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Author Topic: Lesbians In Film
Trespasser
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posted 11 October 2002 06:15 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I've read an interesting book called Female Masculinity by a queer studies theorists Judith Halberstam, and it had a section on lesbians on film that prompted me to start the topic.

It's interesting to follow the history. There was the period of the Hays Hollywood code (if I remember correctly the name) that forbade depiction of anything "immoral" until somewhere around the 1970s. Within that period, however, a few interesting and odd movies surfaced (like The Killing of Sister George which was filmed by Aldrich in the UK; or The Caged, which although contained a standard lesbophobic situation with innocent prison inmates and sadistic lesbian wardens, has been, according to JH, a revisionist and brave work).

Fast forward to the time where lesbians enter the mainstream film (and skip the analysis of various tomboy characters, some in good movies, some in bad, but all ending up accepting their inevitable femininity): Halberstam argues that the era of the movies that were made between Lianna and Fried Green Tomatoes was the era of invisible lesbian and non-existent butch (honestly, I had no idea that the two close friends on Tomatoes were supposed to be lovers! Sham, I say!) and that -- and this is more controversial -- with expulsion of female masculinity and butchness from the movies lesbian visibility has vanished too.

Then there are the more diverse nineties, with (to mention just a few) Set It Off, Bound, Boys Don't Cry, High Art, Salmonberries.

There's also the lesbian vampire sub-genre, there are Dietrich and Garbo in drag, there is Chasing Amy, Color of Purple, Losing Chase, many others.

[ October 11, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


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'lance
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posted 11 October 2002 08:09 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
A bit of a quibble: the Hays production code was actually in operation from 1934 to the 1950s, though it wasn't officially tossed until 1967.

But this meant that there was a considerable window of opportunity in the early days for moviemakers to depict lesbianism and all manner of other scandalous, outrageous, salacious, lubricious... ah, where was I, O yes... it was in reaction to such stuff that the Hays Office, largely at the urging of the Catholic Church in the US, was actually created.

So naturally there's been a lot written about this early period -- by comparison with which, in some respects, the Hays Office interlude was more a Dark than a Golden Age of film. Hollywood film anyway. Here's a Salon review of two recent books.

quote:
"Yes, I wrote the story of 'I'm No Angel' myself. It's all about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it." So said Mae West in 1933, the last year before the American motion-picture industry voluntarily surrendered to three decades of censorship by the Hays Office, properly known as the Production Code Administration.

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Timebandit
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posted 13 October 2002 07:21 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I realize that lesbianism is not frequently seen in films -- are you talking strictly North American films or are you including European films, here? Europeans tend to be much more open to risque subject matter. Two films that immediately spring to mind are Metzger's Therese et Isabel (1968) and Fassbinder's The Bitter Tears of Petra Von Kant (1972). I don't know about Metzger for sure, but I know that homosexuality (including lesbianism) was a common theme in his work, and he made over 40 films in his lifetime...
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audra trower williams
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posted 13 October 2002 09:30 PM      Profile for audra trower williams   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I'm assuming you've seen The Celluloid Closet.
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josh
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posted 13 October 2002 11:44 PM      Profile for josh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Yeah that's a great film.

The nadir had to be 1962 when both the Shirley McClaine character in A Children's Hour and the senator in Advise and Consent killed themselves after realizing they were gay.


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Trespasser
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posted 14 October 2002 12:28 AM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
No, I didn't see the Closet, I've got to read this link.

Zoot, I've just seen the Fassbinder's Petra and that as a play, not as a film. You have a point, European movies are probably different in that department.

In André Techiné's Les Voleurs Catherine Deneuve has an interesting supporting role... she does die at the end, which is how lesbians often end up in lesbian romance novels -- I mean, so I was told.


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'lance
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posted 14 October 2002 12:32 AM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Suuure you were, Tres...

(But in a lesbian romance novel, shouldn't it be the straight gril who dies at the end? Or, better yet, realizes that she actually prefers grils after all, and lives happily ever after so?)


