Last week my mother and I decided to rent a "woman's film," Fried Green Tomatoes. We sat mesmerized for 1 hour and 45 minutes by the narrative played out upon our small screen. However, as I realized by our discussion after the film, we had two very different experiences. While she enjoyed the film as a story about two "best friends," I read this friendship as an obvious lesbian relationship hidden within the repressed text of a popular, commercial film. A few months later, at a screening of Silence of the Lambs, the same scenario was replayed. A lesbian friend and I interpreted the absence of confirmed heterosexuality in Jodie Foster's androgynous character as an indication of a lesbian depiction. Angered by our interpretation, a skeptical
heterosexual friend accused us of seeing "gayness" everywhere, that we were inventing a space for ourselves that doesn't exist in mainstream America.
The study of gay and lesbian receptions and interpretations of mainstream media texts is based on assertions such as John Fiske's that "meanings are determined socially: they are constructed out of the conjuncture of the text with the socially situated reader" (80). However, often gay film reviewers criticize these films for their refusals to grant characters a clear lesbian identity. The largest national gay magazine, The Advocate, charges Fried Green Tomatoes with the crime of delesbianization, and argues that "Hollywood has always been partial to deepsixing gay and lesbian material... Its not that the town dislikes lesbians altogether. In fact, if they're mini skirted, ice- pick-wielding psychopaths, the studios will spare no expense in bringing their stories to the screen, as shown most ...
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...l but denied them such pleasure. For lesbians, the act of constructing their own identities becomes a crucial tool in challenging the commercial cinema's general denial of their existence and as a means to write themselves into feminist theories that must be expanded to include all women, regardless of sexual orientation.
Doane, Mary Ann. "Film and the Masquerade: Theorizing the Female Spectator." Screen 23 (Oct/Nov. 1982).
Ehrenstein, David. "Fried Green Tomatoes Caps a Banner Year for Delesbianization." The Advocate (Feb 11, 1992).
Fiske, John. Television Culture. London: Routledge, 1987. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, VOL I. Trans. Robert Hurley. New York: Random House, 1978.
Mulvey, Laura. "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema." Screen 16 (1975).
Straayer, Chris. "The Hypothetical Lesbian Heroine." Jump Cut 35 (1991).
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