Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Friends (and the benefits for an underrepresented audience): About Rizzles

(Fan art provided by amazing graphic artist Vicki Clarke)

When Rizzoli & Isles returns for its 5th season, viewers’ hopes regarding the characters’ personal lives will differ greatly.

In the year 2014, the term shipping has long gone beyond fandom--even the mainstream press has taken notice of the fans who would like to see Detective Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles in a romantic relationship. We know it’s not likely to happen, but a girl/fan can dream. Two smart, capable women who not only know how to get the job done, but support each other instead of falling for patriarchy’s age-old scheme of tricking them into competition? So good. Now, if those two women were lesbians? Priceless for many viewers.

Not all fans agree though. In a recent discussion, someone voiced their disagreement, asking “Why does it always have to be about sex?” The short answer is: It isn’t. It’s a common misunderstanding about the LGBT community that “it’s all about sex”. It’s also about love, commitment, respect, the daily life. Come to think about it, it’s not about sex at all, but the complete lack of lesbian leads in cop dramas, at least outside of web series.

Then again, I think I understand where this fan was coming from. Female friendship isn’t exactly overrepresented in the media, in TV shows and movies. For a long time, it was a sign of progress when the all-male team had at least a token women, then a woman leading a team of all men, even after Cagney & Lacey. We are all kind of starving for portrayals of women who treat each other with respect instead of calling each other names and stabbing each other in the back (as in every other reality show out there, but of course it doesn’t happen in reality TV only).

Good portrayals of friendship between women are sadly underrepresented. So are lesbian relationships. This is where the tug of war comes in, and I think we should be aware of it to make it clear it’s not one section of fans against the other. We all want female characters we love and relate to.

It is getting better, but remember that we didn’t always have Bo and Kenzi, Nikita and Alex, Alicia and Kalinda, the Women’s Murder Club etc. (and some of these shows have already been cancelled)--or Xena and Gabrielle. The image of two women helping each other out instead of stealing each other’s boyfriend isn’t that ancient or self-evident in TV. The idea of two women in love? We had to be very patient for that to find its place in mainstream TV, with Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, or The Fosters’ Steph and Lena. Again, those are quality shows and that might be enough reason to watch, but they aren’t necessarily the first choice for fans of cop dramas.

The media might talk about shipping and show the occasional fan art these days, but it’s still not always easy to explain to a straight actress (or fellow fan) exactly why we ship. I might be bewildered too if I wasn't a lesbian writer who spent many years in fandom. Imagine Scully and Mulder had never happened--or Beckett and Castle--or Bones and Booth. Imagine nothing ever happened. Imagine all you could do was, well, imagine, because in terms of Hollywood, you just didn’t exist.

It’s for that reason I love to write original characters that are respectful and supportive in both their romantic and friendship relations with other women, because actually, you can have it both.

Jane and Maura belong to Tess Gerritsen in the first place, then TNT and Janet Tamaro, now in the hands of Jan Nash. While they were never meant to be a couple, I believe that once you put any kind of art out there, it’s up to the viewer/reader/listener how they interpret it. Personally, I have always seen them as straight friends (not only because I had been a fan of the book series long before the show). Nevertheless, Rizzoli & Isles fandom has done a great job keeping the conversation out in the open--to all our benefit.  

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