Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bi the Way, Let's Analyze Tila Tequila...

The excitement following Tila Tequila and her shot at love is not surprising; MTV is exploring bisexuality, a topic rarely explored by mainstream media. This is a huge undertaking and though many cultural norms are being reiterated, many stereotypes are being shattered as well.

The season opens with a plethora of half naked pictures of Tila, presenting her from the onset not as a woman struggling with her sexuality, but as an object. The early presentation of the female as a sex object makes it impossible for the program to be identified as more than one of titillation.

However, Tila serves as a prime example of the disruption of the norm. She is a bisexual female yet is an internet pin-up girl. She is known for having the most “friends” on MySpace and is fantasized about by both men and women. Though it seems that her objectification is in no way a disruption of usual feminine depiction, it is her sexuality which sets her apart. As Raymond points out in her piece “Popular Culture and Queer Representation,” homosexual characters are finally being integrated into mainstream television. “Bisexual sexual identity,” on the other hand, “may be too disruptive for such programming” (Raymond 106). Bisexuals are rarely depicted as sex symbols, and though it may not be furthering women’s attempts to be viewed as more than objects, she is breaking new ground for those who identify with her.

This idea of non heterosexual objectification is evident not only in Tila, but also in the lesbians she invited into her house. She requests that these women dress in outfits that describe their personality. Not surprisingly, almost every woman dresses in a provocative outfit, attempting to display to Tila their physical attributes instead of their character. The men, on the other hand, are asked to bring gifts. She is uninterested in the man who flaunts his washboard abs, replying that she can find a good looking guy anywhere. She appreciates the men who give thoughtful or expensive presents instead. Early on, the audience witnesses the media’s common depiction of each gender: the “women are valued…for being pretty” while “all the men need is wealth” (Pozner 98).

When Tila finally divulges her secret sexuality to the men and women, there are two opposite reactions. The men exclaim that there is a God, subtly presenting the heterosexual male’s fantasy: a threesome with lesbians, while the women are shocked and upset. Most of the lesbians have had little contact with men and would like to keep it that way. However, they recognize the opportunity for the men to experience and better understand homosexuality.

Such understanding is needed, for most of the men believe that a woman’s homosexuality is simply a phase. They perceive the women to be merely experimenting instead of acting on their true sexual desires. The men believe that these women must have undergone a traumatic incident with a man; they simply need a “real man” to straighten them out.

Although the normative role for men and women is presented, the lesbians are not portrayed in the typical light. Most audiences imagine lesbians to be butch, yet Tila’s heterosexual male suitors comment on the females’ good looks. The women are aware of their sex appeal and plan on using it to knock out the male competitors.

The idea of the lesbian as a butch character is also challenged by the ladies’ compassion. Just as heterosexual men are perceived as stoic and insensitive, homosexual women are thought to be masculine, thus detached as well. On the contrary, Tila points out the lesbians’ sympathy and consideration. Two men begin fighting and while most men simply laugh at the ridiculous display, the women pull Tila off to the side because they sense she is overwhelmed by the situation. The feminine role as a sensitive yet condescending being, scoffing at the men’s inappropriate behavior, is promoted through this incident.

A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila serves multiple purposes, whether or not they are intentional. The program disseminates common media constructions of the men and women, yet at times is disrupting media depictions of sexualities. The program is not thought to be one of struggle or a disturbance of societal norms, though the themes are present. They go unmentioned due to the “culture of homophobia and heterosexism” (Raymond 99) apparent in the United States, which is unwilling to deal with such issues. These themes have long gone unexplored and will continue to until media depictions include bisexuality, thus leading to a cultural change.

Raymond, Diane. "Popular Culture and Queer Representation." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. Eds. Gail Dines and Jean Humez. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications, 2003. 99-110.
Pozner, Jennifer. "The Unreal World." Women Images and Realities. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. 96-99.

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Nice job with this analysis of Tila Teuqila's show, Clare. I think you have an interesting set of points that are clearly and insightfully articulated throughout the writing. The only issue that "jumps out" is the idea that her bisexuality makes the show more groundbreaking based on the quote from Raymond. Considering the show is on MTV and buys into the normative fantasy of the heterosexual male (as you've clearly articlulated later in your post), it's not really distruptive in the "network-giant" sense that Raymond is referring to. MTV isn't one of the original ABC, CBS, NBC netowrk-channels that Raymond wrote about being too far afield from the mainstream to show on TV as a subject of entertainment. Therefore, it might be that the show's distruping the bisexuality taboo by depicting straight men and lesbian women who are "competing" for Tila (but are certainly not depicting this stereotypical fantasy) in a less than huge-network (not so disruptive b/c of MTV as not of the same 'status' as the three former network giants) setting.