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Trespasser
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posted 14 October 2002 01:05 AM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Honest to godess, I learned about the plots of lesbian pulp from this Canadian documentary . Relationships and sex do happen in those Harlequins, but at the end (by rule) one of the girls either dies (kills herself, gets a deadly disease etc) or falls for a man and straightens up. But as Josh pointed out, such endings have not been confined to this genre only.

Edited to add: 'lance, if you only knew how hot Susannah York is in The Killing of Sister George...

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 14 October 2002 10:06 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Reading this thread over, my eyebrows jumped a bit when I saw "Bound" as a "lesbian" film.

Not that it isn't, I just didn't think of it as such. On one level it's just a rather superb "caper" film, and of course there is the theme about trust.

The lesbian relationship between the two women (forgive me, I have no brain for remembering actors and actress' names) just seemed rather natural, and wasn't the center of focus of the film-- which maybe shows a bit of societal evolution, because I'm guessing that previous to this, studio execs would have tried to, for salacious reasons, make this the central theme, with lots of soft core sex scenes.

I've seen "Forbidden Love" before, Tres, and quite enjoyed it. That whole genré of 50's pulp is interesting. I'm no expert on the era, but from what I've been able to piece together, it seems that a crackdown on porn at the time forced the market to find other ways of serving the demand. Gay porn turned to pulp, and managed to convey the sex (as much as it was allowed) by adding the tragic death at the end. Bondage and S&M porn found a home in the cheezy "Detective" or "True Crime" magazines, which did an end run around censors by putting a thin veneer-- almost invisible veneer-- of providing some kind of reportage on "crime". And of course, Hugh Hefner took a different route by doing pinups with as much "wholesomeness" attached to it as possible, and by putting inside a magazine where things other than sex were highlighted.

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: Tommy_Paine ]


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'lance
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posted 14 October 2002 10:37 AM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
'lance, if you only knew how hot Susannah York is in The Killing of Sister George...

Having seen Susannah York in a couple of 1960s movies (Tom Jones, opposite Albert Finney, and Conduct Unbecoming, with Michael York), I have no trouble believing it. Whatsoever.

It grieves me that I've never seen either
The Celluloid Closet or Forbidden Love. Two more for the list, I guess.


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skdadl
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posted 14 October 2002 10:44 AM      Profile for skdadl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Placemarker: Will return to say a couple of things about the two versions of The Children's Hour (Lilian Hellman -- the 1962 version was actually braver than the earlier film version, although neither quite matched the play; MacLaine's suicide has another logic, I thought -- and I thought so at the time), and an interesting sixties version of D.H. Lawrence's The Fox -- similar problems.
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Tommy_Paine
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posted 14 October 2002 10:55 AM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"Forbidden Love" is broadcast, from time to time on "Bravo" or "Showcase", or maybe "City TV", which you can't get out there yet 'lance, because contrary to boasts, "City TV" isn't really "everywhere", even if "Exective Producer: Moses Znaimer" is stamped everywhere. In Toronto, I've seen that stamped on little kid's foreheads.

I digress.

I was trying to get a link to the congressional investigations into pornography in the 1950's, but I couldn't. Even trying to search through "Betty Page", who gave testimony, proved fruitless. If it wasn't attached to the whole comic book investigations of the era, I think they ran at about the same time.

I'd like to know if indeed the crackdown on things in the 50's gave rise to the "pulp fiction" genré.


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'lance
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posted 14 October 2002 11:08 AM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
I'd like to know if indeed the crackdown on things in the 50's gave rise to the "pulp fiction" genré.

It might have given it a boost. On the other hand, I recently read a Vanity Fair piece by James Wolcott about the history of supermarket tabloids, the ancestors of which naturally go back before there were supermarkets, to the 1940s or even 30s. I'll try to dig it up.

Meanwhile, I imagine you're probably right, and the general moral panic of the 1950s likely energized the pulp scene -- sort of like pushing down bubbles in wallpaper which popped up elsewhere.

