Thursday, June 11, 2009

Breaking Ground, Until the Bitter End

If you watched Guiding Light on June 10, 2009, you didn't just watch Olivia Spencer walk into a store and shop for a vibrator. You watched a television milestone.

Think about it - when was the last time you turned on the television at 3pm, and watched the better part of an hour devoted to a female character's sexual frustration? When was the last time you saw an attractive female character opt out of a sexual situation with an attractive man and turn, instead, to her own devices? When was the last time you watched two female soap opera characters run into one another at a sex shop and actually acknowledge that there's no shame in "taking care of one's self?" I'll tell you when: NEVER. You've never seen this on daytime television. You've probably never seen this on any television show that doesn't require a cable decoder.

Guiding Light is slated to end a 72 year run on September 18th and, true to form, the show is pushing the envelope and addressing social taboos right until the bitter end. Not satisfied with just presenting a same-sex love story that focuses on the love part, first and foremost, or posing a challenging response to the question "what is family?", the writers of GL have chosen to go one step further.

Otalia and The Noble Savage

There is a tendency, in some circles, to relegate gays and lesbians (and yes - I know this is a story without labels...but come's a story about two women who are in love and who want to have sex with one another. Lesbian sex. There. I said it.) to Noble Savage status. A lot of people can tolerate the idea of two women falling beautifully in love with one another, and making beautiful, poetic, choreographed, rose-petal-covered-bed, 10,000-candles-surrounding-them, Adagio-for-Strings-as-background-music, under-the-satin-sheets, tear-inducing, serving-a higher-purpose love with one another, but they can't take it any other way. And I'm not pointing at the religious right, either. I'm thinking about the supposedly tolerant left, some misguided feminists, and even factions of the lesbian community. I'm thinking about a good friend of mine - a good, strong, progressive feminist who once said in complete earnest that, despite her undeniable sexual attraction to men, she longed to be a lesbian because, "straight people fuck, but lesbians make love." (I told her to go to NYC's Clit Club on a Friday night, spend some time in the bathroom, and think again about this ridiculous theory.)

Ellen Wheeler and Jill Lorie Hurst have wisely made the decision to avoid this Noble Savage territory. Considering the fact that Olivia Spencer is well established as a sexual being, to suddenly squash any hint of raw, sexual need in her would have been foolish, and it wouldn't have rung true. Olivia loves sex. She's rarely gone for very long without having sex with someone. When she was close to death, one of the first things she pursued to "feel alive" was sex. Spoilers indicate that Olivia will tell Natalia that sex is not something that has to happen for them but, make no mistake about it: sex is most definitely something that has to happen for Olivia. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be kissing Josh (and yes, people, she kissed him as much as he kissed her - that exchange was mutual.) If it weren't important, Olivia wouldn't be walking around looking like a lost tourist. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be groaning in frustration at upward-facing dog. If sex weren't important to Olivia, if she were some sort of Noble Sapphic Savage, completely devoid carnal desire, she wouldn't be trying to decide between the Pearl Rabbit and the Pocket Rocket.

If, as a viewer, you're frustrated about Otalia's thus-far sexual stalemate, Olivia Spencer is just plain horny. And it is not a bad thing. It is a normal, natural thing for which there are remedies. Women - all sorts of women - deal with this every day. Wheeler and Hurst want you to know this.

Pushing the Envelope

How easy it would have been to keep Olivia and Natalia on a chaste, Noble Savage trajectory! How safe! Even Father Ray could live with the idea of Natalia "having feelings" for Olivia, as long as she had no intention of acting on those feelings. This, however, will not be the case. It really can't be the case, because one of the characters involved in this pairing is someone who we know loves and craves sex. Does anyone really believe Olivia capable of entering into and sticking with a committed, monogamous relationship that doesn't include sex? She may say that she's willing to do this, but nothing we know about Olivia indicates that this is even a possibility for her.

While the big Otalia consummation scene will almost certainly be a very fanciful, poetic, choreographed affair, (this is pretty much de riguer for any soap super couple's first time - unless it's Luke raping Laura, but I digress) Wheeler and Hurst are pushing the envelope and breaking ground by visiting Olivia's sexual frustration well in advance of The Big Event. And visiting Springfield's low-rent version of Toys in Babeland, no less.

Olivia Spencer is no Noble Savage. She's just a normal, healthy, horny woman. And, between you, me and the lamppost? If she doesn't already have a Pocket Rocket, it's only because she lost it in the move.

© 2009 Lana M. Nieves

Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves


Liz and Dani said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Liz and Dani said...

Spot on, Lana. Brilliant.

I completely agree with basically everything you've mentioned.

