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TV's way of breaking lesbian stereotypes

Review by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor | February 6, 2004 | Page 9

The "L" Word, starring Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman and Mia Kirshner, airs Sundays on Showtime.

THE LATEST in a string of gay-oriented TV shows, Showtime's The "L" Word is the first program to revolve around lesbians and bisexual women. That it exists--to mostly positive reviews--is not an unwelcome contrast to the fate of out lesbian Ellen Degeneris' sitcom Ellen, which ABC promptly canceled in 1997 when her character came out as a lesbian.

"L" Word is set in posh West Hollywood, and its characters are products of their surroundings--they are rich, white and share impeccable fashion tastes and haircuts. The storylines aren't dissimilar from other soap opera themes--relationships between friends, the pursuit of love and intimacy, the sting of infidelity, and then of course there's the sex.

"L" Word has received tons of publicity because the producers went out of their way to portray the show as breaking stereotypes of typical lesbians. The New Yorker ran a cover story featuring the cast naked with a banner that read, "Not Your Mother's Lesbians."

But if "L" Word is supposed to challenge stereotypes, it only does so by perpetuating the ridiculous caricature of gay life that Hollywood has recently championed. This is the view that gays and now lesbians are rich, white, supermodel beautiful and lead fabulous lives.

That "L" Word rehashes unrealistic popular culture stereotypes about the lives of gays and lesbians isn't a reason in and of itself to criticize the show. Just because the show is about a group of people that are oppressed doesn't mean that it should be judged by a different standard than the rest of Hollywood's drivel. Whenever dealing with the entertainment industry, one has to temper their expectations.

The "L" Word is only another example of the yawning gap between reality and what the TV industry wants us to believe is reality. Still, there's something to be said about a show that approvingly portrays relationships--and sex--between women as normal, even if it chooses to focus on upper-class lesbians.

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