective is being done much better by a ridiculously titled show on the USA Network about a computer hacker: Mr. Robot. The show, which airs new episodes on Wednesdays and is available on Hulu, is one of the best in years about what it means to be a man in modern America.”

The article definitely got me on the hook to finally go watch “Mr. Robot” (though I didn’t read the whole thing because spoiler alert). But it also tapped into a concept that’s been crossing my mind lately: I am inherently more interested in “other” stories. And white male protagonists have to prove themselves to me.

I’m not trying to be here for tokenism, but I am tired of “unbelievability” being the basis for centering stories on white, male (and usually cis, straight, well-off, etc.). “Boyhood” won me over, but had its protagonist been a woman or a black kid coming up in Texas it would’ve been infinitely more interesting.

The double-edged sword is because stories from those who don’t see themselves reflect in the media are always inherently politicized. “Boyhood” had the comfort of not having a thesis; of meandering through its hero’s adolescent development. But a black kid? A woman? A trans person? Not so much. They’re victims of what I once heard described as the “Sailor Moon principle.”

Picture of Sailor Moon See the titular Sailor Moon, in her every day life as Usagi, is far from the elegant anime hero you’ve seen on backpacks and comics in the ’90s. She’s lazy, she loves eating, she’s unabashedly in love, and honestly? She’s kind of a ditz. If you dropped her character in an otherwise all-male cast, she would get dragged. No one wants her to be the representation of womanhood. But because her title is chock full of strong women, each their own individual with their own shortcomings and strengths, she’s a much more successful character.

In many ways I suppose this philosophy circles back a lot to my sincere belief that representation in the media matters. But it’s also just true that the inherent politicization extends far beyond the media we consume; if you don’t fit into a societal norm that area of your life is always more heavily politicized, whether you like it or not. It’s a pain to live with. But it’ll always add another degree to your story that will make it more interesting than it would’ve been with a run-of-the-mill white male protagonist. (One of my favorite Tumblr ideas I can’t find the link for is to swap out all white male protagonists for old Grandmas to make a story instantly more interesting. “Ocean’s 11,” “Goodfellas,” you name it)

Kerry Bishe as Donna Clark and Mackenzie Davis as Cameron Howe - Halt and Catch Fire _ Season 2, Episode 6 - Photo Credit: Annette Brown/AMC“Friday Night Lights” won me over by the end. But “Friday Night Lights” with women in the lead roles? More lesbian subplots? Here for it. I’m currently watching through “Halt and Catch Fire,” and though I’ve loved Lee Pace for a while, this show is a lot more interesting to me since I found out it’s (spoiler alert) setting up a finale where Cameron and Donna start their own company. As I muck through the early episodes, I’m a lot more interested in the casual subversion of “Halt and Catch Fire” if it’s leading to leaving AMC’s classic anti-hero arc behind for greener, women-led pastures.

I’m still interested in the way our culture explores and builds masculinity. Like I said, VanDerWerff makes a compelling case for “Mr. Robot,” despite it being focused on yet another white male. But I’m not as interested in giving these stories an automatic greenlight anymore.

We should all be exploring diverse voices. Especially when women and people of color can’t even use theirs without being policed.

On Glasses and Half-Moon Spectacles

This is Lorelai Gilmore.

Lorelai-Gilmore-image-lorelai-gilmore-36522287-1024-768She’s the eventual owner of an inn, mother at 16, and lead of the acclaimed drama “Gilmore Girls.” The show, which started in 2000 dabbles a lot in the nature of families, class, privilege, and growing up, and follows her and her daughter Rory through the ups, downs, and coffees of their lives.

This is also Lorelai Gilmore.

8d8463981042c6166b69529d5560c9d3

 

Across the entire seven year run the show never really mentions Lorelai’s eyesight issues. Occasionally, often out of the blue, Lorelai will come on screen for a scene or two and be wearing a pair of glasses. It’s not frequent, but not unexpected either.

The thing is, Lorelai’s glasses got more presence than Dumbledore’s sexuality did in the entire Harry Potter series. And it struck me, on my most recent rewatch of “Gilmore Girls” (thanks Netflix!) what a great example this was of representation.

Representation in the media is a map for identities and people. It’s the way the media portrays groups, communities, experiences, ideas, and so much more. A sort of funky funhouse mirror, media representation both represents and re-presents images of folks–particularly marginalized peoples.

Despite what some people say, media representation matters. Even simple roles like Lt. Uhura in the 1960s “Star Trek” have led to people like Mae Jemison becoming the first African-American woman in space, Whoopi Goldberg deciding to become an actress. John Cho cites seeing Sulu on “Star Trek” as one of his earliest memories seeing himself in his media. 

I didn’t see any Asians on television. And you turn on Star Trek and there’s this Asian guy not chopping anybody up. He’s honorable, a helmsman of a spaceship, and it was a big, big deal for me to see that and have a role model. -John Cho

You see, identifying with characters in media is reassuring; it communicates a sense of belonging. Which is probably why studies have shown that white men feel a rush of self-esteem when they watch TV, unlike everyone else.

The problem with stereotypes and erasure is that it promotes the idea that there’s a normal, and worse, that there’s an appropriate age for realizing you don’t fall into that category. Most people can remember nuggets from their childhood that foreshadowed where they’d be later in life. Whether that’s realizing you’re a writer, that you’d collect bugs, or that you’re attracted to all genders is fairly inconsequential; kids don’t necessarily have a sense for where this will take them.

By limiting exposure and examples of gay characters like Dumbledore, leaving their sexualities to be just an afterthought that never found its way onto paper, producers of media are not just contributing to the heteronormative culture we’ve built up. They’re taking away a chance for kids to know that growing up “different” can mean many things, including that it’s not the main act of your life. Nobody is just one thing. You’re not simply your gender, race, sexuality, class, favorite Nic Cage movie, or any other marker you may carry with you. When J.K. Rowling assumes that she has to find a way to “work in” Dumbledore’s sexuality it furthers the notion that she’d even need to.

Representation isn’t after the fact. Representation can’t be just a quick quip to be confirmed by filmmakers. And representation doesn’t have to be the main focus of a character. Sometimes it’s as simple as slipping on a pair of glasses–half moon or otherwise.