Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Real L Word?

Did anyone happen to catch Showtime's new season of The Real L Word on Sunday? The show’s first season followed the lives of high-profile LA lesbians: their relationships, their social interactions, their careers. While it was a bit racy at times, it didn’t compare with this season’s blatant and seemingly unnecessary sex scenes, full-on nude shots, and a general focus on sex that wasn’t present last season. After finishing an episode, you’re left with that icky feeling when you’ve seen something that should have been private.

I’m confused by the show, because I always thought it catered to women. Turns out this season seems to be more catered to men. Many of the women I know who watch porn like the story and the build-up; they don’t immediately want to see two women having sex, but would rather see what comes before the sex and then see the sex. The Real L Word’s sex scenes often occur suddenly and without warning. In one scene, two of the characters are in a car driving to one woman’s house, and all of a sudden they’re having sex, with nothing blurred out, and the audience sees everything. I mean everything. It’s uncomfortable to watch and not in the least sexually appealing, at least to me or the two other women with whom I watched the show. The sex scenes don’t show any kind of emotional interaction or affection, but rather hook-ups whose graphic nature disturbs the flow of the show.

In The Hollywood Reporter’s interview with the show’s co-creators, Ilene Chaiken and Jane Lipsitz, both claim that sex is used to demonstrate to the audience the depth of some of the relationships on the show so that the audience has a truer picture of these relationships. In response to a question about where the line is between using a sex scene to tell a story versus using it for shock value, Lipsitz comments:

“Without getting incredibly graphic, I feel like it’s the context of the sex scenes. In the first episode, Sara represented the forbidden fruit for Whitney and to make that point resonate we showed a sex scene.[1]

I understand where she’s coming from with this comment; sex is an important part of life and the relationship she’s referring to in the show was based largely on the sex. However, what about the scene where one character is masturbating after the women she liked had sex with someone else? The scene had no relevance to the rest of the show; an interview beforehand expressing the character’s feelings would have sufficed. How about another scene where one character is about to get in the shower and the camera follows her walk to the bathroom so the audience sees her entirely naked? What’s the point of that shot? To show that lesbians have breasts and vaginas too? I was watching the show with my mom and sister and all three of us were confused and disgusted by these scenes. It feels voyeuristic and wrong to see something so personal on a show that follows the lives of real women, with real jobs, desires, and relationships. I realize that they signed up for the show, and I’m not opposed to porn, but porn for the sake of porn is one thing; real women being portrayed largely in terms of only their sexual relationships and desires feels wrong to me. This portrayal ignores many of the other things that make them individuals and their relationships interesting and unique.

What offends me so much about this season is that it overly-sexualizes lesbians in a society where women, and often lesbians, are already extremely sexualized. Every man’s fantasy is to see two girls doing it, and with The Real L Word, these dreams become a reality! While the show claims to illustrate the reality of being a lesbian in a big city, is this truly reality or simply the same stereotype about gay women that we still can’t seem to shake?

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