The one thing I loved about this whole little slice of the story is that it is keeping Olivia's sexuality intact without having it supported by a man. I LOVE that they've essentially made her the same Olivia, just with the love element in addition to the lust. I honestly (and geekily) find it fucking FASCINATING.

I would have been terribly disappointed if they had de-sexualized Olivia just because she fell in love with a woman. One of the things I absolutely adore about JLH/EW beyond the fact that they're simply amazing as writers is that they've been so true to the characters' backstory. They've addressed these important things - Olivia's insecurities, Natalia's need for normalcy due to her teen pregnancy, Olivia's sexuality, etc. etc.

This is probably something we'll address in our podcast, but I love Olivia's declaration that she'll go without sex for Natalia. I know we all think that's BS, she'd never last, but the fact that she believes she could do it (and would try) for Natalia is pretty amazing and transformative about the character of Olivia.

I'll stop my rambling now. Great post!

- Dani

Snapper said...

I think Olivia believes she can give up sex for Natalia - she's being 100% sincere. It's a lovely and loving gesture that comes from all the right places for all the right reasons. I just don't think she'd be able to keep such a promise for very long without either breaking it, or growing to truly resent the whole celibacy thing. And what I consider her inability to live a life of chastity? I don't at all see that as a failing or a flaw. Olivia wouldn't be Olivia if she weren't a sex-loving spitfire. That's part of the whole package Natalia fell in love with.

TheWeyrd1 said...

Personally, I suspect that good 'ole Natalia isn't quite the chaste gal she appears to be (at least I hope not...heh). After all, she possibly was a horny teenager (i.e. Rafe's appearance). I don't think Gus would have been so easily led away from Harley, a clearly and very sexual gal, if he recalled Natalia being less than entertaining in the bed room. That said, I think it will take Olivia to help Natalia over her "fears". And seriously, who could possibly resist a horny in love Olivia, once she starts upping the ante!?!

Rikita said...

Olivia worships Natalia with all of the hearts and flowers to make a girls swoon and knows her way around a mattress. What a combination of a mental and physical seduction. Celibate for 17 years Natalia has quite a payoff coming her way.

Snapper said...

Except Natalia hasn't been celibate for 17 years...we know she had sex with Gus.

JCF said...

A lot of people can tolerate the idea of two women falling beautifully in love with one another, and making beautiful, poetic, choreographed, rose-petal-covered-bed, 10,000-candles-surrounding-them, Adagio-for-Strings-as-background-music, under-the-satin-sheets, tear-inducing, serving-a higher-purpose love with one another, but they can't take it any other way.

Oh, I can take it other ways. The "Slap & Tickle/Grunt & Grind/Dog & Pony" (etc etc etc!) has its place...

...but may I say I'm HOPING for something more like the former? [Although, not having been a soap fan, but having seen the YouTubed "Carly & Bo First Time" I will confess that was perhaps a little over-choreographed. ;-/]

As the praying-in-church Natalia reminded us today, she's still a Catholic. Ergo, brace yourselves: I want to talk about Roman Catholic views on sex. :-0

The two words you need to know, are "Unitive" and "Pro-Creative". It's the latter, of course, which is so (to use an Official Otalian Expression, courtesy CC) "probalsome". The Father Rays of the Church dump on the gay Natalias (and Nates), just because (as Tom Robbins said in Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) "spit won't make a baby."

If I find fault with that philosophy---and I do!---it's not because "Procreation" is a bad thing {Waves "Welcome to the World!" to Ivy Lola "Dimples Jr" Malloy!}, just that baby-making is too narrow a definition of procreation.

But let's get onto the other half of the equation: "Unitive." Obviously, it means that a couple should unite in their love-making. But what does "unite" mean? (Especially when NOT in its impoverished "Insert Tab A into Slot B" mechanical sense!)

Basically (sez the Church, and Yours Truly) "unitive" sex means self-giving sex: "is it good for you---and what can I do to improve if it's not?", not "Was it good for you, too?"

So, what's wrong w/ the Church?

Well, that goes back to that "Procreative" definition again: for the Vatican, Unitive self-giving = "I give you my sperm from my Pee-pee" + "I accept your sperm in my Hoo-hah". Or, to give of yourself, means to give of your zygotes, such to make that all-important baby again.

It's no wonder, that by THESE Fr Ray definitions, Natalia (and the rest of us queers) are going to come {ahem} up "objectively disordered".

So is the answer to say F@ck 'em, I'm going for the Grunt&Grind?

Not for this (Anglo-)Catholic Queer Christian!

Nope, "Unitive and Procreative" IS still the Standard: the unity of self-giving love-making---where it's ALL about your partner (as opposed to what's little more than whats-in-it-for-me mutual masturbation), and the procreation of Making Something Bigger [Oh, say, enduring the near-terminal whinyness of your partner's ManChild ;-p Especially if said ManChild is about to pitch a hypocritically homophobic fit. "Ma-aaaaaaa!" }-X]

So, in conclusion: while the rose-petals and thousand candles are optional, let's not pitch out the "Noble Savage" for the merely savage?