A few years later, of course, came the folk with razorblades who slashed it all to ribbons.

quote:
"Forbidden Love" is broadcast, from time to time on "Bravo" or "Showcase", or maybe "City TV", which you can't get out there yet 'lance, because contrary to boasts, "City TV" isn't really "everywhere", even if "Exective Producer: Moses Znaimer" is stamped everywhere.

Actually Znaimer would be hard put to it to get a license in Calgary, even were he interested. An independent station, "A Channel," is already working his side of the street. Similar format, even similar layout -- studio on a busy downtown street, activities easily watchable from outside through floor-to-ceiling tinted windows, etc. Very much City TV "inspired," though whether Znaimer created this style, or merely pioneered it in Canada, I do not know.

But I, too, digress.

(Edited to correct "tablets" to "tabloids." Damn head-cold).

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: 'lance ]


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Ed Weatherbee
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posted 14 October 2002 11:42 AM      Profile for Ed Weatherbee        Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Actually, it was a senate subcomittee on juvenile delinquency which examined comic books and pornography et al.
Try this link about its hearings in Florida

http://www.jtsears.com/lace.htm


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josh
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posted 14 October 2002 02:21 PM      Profile for josh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
skdadl, if I can anticipate your response. The suicide certainly can be interpreted as her realization that the relationship she desired would never come to pass, a case of unrequited love. But I think a less discerning audience would view it as her acting out her "shame." You're right. The 1934 version totally omitted any lesbian subtext.

Advise and Consent is a "classic" in the genre, made so in that it was made on the cusp of the "sexual revolution." In case no one has seen the film, or read the novel, the Senator in question (Bree is his first name if I recall) is being blackmailed by the "left" because he won't support a nuclear test ban treaty. They tracked down his former gay lover. The senator then goes on a tour of the gay "underworld" to track down the guy, who has become a hustler. He first contacts what appears to be the guy's pimp, a heavy-set, bearded, tea drinking, effiminate fellow. The pimp directs him to an underground gay bar in Washington. The senator enters the bar which, in order to have a drink, you have to descend the longest stairway in bar history. The bartender is a classic stereotype who tells him to "come in silly," while couples mingle and Sinatra croons. The hustler recognizes him and chases after the Senator, who flees in "horror." The Senator then hails a cab and pushes the hustler into a pool of water after the hustler tried to talk to him. The Senator then goes home and kills himself.


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'lance
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posted 14 October 2002 02:57 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I saw that movie with my parents, on our old black-and-white TV, when I was about 14.

Now, I'm certainly not trying to lay claim, retrospectively, to some kind of precocious enlightenment. Even by the standards of the time and place -- small-town Ontario, the 1970s -- I was pretty naive; barely knew what homosexuality was. (In this, I wasn't alone; as the Senator fled, my mother had to ask my dad what the significance of this bar was).

But -- though I probably couldn't have found words for it at the time -- I somehow remember being struck by how over-dramatically this "horrifying revelation" was presented. We were supposed to feel shock, horror, revulsion which even then seemed, to me, out of all proportion to what was actually revealed.


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Timebandit
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posted 14 October 2002 03:06 PM      Profile for Timebandit     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I often have a similar reaction, 'lance, to such movies. I've never really understood why so many straights are so fraught over homosexuality.

I will say, though, queer cinema having been underground or non-existent for quite a long period, is making up for lost time. Queer film fests, gay and lesbian collections handled by non-profit (and some for-profit) distrubutors, etc... I'd say a goodly proportion of short film and some independent film examines queer issues nowadays.


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Trespasser
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posted 14 October 2002 03:06 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Now now Tommy, you're introducing a category that I didn't: "lesbian movie." I was more interested in lesbian representation, the way the characters are conceptualized, I don't think it's a good idea to classify films into "lesbian ones", "those in which lesbians appear but whose relationships aren't the centre of the movie", etc.

Also, a tiny caveat: the history of male gale representation is a tad different than the history of female queerness. We often join the two into general cultural queer studies analysis (as well as the common political front), which is all OK. But if we want to go into specifics, the differences abound.

