In my last post on new Australian drama Winners & Losers, I mentioned that I wanted to write a post series on it, and that my next post was going to be about representations of queerness. Well, I’m going to give you that post, but it’s going to be the last in the series. That’s because I’ve been pushed a little too far by last night’s episode, and I’m done with the show. Specifically, conveniently, the representations of queerness have become utterly rage-inducing. It wasn’t always quite so off-putting in this regard, but there doubts were fast emerging in my mind. To illustrate how much change there has been, here’s the draft I started work on after the first episode:
Previously, I recapped the first episode of the show and talked about the characterisation of Sophie Wong, particularly her sexuality. But there are other things to see and do, so let’s have a look at representations of queer people in the show.
In high school, Tiffany, the school bully, spread a rumour that Frances was a lesbian. About to enter the school reunion, Frances runs into two women from her year group who hooked up at Schoolies (a week of partying common for graduates after Year 12 exams finish) (when I say partying, mine was mainly spent playing board games with a group of (largely) very sober (mostly) Christian schoolgirls and reading Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn). Everyone knew about Frances, one of them says, ‘but no one guessed about us!’ Frances, who has been coded as heterosexual, seems happy for them, and doesn’t seem all that put off when she remarks later that many people had come up to her during the reunion and told her that they supported legalising same-sex marriage. She’s been subject to heterosexist maliciousness, and she doesn’t react with disgust, which is something.
None of the core four have been coded as queer so far, and the nearest we get to a queer regular is the minor character of Frances’ assistant, Jonathan. He is… well, he is written as a stereotype, with his kissing of Frances on the top of her head, and references to her as ‘blossom,’ and to his having left a ‘warm bed and a hot husband’. And, you know, being camp and funny is great. When it became evident he was queer, however, it all of a sudden clicked why Frances had a male assistant. Because, well, when was the last time you saw a straight guy as an unresenting assistant (especially to a woman) on TV? This is just another incarnation of the straight lady’s gay best friend. The thing that’s really intriguing me is how the actor, Damien Bodie, is subverting the script with his performance. The temptation with those kinds of lines would be to go as cardboard a stereotype as possible, but he’s adding a bit of nuance in, delivering them with a bit of a glint, not quite willing to sacrifice his performance to someone else’s ideas of gay maleness. And that’s pretty cool.
I’m troubled by how clearly the show codes the core four as straight now. It feels really, really pushed, just in case, I guess, the audience might wonder if, horror of horrors, there’s something a little bit queer in a show about women who are close. But, whatever, that’s jarring and disappointing, but nothing to what they’ve done to Jonathan.
I don’t know if the directors have been pushing Bodie to go more cardboard, or if it was his choice, or whether that’s just what the script gave them to play with. But it’s saddening in any case. The script has just turned… any opportunity such as can be taken to use his queerness for a punchline has been taken. There’s an episode in which Frances has a promotion day for her new company at the races. Jonathan has to be the authority on the women’s fashion choices, and there’s a ‘yep, definitely gay’ comment when Bec falls over and exposes herself. It was getting increasingly tasteless, but just bearable, until last night.
Last night was The Virginity Episode. It mostly focussed on Jenny’s virginity (GASP). I have many thoughts on how her virginity ties in with the representation of Jenny as not being a proper adult, but I guess now you’ll never get to see them. That’s okay, we can all be spared the pain. Frances, apparently lacking all kindness and prudence, tells Jonathan that Jenny is a virgin, to which Jonathan responds, ‘I’m a virgin, too. I’ve never had sex with a woman.’
Oh, oh, Jonathan.
This was clearly the point in which I became utterly fed up. It’s one thing to make a queer character a sidekick, flat, a punchline, and a stereotype, but it’s a whole new kind of line-crossing to invalidate his queerness as a legitimate kind of sexuality, and the kinds of sex he has as real sex. And to get him himself to deliver that invalidation…! It wasn’t even an invitation to question the social prevalence of what is a highly and often harmfully constructed concept in virginity. It was just utterly delegitimising.
I’ll close with a quote from my friend highlyeccentric, with whom I was speaking while I was watching last night: ‘any show titled Winners and Losers is starting out from a screwed up place and getting worse from there’. I’m really very disappointed that this show, which had such potential to portray something special in women’s friendships, has turned, with both its representations of queerness and half-arsed representations of every social issue ever, into what I’m finding to be a show without much ethical integrity at all.