Don't get me wrong: if Olivia eventually throws Natalia onto the Beacon desk, that'll be fine...

...but ONLY if Natalia finds the prospect of such a scenario will produce in her a teary "Dios Mio!" (so to speak).

Snapper said...

JCF - I love you. I do. And it's with love that I make one request: no more turning my Superhero Lunchbox into Catholicism for Dummies. I'm already Catholic enough, thank you very much.

There has to be a happy medium between the Noble Savage and the Damned to Eternal Hell. I like to think you, me, and a whole lot of other people are living that dream.

Now, JCL - I'd love to talk to you about Doubt.

JCF said...

'Nuff said.

Since your a Pop Culture maven, Snapper, perhaps you'll remember this one?

St Elsewhere: a Christmas episode. The daughter of the snooty WASP doctor (the one who was "Thomas Jefferson" in 1776: strictly from my fading memory, no IMDb!) has brought her (ethnic) Catholic boyfriend home for the holidays.

Going to Church is proposed (the Midnight Mass, though I'm not sure they used latter M word). Snooty WASPs are, of course, Episcopalian.

Says ethnic Catholic: "Episcopalian? Great! All of the glory and none of the guilt!"

So say (I) all.

Sharing the angst of the Other Shoe...

Snapper said...

Oddly enough I don't remember that particular episode of St. Elsewhere (great show!), but I do know that, in 1776, Thomas Jefferson was played by Ken Howard of the White Shadow (want some total geekdom?: I happen to know he and I share a birthday.)

When you say "snooty doctor", I'm thinking you must mean William Daniels, who was the voice of KITT, on Knight Rider. I seem to recall that, yes, he was in 1776, but maybe as an Adams or Patrick Henry.

Two conclusions: All roads lead to The Hoff, and I may need to see if Netflix has St. Elsewhere on dvd. I loved that show. Best, most surprising television finale, ever.

JCF said...

Def William Daniels (I almost guessed that name, but left it out on the tip of my virtual tongue). Crap! (Having now been to IMDb) He was John Adams, not TJ (Duh!).

It's a popular past-time to leave (or at least quit practicing) the religious tradition one was raised in. I, however, by pure dumb luck (or?) was raised Episcopalian (i.e., "the Church with the Gay Bishop": Gene Robinson, who gave an invocation at Obama's Inaugural). I've delightedly used that St Elsewhere line ever since I first saw it.

[True Story: just a week ago, I was worshipping w/ the "OASIS" LGBT Episcopalian group (Ann Arbor, Michigan). During our prayer service, I noticed one of our male couples holding hands (Awww!). That was enough to make me zone out, and fantasize this. Double Awwwwww!!!]

I've been fighting my mood swings, but---God, I'm gonna miss Otalia come September 18. :-(

Snapper said...

IMO, the Episcopal church is the way to go if you're LGBT and have an affinity for Christianity. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Thom, works for an Episcopal organization, traveling around America helping individual churches become more inclusive to the LGBT community - especially to trans youth. He's a proud gay man (whose parter is a former Catholic priest.)

I refer to myself as "culturally Catholic." As I grow older I realize that you can take the girl out of the Catholic church, but you can't take the Catholic dogma out of the girl. I'm the person who saw Doubt and found Sister Aloysius to be an admirable person, pure and true. My wifey, raised and educated in the Anglican church, is pretty sure I need my head examined for having these feelings. 11 years into it, and she still doesn't get how deeply the Catholic thing runs.

The impending loss of GL and Otalia fills me with great sadness for so many reasons. When it comes to Otalia, I feel as if we were *just* getting there with regards to portraying lesbians in a way that focuses on what ALL couples and families focus on (at least at first): togetherness, doing the right thing, being happy. A longer run would go a long way towards reaching people who imagine Sapphic soirées of Depravity when, in reality, my honey and I have spent the better part of this lazy day watching Woody Allen movies and eating leftover pizza. Ah, but it's early yet....there's still plenty of time to hit the local mall, "packing", and trolling for unsuspecting, vulnerable straight women to seduce!

LorMur said...

VERY well written it is exactly what I feel the Guidinglight producers should be made to read this. I wish I had written it. Jessica and Crystal are to be given a thumbs up for doing such a great job with this destroyed story line. But you are so right it is all BS and such an insult to us the viewers. The only reason I watch this story now is to watch Crystal Chappell act. The writers have killed/copped out yet again a good gay story line. I know it is a soap but we deserve better, it is 2009 there is nothing to be afraid of, what can CBS do, cancel the show?