A Reboot By Any Other Name
In this time of perpetual disarray and imminent cataclysm, news of any variety has a tendency to inundate me in a Scanners-esque, brutalist electric deluge. Nothing good or apolitical ever seems to stand out anymore—it is more just staticky background to the barrage of murders and mockery of migrant-children, dazzling abuses of power, and blatant (and almost gleeful) impunities upon marginalized and otherwise oppressed peoples. Here and there a special-needs cat video will swell my arrhythmic heart, or a revival of a video of Tyra Banks delivering screaminspiration to terrified 19 year-olds will distract me from my ennui; but, by and large, I am adrift in a shit-sea of garbage.
But a few weeks ago, a THING happened. Well, several things happened, but most of them fall into the category of deplorable and numbingly political. A GAY THING happened last week. A GAY LADY THING. A thing that potentially could devastate the way, the way that we live….AND love.
Anyone who feels personally attacked by those last few words is also someone who experienced the chaotic simultaneous elation and horror at last week’s only important news break that the L Word would be resuscitated for…a reboot? A sequel? A reconstruction?? AN APOLOGY?? (Because I hate to be hyper-referential, but it’s too late to apologize, quite frankly).
Evidently it is indeed, a reboot that, thus far, only has Leisha Hailey, Jennifer Beals, and Kate Moenning confirmed to both executive produce and (allegedly) reprise their roles as Alice, Tina, and fucking Shane. So, The L Word 2: Dykey Bugaloo is back in action with the least problematic (sort of) characters, but the most problematic creative force (Illene Chaiken). A plethora of furious questions arise. Why? Why now? No, but really, why? What’s the end goal? WAIT A MINUTE, WHAT ABOUT JENNY, SHE’S NOT BACK IS SHE? IS SHE?
Perhaps the most important question that should be at the forefront of everyone’s concerns, or at least the queer community’s (or those members that have a relationship with the show) is “will this new L Word do fucking better?”
“But, wait, isn’t the The L Word the pivotal moment in liberation and self-actualization for all lesbians (because bi women, women on the queer spectrum, queer trans* women are just statistical anomalies lolololol) and the idea of it returning is like probably just as euphoric as scissoring?” a white man with a black-ink sectional pig tattoo on one forearm, a tattoo of bear in pants on the other, wearing a Carhart jacket and taking an extra year on his sociology dissertation asks. Well, that’s a “good” and “not ignorant” or “borderline offensive” question, Enoch. It’s a funny thing to try to dissect the legacy, critical worth, emotional devastation, fashion crises, desecration of personal identities and other such topics affiliated with The L Word. And doing so as a queer woman who as able to watch the show as it happened makes it uniquely challenging (trust me, straight cis men and women have no real qualms with discussing this show, for better or for worse…it’s like water of a duck’s back for them).
Because for a staggering panoply of queer/bi/lesbian folx, particularly those of my generation and in my age range, The L Word was and will always be astronomically significant. So significant, I plan on doing an actual, in-depth dissection and dissemination of the series in a multi-part blog post (riffing off Autostraddle’s exquisite model). For so many of us, The L Word, for better or for worse, was the first televisual representation of queer and Lesbian women that was not only able to permeate the popular (ahem **cis-hetero** ahem) consciousness, but one of the first major representations of ourselves and our community that didn’t relegate us to monolithic, vest-wearing, sanitized quasi-butches (sorry, Ellen), or “nameless bit role character aka employee at Home Depot who is pretty acerbic but clearly not getting fucked,” or the weirdly exoticized, power-lip stick lesbian that skittered through Sex and the City or Ally McBeal like the Ghost of Dykey Christmas Past. The show explored SOME of the complexities and nuances of the queer gal community, and, importantly, allowed us a depiction of our sexual energy and agency in such a way that was MOSTLY honest and vividly relatable. We were given (as if it’s a fucking privilege, but, hegemony and patriarchy, AMIRITE, Y’ALL) some modicum of dimensionality and depth and fucking truth, and JENNIFER BEALS, and that was and still is absolutely, irrefutably fucking huge. I never want to diminish the cruciality of The L Word.
