Ideological Criticism Showtime's Drama Series the L Essay

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Ideological Criticism

Showtime's drama series the L Word, which ran from 2004 to 2009, features a cast of lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered characters, and has been lauded for its representations of non-heterosexual individuals and relationships. The relative dearth of complex lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) characters on contemporary television means that the L Word constitutes one of the few places where the public can see these kinds of characters represented with the sort of depth and complexity usually reserved for heterosexual leads. However, just because the L Word makes a point to include homosexual, bisexual, and transgender characters, this does not mean that it treats them equally. In fact, instead of presenting homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people as discrete points on an otherwise broad spectrum of human sexuality, the L Word seems to alienate its bisexual and transgender characters, presenting them as a kind of subdivision or even aberration of homosexuality in largely the same way that homosexuality was frequently perceived as an aberration of "normal" heterosexuality. Thus, instead of breaking from a homo-hetero dichotomy through its bisexual and transgender characters, the L Word actually serves to reinforce this dichotomy by treating bisexuals and transgendered people as somehow apart from the rest of human sexuality.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Essay on Ideological Criticism Showtime's Drama Series the L Assignment

There is some inherent difficulty in explicating how the L Word alienates bisexual and transgendered individuals precisely because it is so overt in its attempts to at least appear as if it is offering a progressive, robust representation of the LGBT community. On the one hand, the show seems to take a definitive, explicit ideological stance merely by focusing on LGBT characters and the way public reception of their sexuality affects their lives, and as such, one might suppose that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to criticize it for any potentially divisive elements. In fact, it is somewhat difficult to recognize these divisive tendencies at first glance, because the show goes to great lengths to essentially flaunt its credibility. This is why one must engage in a close ideological critique of the L Word's rhetorical and narrative devices, because it is only by examining the traces of latent ideology which present themselves in language, rather than the overt ideology declared by the show and its supporters, that one can begin to understand how the L Word alienates bisexuals and transgendered people even as it claims to do the opposite.

As mentioned above, an ideological critique is focused mainly on "the ideology manifest in the artifact and the rhetorical strategies that promote it over other ideologies," with a particular interest in those traces of ideology that reveal a dominant, subjective approach inherent in the artifact but otherwise hidden due to the self-cloaking tendency that is inherent in all ideology (Foss 248). This last point regarding self-cloaking is important to note whenever one is discussion ideology, but especially so when considering ideology expressed in rhetoric, because one cannot hope to parse traces of ideology in a rhetorical artifact without first appreciating how that ideology hides itself. In short, the central "goal" of any ideology is to present itself as anything but; that is to say, ideology can only be truly successful when it is not identified as such by the people believing and enacting it, because it is most successful when it can present itself as "common sense," or intuition, or any form of knowing and interpretation that purports to represent an inherent, "natural" truth.

Appreciating how this phenomenon works in the L Word is particularly important because upon cursory examination, its particular ideological perspective appears anything but hidden. However, the fact that it seems to have an explicit ideology should inform the critic that there is more to its position than meets the eye, because seemingly explicit ideologies by definition cannot help but to shield more implicit ideologies from view. Thus, the L Word's explicit attention to representing LGBT characters actually serves to partially shield its particular treatment of those characters from criticism, because it convinces the audience to ignore any of the subtle traces of a dominant, regressive ideology and instead focus on its more general "positive" ideological position, a position that largely can be summed up as "LGBT people exist, and their interpersonal relationships are more or less like heterosexual people." When an artifact seems to argue for such a basic, seemingly positive, and rather simplistic ideology, the careful critic must take it as a warning sign that there are more complex, possibly negative ideologies at work. Thus, examining how the L Word alienates bisexual and transgendered characters will not only contribute to the field of ideological criticism by further demonstrating the means by which ideology hides and reveals itself, but also by specifically showing how the neoliberal rhetoric of equality and tolerance can often serve to perpetuate regressive ideologies that run counter to its explicitly stated goals and ideals.

Before continuing any further in this study, it will be necessary to first describe the artifact in greater detail. The L Word debuted in 2004, and to understand its relative cultural importance one may consider the various legislative and cultural shifts which have occurred in the intervening years. Firstly, at the time the L Word debuted (and continuing until after its conclusion), the United States military's policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) was fully in force, meaning that homosexual members of the military were forced to keep their sexuality a secret or risk being discharged. DADT featured prominently in one of the show's storylines, because one of the central characters found herself having to deny her relationship in an attempt to remain in the military (in typical television fashion, the story ended with her dramatically declaring her love for her girlfriend in court). Additionally, in 2004, the American public was definitively against the idea of gay marriage, but in just six years, public opinion has shifted to the point that for the first time in history, a majority of Americans favors allowing gay marriage (although this number still fluctuates, the trend has been gradually moving towards this position for some time).

It is in this context that one must consider the L Word, because it helps one to appreciate why it might have deep-seated traces of a dominant, hetero-normative ideology; quite simply, from a purely mercenary perspective, the show's success very well could have depended on its not being too progressive in its implicit ideology, but instead present a kind of "safe" representation of LGBT characters that might appeal to a wider viewing audience. This is also why there is little benefit to discussing the artifact in terms of an author, because although one might point towards the show's creators or the writers or directors of particular episodes, in reality one must face the realization that television shows such as this are produced within the context of a massive corporate structure, such that artistic and rhetorical decisions, while undoubtedly influenced by the specific individuals who happened to work on any given episode, must be considered part of the show's larger production. Of course, this is not meant to excuse the L Word for any of its potentially regressive ideological content, but rather simply is a means of acknowledging how the specifics of the medium itself will influence this study.

As a result, one need not waste time talking about specific writers or directors, but instead may focus on the show itself as kind of dual-natured entity, both rhetor and rhetorical artifact. Of course, accounting for the entire show is well beyond the scope of this project, so it will have to suffice to focus on a few specific episodes that will help support the argument. Because this study is chiefly concerned with the show's representation of bisexuals and transgendered people, the particular episodes under discussion will focus on these characters. The first episode under discussion here is the sixth episode of the first season, entitled "Losing it." Among other storylines, it partially focuses on the character of Alice Pieszecki, a journalist and the only character who self-identifies as bisexual. In the episode, Alice goes on a date with a man named Lisa, who identifies himself as a "lesbian in a man's body," and they continue to date for the next three episodes.

The second two episodes under discussion focus on the only prominent transgendered character in the show, Moira/Max. The earlier episode is titled "Lonestar," and is the seventh episode of the third season. In it, Moira goes through the earliest stages of her gender transformation by taking testosterone injections. The later episode is entitled "Leaving Los Angeles," and is the fourth episode of the sixth and final season, wherein Max (formerly Moira) is abandoned by his lover after becoming pregnant. With this brief synopsis, one can now move on to identifying and analyzing the rhetorical aspects of the show that provide clues to its ideology.

To begin this analysis, it is necessary to define an important term that will help to identify and discretize the traces of ideology revealed… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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