26 February 2017
Dead Lesbians Society
Recently, the lack of LGBT diversity in television has been called into particular attention--especially the issue mainstream television seems to have with killing LGBT women. While there is a similar issuefacing the media in the realm of killing off straight women for the sake of male character development, the senseless murder of gay women by showrunners and writers is usually even cheaper than that, and occurs as a device for pure shock value. As a matter of fact, queer women account for 10% of all television casualties in the 2015-2016 television season, a number highly disproportionate to the demographic of television characters they present (Framke). This pattern of adding LGBT women for diversity points to a television series only to kill them off for shock value is unjust, and is exemplified most recently and notably in shows such as the CW’s The 100 with Commander Lexa, Poussey Washington in Netflix’s Orange is the New Black, Charlie Bradbury in Supernatural (also from the CW), and Root from CBS’s Person of Interest. In its sophomore season, the show The 100 introduced a love interest for their main protagonist, Clarke, in the form of Commander Lexa, the leader of a faction of rivals. After a season of angst and will-they-won’t-they dramatics, it finally appeared that the two women had found a happy ending in the season three episode, “Thirteen,” only for Lexa to be killed accidentally while foiling an assassination attempt against Clarke. Immediately, fans of The 100 were outraged, and launched several initiatives in protest of the unexpected exit. One website, Autostraddle, compiled a list of every single female character who had been killed on television since 1976, a list that now totals around 173. As Dorothy Snarker of The Hollywood Reporter says, “LGBT viewers long to see their own happy endings reflected back to them. Underrepresented groups...who are denied that kind of positive representation in our shared culture naturally have a harder time imagining it for their own lives. When death, sadness and despair are the predominant stories we're told, particularly for younger viewers, it can seem like a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Out of all the lesbian and bisexual female characters represented on television, 31% end up dead, 38% are written off or are guest stars with no sustainable storyline, and only 10% get happy endings. (Fans Deeserve Better) Killing of queer female characters is not edgy and it is not good storytelling. It's a message to LGBT women that they are expendable and that they don’t deserve a happy ending.
In the finale of the fourth season of Orange is the New Black, a show notorious for its representation in both race and sexual orientation, they killed off fan-favorite black lesbian Poussey Washington. Again, fans took to the internet in outrage, feeling horribly betrayed by a show that had not failed them before. To make matters worse, these deaths are notorious for occurring directly after the queer character has found peace. For Clarke and Lexa, it was after they had agreed to spend their lives together, for Poussey, it was after a romantic dance with her girlfriend. Additionally, Poussey’s death was an act of police brutality, adding a racial element to her death. For many fans, this betrayal of a LGBT friendly show was upsetting, and further perpetuated the idea that lesbians don’t get happy endings.
The CW’s long running show Supernatural has never had a great record with women. However, with the introduction of Charlie Bradbury, a lesbian super-nerd, it looked like they were attempting to remedy past mistakes by introducing a female character that stuck around longer than a single episode. They were not. After reoccurring on 5 episodes over three seasons, Charlie Bradbury was killed not by a fantastical monster as is customary for the show, but a neo-nazi serial killer with no supernatural powers whatsoever. What makes Charlie Bradbury’s death so upsetting is not just how utterly unnecessary it was, but the brutality with which it was executed. Exsanguination in a bathtub after being stabbed. It doesn't get much more horrific than that. The death was pointless and upsetting, purely wedged in the show at the tail-end of a season to raise the stakes. As Carly Lane of The Mary Sue states, “Charlie wasn’t simply a great female character, but she was a LGBTQ representative on a show that could certainly use a little more diversity. It seems as though, in the aftermath of her death, fans are more and more willing to ask the question of “Why?” and they’re not going to settle for a defensive answer or a lame excuse.” These deaths have real life consequences, and lazy television writers don’t seem to grasp the message they are sending.
Finally, there is Root of the CBS procedural Person of Interest, which ended in June of 2016. Root was killed in the 100th episode of the series, when she dived in front of a bullet meant for a male co-worker. In the fallout from the episode, the creator of the series, Jonathan Nolan, stated that, “It’s never been about sexuality.” (RICE) But these answers from show-runners when pressed on their “Bury your gays” policies show a severe lack of forethought. When queer characters are killed, it contributes to a broader statement that they do not deem to understand. As typically straight males, showrunners don’t see that seeing fictional representation sends a message to the people that relate to it. Queer women are not only scarcely represented; but when they are represented, it is badly.
Television is often heralded as a mirror, if a sensationalized one, to society. As stated in Henry Water’s article “Life According to TV,” those who spend a significant portion of time watching television let it influence their version of reality. For queer women, that version is a concerning one. Over and over, television tells these women that they are expendable, that they won't get a happy ending. In the world of TV, a lesbian riding off into the sunset is the equivalent of winning the lottery. What the stories of Root, Poussey, Charlie, and Lexa tells them is that they aren't worth happiness, and even though the homophobia is not as overt as using slurs or the absence of queer characters altogether, it is still damaging. Queer women deserve a happy ending, and this trend plaguing TV needs to stop.