But there’s the “or worse” in the “for better or worse” paradigm of The L Word (is it “for better or for worse?” “for better or worse?” “better or worse?” I really don’t pay attention to the prepositional clauses abused in wedding ceremonies). For example, in a brief, anxious conversation I had on Instagram with a dear friend (to be clear, almost every conversation with me is brief and anxious, it’s just ~my vibe~) who shares similar, fraught feelings about the show (I one time drunkenly messaged this same friend while I was at an Ani DiFranco concert (gay) about our favorite characters on The L Word (gayer) and I answered “Carmen’s hair and Alice’s tears” (very gay and very odd)) we discussed the fretful expectations for the show. She remarked “Maybe Ilene Chaiken has met a bi or trans person in the time the show’s been off the air,” and fuck me, if that isn’t the read of the century. To say the biphobia and transphobia/transmisogyny/trans…fetishism (?? I can’t really accurately describe the attitude towards trans* folx on the show, but it ranged from uncomfortable to troublingly TERFy) on The L Word was conspicuous is an understatement. I could delve into it further, but it would take eons and I should save it for my full-blown L Word post. But as a bi woman coming of age watching the show, and seeing a show about queer women that trivialized, mocked (either directly or indirectly) and vilified bi women was immeasurably upsetting. The L Word basically pledged allegiance to the straight, cis narrative that “there are no bi women, just slutty, attention-seeking straight girls (BY THE BY, bless up to all slutty girls, straight, gay, bi, trans or otherwise—go on with your beautiful slutty self); conniving queer women; or some heinous alternative.” It was a fairly damning thing to watch—and I won’t go so far as to say it totally shaped my views at the time on my own sexuality. But the constant, unbearable oscillation between absolutes I found myself in at 13, 14, 15 when The L Word was on—I’m completely straight! (No) I’m completely gay! (Also no)—was really complicated by this one text made by queer women that more or less castigated bisexuality the way patriarchal folks did. And the trans* portrayal on the show is WHOA. ROUGH. SO VERY ROUGH. As a cis folk, I certainly can’t even attest to the way the portrayals and representations must have come across to or impacted trans*/genderqueer/nonbinary folks (especially because they’re virtually erased by way of pretty trenchant binarism on the show’s part). But I can certainly remark upon how damaging and problematic it was to have the few trans* or genderqueer (ish?) be cast in a glaringly unpleasant light—meant to look awkward, sexually thwarted or misguided, socially inept, or undesirable to the queer aesthetic of queer women—that put anyone existing outside the biological binary in the space of “other.” The L Word essentially took intersectional feminism and queer unity and said “that’s so interesting, but how about we just sorta toss that the fuck out, have a vaguely diverse cast so it seems like we give a shit, and have a cunty, egocentric woman with a problematic relationship to mental health be the show’s narrator? How does that sound instead?”
The important thing to remember about this L Word remake is that….well…first of all, we didn’t fucking ask for it. We really did not. I do not want to speak on behalf of every queer person, but like…we just didn’t. We were really content with that bizarre final season (content probably isn’t the right word….it was more the feeling of having to euthanize an animal you rescued that you really hoped and prayed didn’t have rabies, but of course did have rabies, and you had no other course of action but to let it go that way). And we were very fine savoring the wonderful memories of the delightfully nonsensical moments (remember when Shane was a hairdresser IN A SKATE PARK?? Remember when Helena EXISTED AS A CHARACTER?? Remember the how hot Bette’s affair was in Season 1 IF YOU IGNORE THE OVER CLASSISM OF THE WHOLE SITUATION?? Remember Kit hooking up with that motivational speaker WHOSE COMPANY’S ANAGRAM WAS T.O.E.??? REMEMBER IVAN?!?!?). And the original show could maintain its importance—albeit importance riddled with problematic elements—if we sort of kept it hermeneutically sealed as a relic of the early 2000s, where media was bad, and, unfortunately, queer media was often fucking worse (primarily because it SHOULD HAVE done better). The L Word doesn’t necessarily belong in the here and now. But since we’re getting it, I’m EXTREMELY CAUTIOUSLY optimistic. And I just fucking hope it does better, because there is nothing really the show needs to resolve. It just needs to be better. And that's what we deserve. That super hot cast doing BETTER.
(Well, if this is really happening, Jenny needs to still be dead. Really dead. Don’t have her adrift on some dyke raft like the lesbian Pi or The Cay. Dead. Dead. Dead. Oh, and bring Tasha back, please. And do better. That’s all)