I noticed it for the first time Tuesday night, heading into NYC during rush hour. Since then, I’ve spotted three more, high in the sky, across three major NJ highways (all of them ten minutes from the Holland Tunnel). As big as it was, I was quick to notice something amiss. And that’s when it hit me like the car I almost-rear ended while staring at it.
Awkwardly gazing at Showtime’s new billboard, I noticed characters from all the hit shows that made them “Network of the Year” - Californication, Weeds, The Tudors, Secret Diary of a Call Girl, Dexter- all except The L Word. Maybe if I was on some one-lane highway heading down the Bible Belt, I wouldn’t be so stunned at the exclusion of our favorite series from this ad/ode to programming excellence. But for goddess sakes, it’s the Tri-state, home to many a queer girl. Left incredulous, all I could think about the rest of the week was why The L Word was left out of Showtime advertisement heaven.
Last time I checked, The L Word has had a pretty good run on the network: five seasons strong and every queer gal’s guilty pleasure. Heck, it was even announced last week by Showtime’s president Robert Greenblatt that a spin-off is in the works. So why not include it on a billboard displaying all the series’ that made Showtime the year’s “it” network? Could they really not squeeze a shot of Bette’s incandescent eyes or Shane’s chiseled cheekbones on this big-ass ad? There’s no doubt Jennifer Beals and Katherine Moennig make way better eye candy than David Duchovny or Michael C. Hall. Was it a conscious decision then to leave out the faces of our beloved dyke divas because of what the show represents? The billboard features characters from shows whose lives are centered on adultery, drugs, prostitution, and murder. Queer sex was really too taboo to be posted?
The exclusion of The L Word from Showtime’s billboards illustrates just how invisible queer women are made in the media. It especially speaks to how we lack representation in general on television. Unless it’s a queer-centered product or a queer targeted audience, it is very rare to see any depictions of lesbian, bi-sexual, and queer life on the boob tube. Sure, we’ve come along way since Will & Grace. But besides a bunch of real-life lesbians (Ellen, Rosie, Daniela Sea, Leisha Hailey) and a few questionable bisexuals (Tila Tequila, Lindsey Lohan, Kristanna Loken), where do we see any other (never mind authentic) representations of queer women’s lives on TV?
Besides LOGO’s Ex’s & Oh’s and Gimme Sugar, what mainstream cable network has shows about/involving queer women, their struggles, their dreams, and their lives? It’s no secret or surprise that our heteronormative TV culture keeps queer programming at bay, unless the network is queer itself. Mainstream hit shows like Degrassi: The Next Generation, Cashmere Mafia, and Nip/Tuck include gay/ bisexual characters to fill a few dramatic storylines. And as irreplaceable as The L Word is, there is a dire need for more shows about queer girl worlds and how they turn.
It’s great to see sexy queer gals like Portia de Rossi and Michelle Paradise on the screen representing femme fierceness. And dykes like Jackie Warner, Cat Cora, and Dani Campbell do a fine job of representing “us” on the small screen. But I have yet to see real butch women representing for the bois on TV. As awesome as Ellen and Dani are, they don’t cut it in terms of butchness. Snoop from The Wire and Julie Goldman from The Big Gay Sketch Show are as close as it gets.
Truth is, most of the queer women on TV are depicted as lipstick lesbians, or something close to these uber-femme types. Take Tila freakin’ Tequila, the over-sexed bi bimbo reducing girl-girl love to nothing more than spa days and skimpy outfits. Then there’s Rosie, our token butch, who is loud and aggressive and best known for feuds with the infamously toupee-d Mr. Trump. Is this who/all we are? If not, where the hell are the rest of “us” at in TV land?
There’s nothing wrong with femininity, brazenness, boisterousness, and a fierce libido. But when it pigeonholes us into a “type”, then Houston, we have a problem. I don’t know about you gay gals, but Lindsey Lohan’s recent foray into homoville isn’t enough queer female representation for me. There’s so much to our culture that the boob tube chooses to overlook, and that Showtime chooses to hide. Like our faces on their billboards. And if their new one is any indication of our present state of queer affairs, then we still have a long and winding road ahead of us in boob tube land. Let’s keep watching for signs till then.
“Lift your eyes higher then the billboards do” - Bitch