Last quarter a student gave an oral report on something called "The L-Word." I had no idea what she was talking about since I don’t get Showtime. Turns out, in the student’s words, that it’s a TV show a lot like "Sex in the City" except with (L)esbians. I never watched "Sex in the City" either, though what the show was about seems implied in the title.
My student when she gave her oral report began to understand (that’s one reason I have them do oral reports) that most of us had no idea what "The L-Word" was since mostly it appeared we were not lesbians, so in her research paper, she provided background (most of which I did know) about how for years lesbians had not appeared on any TV shows, and she quoted in her paper an author who wrote about how most people probably don’t know how odd and bad it feels to watch hour after hour of TV and never see people like yourself represented. The media, TV especially, appears so powerful that if you don’t appear on it, you and people like yourself don’t exist.
So "The L-Word" in its frank and candid depiction of lesbian life, especially sexual life, was a pretty big deal, though my student admitted that as lesbians go the lesbians on the "L-Word" were not entirely representative being wonderfully beautiful and also very affluent. And as she noted in her paper, it felt sort of funny to understand that while lesbian life was more frankly depicted in the "L-Word" mostly only lesbians watched it, so while the media did seem to affirm the existence of very beautiful and affluent lesbians it was doing so mostly for lesbians and not the non-lesbian viewing audience.
But that’s how things go with the niche market. Things get a little solipsistic.
This has something to do with what Wallace means when he wrote that we try to see ourselves in TV characters and, as part of this ID-relation, them in ourselves. This is about narcissism, about wanting to find images or something "out-there," that embodies, gives form to, and affirms our existence.
Maybe it’s not really the same. I wouldn’t know since I am not a lesbian. But I think I have felt a little of that non-being lately, a little of that sense of not being able to locate myself in the public terrain or the world of the media (even in a niche market). I just don’t see that many white guys with thinning white hair on TV shows. Sure there are plenty of older guys in commercials but they are all having problems with heart attacks or the operation of their penises or having to pee all the time. I mean where are the TV shows with white topped older guys and women doing whatever older (and therefore unattractive) people do.
Honestly, I feel a little negated–as if I were drifting off into a sort of TV land irrelevance. Where in general are the white topped guys. I look around and I don’t see as many white topped guys as I would expect. Then it dawned on me. Do a lot of guys my age dye their hair? No doubt about it, you dye your hair and you do look younger….and one TV commercial says that will increase your confidence too and sense of self worth.
But that’s too late for me. If I tried to dye my hair now I would end up mostly dying my scalp. So I would have dyed hair and a sort of undercoat. That might look strange and not really a self-confidence booster.