Vp Issue 8: "Now It’s Our Party: Profile, Ilene Chaiken"
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in hopes of winning a hefty prize, we have to wonder where this leaves original programming.
New York Times reporter Alessandra Stanley wrote in “The TV Watch: Old-Time Sexism Suffuses Season” (October, 2004), “Political correctness has left the building.” There is a backlash against strong women on new shows like ABC’s Desperate Housewives and Boston Legal, argues Stanley, which is casting a “retro glow on women at home and in the workplace, leaving little to look for in strong women.” Can this help The L Word? If women are looking for strong female characters will they tune in? “I don’t think it will help anybody,” says Chaiken. “I’m going to look at it in terms of my being grateful that women who are angry or dismayed that there is indeed this retro trend, this regressive trend, can still feel that there’s a place to go where they’re dignified and respected.” Regarding the future of alternative programming, Chaiken says, “I am confident that the culture is evolving and that [lesbians] are becoming more of an acknowledged part of it. We’ve always been a marginalized and ignored and suppressed part of the culture. We’ve been very much a cultural influence, but marginalized and denied—and I think that’s changing.
It’s changed significantly in the last couple of years with the advent of so much gay-themed television and with the presence of gay people in the arts and politics in a way that we’ve never been present and acknowledged before. And I have no doubt that that’s going to continue to evolve.” There are definitely signs of progress: the success of shows like Will & Grace, Queer As Folk, Queer Eye For The Straight Guy, and Ellen have paved the way for shows like The L Word to exist. And Viacom, the company that owns Showtime, will launch the LOGO Network, an “alternative” network, just five days before the second season premiere of The L Word. You can’t stop evolution. Vito Russo wrote in The Celluloid Closet, “The story of the ways in which gayness has been defined in American film is the story of the ways in which we have been defined in America. We have cooperated for a very long time in the maintenance of our own invisibility, and now the party is over.” That his book is now regarded as an historical document is a testament to progress. Chaiken, the woman who is changing the face of television for generations to come, responds to Russo’s statement with her own perspective. She says, “I think that he is saying that we’re done. I believe we’re done playing by their rules, but the party is not over. Now it’s our party.”
Velvetpark Magazine, Issue 8 (Winter 2005), 18-27. Written by Raimy Rosenduft / Photos by Angela Jimenez