Now where did I read that essay about the two movies made out of the Hellman play, I have to think...

Another thing: the cinema of positive images is indeed (usually) bad cinema. I'm not saying queers don't commit suicides etc. It's just that some patterns of representation have been ridiculous -- and now are not even harmful as much as they are silly.

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


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'lance
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posted 14 October 2002 03:12 PM      Profile for 'lance     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
quote:
Another thing: the cinema of positive images is indeed (usually) bad cinema.

I agree heartily. Spare me art of which the highest praise people can imagine is that it "provides positive role models."

But that's a whole 'nutherthread, and might even qualify as trolling from some points of view.


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Trespasser
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posted 14 October 2002 03:33 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
To use a fellow babbler's phrase: "when I lie in my bed in wee morning hours and think about things of this world...", I would probably say that bad rep is better than no rep. 'Orientalism' better than silence. Once you're in the sphere of the intelligible (once you're spoken of, derided, named, your existence acknowledged, even in the worst possible way) the possibility of re-interpretation will come along, inevitably.

And just to repeat an earlier point: I can see how the category "queer cinema" (which is broader than G&L cinema anyway) can be seen as politically useful. But sticking to the categories "queer" and "straight" cinema is a bad idea in the longer run (hey! why didn't anyone write about that, it'd be interesting to see what constitutes "straight cinema" or TV -- and I think that there is such thing). The goal is to make movies of which we are never quite sure if they are "queer" or "straight" or "any-other-preference-ish", I suppose.

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: Trespasser ]


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Tommy_Paine
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posted 14 October 2002 09:24 PM      Profile for Tommy_Paine     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ed's link (thanks Ed) rang another bell with me that bears on the history part of your question, Trespasser.

It seems to me that WWII played a big role in gay male history. Gore Vidal in his autobiography "Palimpsest" devotes some time to the existance of gay bars in the war years. I'm guessing the draft bringing men of all stripes together, served to connect gays that otherwise wouldn't have had opportunity to connect.

I'd be willing to guess that the war probably had the same effect with lesbian women. I'm thinking in terms of the women who volunteered and served in the forces, but it occurrs to me also that women were thrust together in the factories, too, and that would have provided opportunities for connection.

After the war, everyone went their separate ways, for the most part back into the closet, but some, perhaps wanted to maintain the connections through gay/lesbian bars-- or through the Romance novels you mentioned? All guess work here.

Then you add to this the general repression of the 50's, and this probably shaped HOW the representations had to be made in literature (am I calling Harlequin romance novels "literature" here? By the spinning of my "Penguin Classics" in the living room, I guess I am) or film.

[ October 14, 2002: Message edited by: Tommy_Paine ]


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Flowers By Irene
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posted 14 October 2002 11:46 PM      Profile for Flowers By Irene     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I believe this article outlines the two main arguments on this issue:
quote:
"We have had about an equal number of people complaining it is too explicit and those saying they had been led to believe it would be more explicit than it was," a BBC spokesman said. The BBC2 drama, set in the 1890s in London's hidden lesbian community, shows Stirling playing Nan, a Whitstable oyster girl who falls in love with Kitty, the music hall star played by Hawes.

Some people have issues with lesbian characters, for some reason the rest can't seem to get enough.

I would say the biggest issue I have (with the more modern movies anyway) is the stereotyping of characters that is by no means limited to lesbians, so eh whatever.


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Pat
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posted 15 October 2002 02:13 AM      Profile for Pat   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Lizzie Borden, a lesbian, feminist filmmaker made Born In Flames,about a dystopic, futuristic, society several years after a socialist revolution. Women of different sexual preferences and races work to topple the state run media. In the film, the gay rights organizations, feminists, and other minorities found that they had even less power than before the socialist revolution.

Borden made the film on a budget of around $25,000 in 1983 mostly by using volunteers and using "guerrilla filming". The production values are atrocious in some areas but the concept is still an interesting one.

One complaint about "lesbian films" for those who view them regularily is the preponderance of "coming-out" stories. It's good to see something else going on in lesbians lives for a change.


