Recently, for one of my grad classes, we used the short-lived television show The Book of Daniel as a case-study.
The series revolves around an Episcopal priest with a dysfunctional home-life that threatens to wreck his ministry. The show was pulled from the air after its fourth episode due to “low ratings,” per the network. The series was plagued by outcry from Conservative Christian groups who complained and boycotted (without the inconvenience of ever watching to see what they were supposedly outraged by) about the way that the show portrayed the priest, his family, and Christianity.
The show’s theme overall did not bother me. I wish that it had been more entertaining, more thought provoking, but it wasn’t necessarily terrible. It may have even come into its own given more time. Now, I grew up in a religious home. My grandfather is a Southern Baptist Preacher (about as conservative as you can get). He’s spent his entire adult life in churches. He would despise this show, and if you asked him, he’d say that his family is nothing like the family portrayed in The Book of Daniel. But, it’s more alike than he’d like to admit. All families have damaged people, all families struggle to accept each other, and every single person has secrets they don’t want others to know. That’s a commonality of life.
I didn’t take issue with the series idea. However, there is one aspect which I absolutely could not tolerate. The protagonist, Daniel Webster, has a sister Victoria Conlin. When Victoria’s husband Charlie turns up dead (after running off with the church’s new building fund), it is revealed that Victoria has been having an affair with Charlie’s former secretary, Jessie. Victoria was in love with a man, now she is in love with a woman. When Jessie leaves, Victoria embarks on a new relationship with another man. (That’s man. Woman. Man. For those of you keeping count)
Victoria is obviously an omnisexual character. She has exhibited romantic and sexual attraction to both men and women. And yet, over and over again, through out the episodes, she’s referred to as a lesbian. She’s in a lesbian with a woman now, so she must be a lesbian. Even though she was married to her husband for decades, that is all invalid because she is a lesbian. Between the show, the lecture, and additional readings for the lecture, I saw Victoria mislabeled over, and over, and over again.
The amount of bi-erasure in this week’s lesson had me feeling like Mugatu!!
It is, of course, no wonder that if the show mislabels Victoria’s character, that professors and media critics will follow suit. That makes it no less disheartening. It would not be so irritating if The Book of Daniel and Victoria Conlin were the exception, but there are very much the rule.
At first I got mad. Then I decided that getting mad would not add anything constructive to the dialogue. So, instead, I decided to make a very handy flow chart for all show runners, script writers, media industry employees and scholars in these (less than) confusing instances!
Behold the MAGIC SEXUAL DECODER:
Read it. Learn it. It’s not that hard. It’s the 21st century, people! It is high time that we stop mislabeling and invalidating people’s sexuality.