It’s not difficult to kill someone off, not if you really think about it. A freak accident, a car crash, a murder, a long-term illness – whatever your poison, it can be executed if you plan it correctly. The hard part is deciding who to kill.
Murders, illnesses, unexplained deaths – none of us are strangers to the ways in which television programmes deal with the deaths of their characters. Trying to outdo one another in the ratings stakes often leads to a dramatic demise or emotional goodbye, but one trend I’ve started to notice is that it isn’t the heterosexual couple that are torn apart by loss, but the lesbian couple. Don’t get me wrong, I know that straight tv couples have had their fair share of mourning and grieving to do, but you’re lucky if you find one lesbian couple in a soap or drama – and if you do, don’t get too attached to the characters, you’re likely to lose one.
The third season of Last Tango in Halifax aired recently and had previously been applauded for its representation of late-blooming lesbian love in the form of Caroline (Sarah Lancashire) and Kate (Nina Sosanya).
Seemingly, a happy couple – until heavily pregnant Kate was killed in a car accident straight after their wedding. It seems that many tv shows are jumping on the bandwagon and getting away with murder, often with lesbian characters as the victims – Under the Dome, House, Casualty and even LGBT favourite, Lip Service, are all perpetrators of killing off a lesbian character.
As a result of this, lesbians are often found lacking within the television sphere, and the lesbian community are left without a true representation of their lives or a role model to follow. It seems that tv privileges heterosexual couples and relationships in order to appeal to a wider audience – this doesn’t directly mean that said tv shows have a homophobic slur, but it can be indirectly implied. House, for example, is an American medical drama which focuses on seemingly unsolvable medical problems. When watching this recently, I was disturbed – two couples, one heterosexual and one lesbian, each had a baby, both babies became ill and one died. I’ll give you one guess at which baby it was. It is notoriously difficult, and often expensive, for a lesbian couple to have a child, a same-sex family is rarely portrayed on national television and when it is, the LGBT community latches onto it. Great! We think. Finally some acceptance, some support, some understanding that we can create and nurture a family of our own – but we are frequently shot down and our faith in tv’s portrayal of ‘us’ is shattered.
When a tv show depicts a lesbian woman or couple in this manner (either by killing one of them off, or giving them an inconceivable amount of grief to deal with) they don’t realise that they’re giving ‘us’ less visibility in the public sphere. With no longevity or consistency shown within lesbian relationships, we are led to believe that all are doomed from the beginning, but are we to believe that these tv shows are homophobic? Probably not, but it’s difficult to be relaxed about this kind of thing, especially when the death is apropos of nothing and can’t be rationalised. When a gay character is killed off, there is a bit more resonance than if it had been a straight person. We find that we look deeper to find meaning behind this slaying of an LGBT role model in a society where ideals about equality are yet to be fulfilled.
It seems, that as long as homophobia is rife and audience ratings are important, we’re not going to see a rise in successful tv LGBT relationships for some time – so the next time a lesbian lady wanders onto your screen, be prepared for her imminent death and save yourself some grief. We can but live in hope that this one will meet her happy ending, instead of a grisly one.