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Trespasser
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posted 15 October 2002 12:25 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
That actually happened in some parts of the world

I've recently seen the film based on Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale and it has a lesbian character that is arrested and turned into a handmaid on the basis of 'gender treachery'.

Gosh, that movie is unpleasant... *shivers*


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DrConway
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posted 15 October 2002 03:54 PM      Profile for DrConway     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"A Streetcar Named Desire", anyone?
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josh
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posted 15 October 2002 04:04 PM      Profile for josh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
"Suddenly Last Summer"?
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swirrlygrrl
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posted 16 October 2002 09:31 AM      Profile for swirrlygrrl     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wait, Suddenly Last Summer was a lesbian movie? I may need this explained to me...
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josh
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posted 16 October 2002 10:24 AM      Profile for josh     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I was just following Dr. C's Tennessee Williams train of thought.
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Trespasser
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posted 18 October 2002 01:31 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
I just want to say one more thing.

Dear ER writers and executive proucer,

Whatever happened to your lesbian character, you know, the one that used to appear here and there in the series and was sometimes even involved in a plot or two? I'm sorry, but 10-seconds per episode is not what I'd call air-time. And it's been like that since the new season started. So why don't you remove Laura Innes from the opening credits altogether, when she'd nowhere to be seen in the series?

I know you got cold feet -- since Dr. Green left the show, she was the first candidate for the lead. And you couldn't do that, could you. Even the most inane (non)happenings in Carter and Abbie's life are more important than the constant drama in Kerrey Weaver's. (Oh yeah, and that: WTF is she always conflicted about? She is the only character who hasn't had a peaceful minute since she's been 'outed' by the writers. Being lesbian is not all that traumatic, you know.) The only thing that is OK in this season is that you are starting to tackle race issues -- the rest of the plot has been ridiculous. You removed the most complex character to the sidelines. And those little dramatic tricks that you play around her -- you know, nobody is buying that. It is obvious that she is removed from the narrations, and your silly hints at (imaginary) things to come keep nobody on their toes.

Why do you think queer audiences watched the show? Because of its unwaveringly fabulous and honest writing? Hah, don't make me laugh. There was a promise of a complex queer character, that's why. Now that you blew it, I don't know if anyone's surprised really.

So good luck inventing the ever new "intrigues" around what Carter feels about the beer that Abbie drank the night before.

A viewer.


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ronb
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posted 18 October 2002 01:39 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
We joined Mothering Magazine's ER boycott after their disgusting vaccination episode. Come, join us. Your life will be that much better.
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Trespasser
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posted 18 October 2002 01:44 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Ron! I didn't know about that, could you give me a link to the magazine and the action? The vaccination episode, that was the one with which they ended the previous season?
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Michelle
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posted 18 October 2002 01:59 PM      Profile for Michelle   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Wow. I just checked out the Vaccination section of the Mothering message board, and from my brief overview it looks like a bunch of parents who don't immunize their kids and tell a bunch of scare stories about immunization.

There's another section about circumcision that is totally against it by definition of the title of the forum ("The Case Against Circumcision").

I rarely take such one-sided, black and white health or parenting advice seriously. I didn't realize Mothering Magazine was so reactionary. I think I've even bought one before.

Tres, if you're interested, the discussion board is here.

[ October 18, 2002: Message edited by: Michelle ]


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ronb
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posted 18 October 2002 02:04 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
here's a link to the article by Mothering's Peggy O'mara. Unfortunately it's on Mercola's website, and he's something of a nutjob, but I can't find it on mothering's website

Mothering's a great mag, BTW. Poke around, I think you'll like it.


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ronb
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posted 18 October 2002 02:06 PM      Profile for ronb     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
Reactionary? Hardly.
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Trespasser
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posted 18 October 2002 02:17 PM      Profile for Trespasser   Author's Homepage     Send New Private Message      Edit/Delete Post  Reply With Quote 
All right, I'll leave it at that and turn back to the topic.

The lesbian characters in Queer As Folk are terribly done.


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