Convenient Fictions: The Script of Lesbian Desire in the Post-Ellen Era: A New Zealand Perspective
Little has been published about the ascending trajectory of lesbian characters in prime-time television texts. Rarer still are analyses of lesbian fictions on New Zealand television. This study offers a robust and critical interrogation of Sapphic expression found in the New Zealand television landscape. More specifically, this thesis analyses fictional lesbian representation found in New Zealand's prime-time, free-to-air television environment. It argues that television's script of lesbian desire is more about illusion than inclusion, and that lesbian representation is a misnomer, both qualitatively and quantitively. In order to assess the authenticity of television's lesbian fictions, I sampled the opinions of New Zealand's television audience through focus group and survey methodology, and analysed two primary sources of lesbian representation available between 2004-2006. Television and other media provide the social and cultural background - the milieu - against or within which their fictions, dramas and comedies are set. Even when media texts are clearly non- or anti realistic (fantasy films, for instance), they usually attempt to produce their narratives as consistent, familiar and in keeping with the cultural characteristics, values and proclivities of mainstream contemporary society. This is not realism so much as a set of arbitrary conventions that are read as, or stand for, reality and the real. In short, the media is a teller of stories and fairy tales; and since mainstream Western culture has naturalised homonormativity, television's fairy tales are almost exclusively tales of heterosexuality. Television, from this perspective, reinscribes and reinforces what Pierre Bourdieu refers to as the 'masculine order'. Television uses reality to frame messages of compulsory heterosexuality, and it rarely presents homonormative messages. Lesbian representation is, therefore, difficult for a heteronormative medium to render without effort. Homonormativity is, for lesbian audiences, a central part of the cultural background - the components of realism, if you like, within which representations of lesbians would 'play out' their stories in media texts. Television stories which ignore this imperative deny both the audience's ability to interpret for themselves the integrity of the representation, and their ability to acquire new knowledge of lesbians.