I honestly thought I wouldn’t have much to write this week, at least not on this topic. I thought I had said all I had to say about The 100 Mess, as Variety TV journalist Maureen Ryan termed it in her bold and refreshing 3/14 article. It’s been written about dozens of times now. However, this past weekend brought us LA’s PaleyFest and Alycia Debnam-Carey’s measured, likely rehearsed, but sympathetic responses to questions about Lexa’s death and what it meant to fans and the LGBT community. I won’t say much about ADC other than this: I understand that she has to stay poised and remain employable as an up-and-coming young star with a bright future. Alienating a previous showrunner is not a great way to do that, however much The 100’s Jason Rothenberg’s reputation continues to plummet in Hollywood and among fans. Yet, even given those concerns and boundaries on what she could reasonably say, she still did a much better job than Rothenberg himself.
Rothenberg’s “breaking the silence” TV Insider interview came out on Monday and probably did not gain the response he had hoped. Fans anticipated that this could be his chance to address the unprecedented reactions to Lexa’s death and the ensuing mess. When JRoth claimed he had been “listening” and “learning” and “processing” in the past two weeks of complete media silence, he rather transparently borrowed rhetoric from episode writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach – who, in all fairness, appears to have actually learned something from LGBT fan responses since the episode’s airing. But at the same time, Rothenberg showed no actual contrition, and he displayed a complete lack of awareness about what he and his entire team actually did to the LGBT community by blatantly lying and misdirecting us regarding Lexa’s fate. As I stated in my last post (and which later got meme-ified), “This was not only the death of a beloved character, but far greater, this is the death of the best chance of positive media representation that the LGBT community has ever seen in mainstream TV.” Rothenberg made no apologies for the way he chose to construct the episode and the overall arc of Lexa’s character. Indeed, he defended it. Meanwhile, he made only the vaguest nod to the pain so many people have felt. In other words, he pulled a classic Hollywood “sorry not sorry” non-apology.
In so doing, Rothenberg basically hosed any chance of getting out in front of the controversy preceding his appearance at WonderCon in LA this coming weekend, which seemed the apparent objective of his sudden loquaciousness in the press. I’ll sit with my popcorn in anticipation of the questions and responses coming up at WC.
But beyond this arrogant and dismissive response to the LGBT community in his recent interview, Rothenberg goes so far as to claim “sensitivity” about the accusation of queerbaiting by his audience. And then, in a move almost too ridiculous believe, he immediately goes on to engage in nothing other than queerbaiting when he teases the appearance of Lexa (as an uploaded consciousness, so arguably not Lexa at all) in the season 3 finale. Anyone who has followed the show even a little bit knows there will be a Lexa / Clarke scene or two in 3×16. JRoth himself invited fans to come watch and, though he wink-nod-tsk-tsk’ed about it on Twitter, allowed them to photograph during filming in downtown Vancouver back in January. This was one of several carefully crafted Lexa-centric “leaks” engineered to keep LGBT fans hanging on for the first half of season 3 long enough to secure a season 4. Adding insult to injury, he actually thanks fans for making the season 4 renewal possible, knowing full well that the very active LGBT audience significantly boosted viewership by advocating for the show and its unprecedented choice to place lead character Clarke in a same-sex pairing. In the same interview where he showed that he fundamentally Does Not Get the harm he has done, he goes on to say, “We love [our fans], we owe them everything, we owe them the fact that we just got a Season 4 to them.” You really call that love?
So he queerbaits Lexa fans yet again with hints about the finale, as though we won’t just get kicked in the teeth with some kind of gut-wrenching, yet beautifully acted final-final – really, this time it’s final, y’all – goodbye scene between virtual Clarke and virtual Lexa in some version of the City of Light, aka a cheap Matrix knock-off. Also, don’t be shocked if it’s some scenario in which Clarke has to destroy the CoL and therefore re-kill Lexa herself.
Excuse me while I go vomit. No really, the very thought of this scenario makes me physically queasy. And I guarantee you I’m not alone, if the experience of dozens of people I’ve talked to is in any way representative.
The most disturbing aspect of all this, at least in terms of Rothenberg’s performance in this interview and others, is his use of stilted language in reference to the fandom. He repeatedly employs rhetoric like “outrage” and “pain over this fictional death,” and most of the articles featuring interviews with him are very sympathetic to the show and also use language like “outcry” and “fury” to describe the fandom reaction. The “fictional death” phraseology mirrors more aggressive, often homophobic comments we’ve seen from some corners of the fandom and from a larger public, many of which boil down to, “calm down, little lady, it’s just a show.” (And if you still think it’s “just” a show or a character, I invite you to visit my friends at LGBT Fans Deserve Better or read my blog post about its impact).
Even at the level of word choice, Rothenberg and his acolytes demonstrate no understanding of what representation means to our community and the world at large. Some of the descriptions of the fandom border on accusations of hysteria, with all the misogyny that connotes. What we see here is a pattern of dismissing the validity of our community’s response, which teeters close to misogynistic gendering of the fandom. He appears to justify feeling “sensitive” about the accusation of queerbaiting, or vulnerable to the threat of a historically bullied community allegedly bullying him.
As he stated on the podcast The Dropship, “I’m a little shaken by the intensity of the negativity.” Shaken, distressed. How sad for him. By focusing on his own Manpain, fan responses are minimized, as though he has no concept why we would react that way. I mean, why would there be any negative response in the LGBT community when a disapproving, religious fanatic father figure murders his would-be daughter 70 seconds of screen time after a love scene with a girlfriend he has objected to repeatedly, and for whom the bullet was intended? I’ve said it before but will say it here again: How would that not trigger vulnerable young people who experience something very like that at home or among their peers or who, God forbid, get bullied or receive death threats online? I’ve personally spoken with a girl who became suicidal and was hospitalized after the episode aired. That’s not due to a “fictional death,” but rather what that death represented, what it showed young people like her about how the media and the world view them.
Rothenberg insists that he wasn’t engaging The Dead Lesbian Trope, but that’s precisely the insidious nature of tropes. Showrunners and movie directors don’t engage them intentionally. They never view themselves as part of an ongoing pattern, but rather as singular auteurs who are telling a story. It’s always about their story and their vision, never about the context. To The Nerdist, he said of the murder of Lexa by Titus and its placement directly after the love scene, “To me, the two events aren’t connected in any way. […] We’re not trying to make any type of connection other than the fact that Titus had other plans.” To me. Other plans. “It’s not the Trope because I say it’s not.” They knew of the trope. It was discussed in the writers’ room. Regardless of what Rothenberg may say about “listening,” or “understanding,” he clearly does not. To fans or to his writing staff.
No one gets to tell the LGBT community how to feel or react. We know a homophobic pattern when we see it, regardless of whatever label he wishes to place on his artistic vision. Auteur theory is old school and based in tired, misogynist notions about the nature of art and the artist. Everybody knows a work lives or dies by audience reception. Artists don’t create in a vacuum, especially not in a popular, collaborative medium like television.
This pattern of males being allowed to feel and act on their emotions, whereas women have to keep their feelings in check or risk the label of hysteria – where have we seen that before? In The 100, of course. Especially this season, but in the previous ones too, again and again we see female characters experience trauma, but who are forced to pick up the pieces, repress their grief, and never act out in any way. In referring to Clarke’s arc for the remainder of the season, Rothenberg stated in Monday’s TV Insider interview, “We begin to see Clarke doing what Clarke does, which is compartmentalizing and finding a way to suck down her pain and be our hero and try and save her people yet again.”
In another interview in Entertainment Weekly, he elaborates: “When these horrible things happen to us, we all have to figure out a way to compartmentalize emotionally and to go on and continue being the heroes of our own lives. Clarke, the hero of our story, needs to figure out a way to do the same now.” Toxic masculinity, meanwhile, out to play in full force.
While Ambassador Clarke, Chancellor Abby, Raven the genius mechanic, Lexa the Commander, and Octavia the misunderstood outsider all have to stuff their pain and go on living, our male characters this season act out in destructive ways with (thus far) few consequences. Pike and Bellamy slaughter 300 sleeping Trikru soldiers sent to protect them. Pike is angry over attacks by the Ice Nation and xenophobically refuses to see the Grounders as anything other than a monoculture. Bellamy loses his girlfriend and decides he hates all grounders and is therefore on board Pike’s genocide train. Jasper, who also lost his girlfriend, drunkenly wallows episode after episode in his Special Manpain and even causes a conflict to flare up with the Ice Nation thanks to his drunken antics. You know who else lost loved ones to violent and/or unjust death? Raven, Clarke, Abby, Octavia, Lexa, and did I mention Clarke?
And then there’s Titus, enraged by Clarke’s influence over and romantic relationship with Lexa. He gets a gun and just starts shooting willy nilly, murdering Lexa in the process. And who stays calm throughout the entire scene? Lexa, while dying in Clarke’s arms.
By now readers have probably heard of the death of Denise on AMC’s flagship series The Walking Dead. Denise was shot. Also by accident. She was also a lesbian. This is the fourth lesbian / bi woman on US series television to die in the past four weeks. You can find statistics about exactly how many lesbian and bisexual characters have been on network and cable TV series this year on other sites. I’m not a statistical researcher by any stretch, but according to GLAAD, there were 35 les or bi characters on U.S. TV series when they conducted the survey in 2015. Approximately 80 days into 2016, and ten of those characters have been killed. So roughly 1/3 of lesbian and bi women have been liquidated, including a significant number by accidental shooting, by bullet or – I suppose for the sake of novelty on TWD – by arrow.
Once again this past Sunday, fans took to Twitter with their response and the result was a series of posts that begin with some innocuous “lesbian” activity and end in ::gets shot by accident::.
I’ll let you ponder the wider social context that would spawn that kind of gallows humor. I guess at some point we have to laugh to keep from crying, and satire has always been one of the most effective forms of resistance and morale-building within oppressed groups.
In the meantime, I guess I’ll be ordering one of those flannel-covered bulletproof vests.