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For fuck’s sake, Melrose Place

September 10, 2009
Am I dreaming?

Am I dreaming?

Last night’s (Canadian) premiere of the new Melrose Place carried a few clunky surprises — the return and immediate murder of an old series regular as well as the astonishing longevity of Ashlee Simpson’s career — but for me it was all about the casting; the gorgeous Jessica Lucas and Stephanie Jacobsen both together on the same show? Be easy, fluttering heartbeat.

Lucas and Jacobsen mean something to me because the original Melrose Place and that from which it spun, Beverly Hills 90210, were interesting cultural touchstones for my tweenage self; they set the course for a steady intake over the years of stories featuring rich (more so in 90210), beautiful white people, bitching about being rich, beautiful white people. I can say truthfully that I hated those programs, but I’ve also watched enough to be able to name drop Sydnee  and Dr. Mancini without having to consult IMDB.

The inclusion of Lucas and Jacobsen in Melrose’s mostly new cast scratches several of my pop culture itches, all of them racial. Jacobsen, though she struggles to swallow her Aussie accent, is a refreshingly All American character who just happens to be Asian. Yes, she’s both a wannabe doctor and a possible prostitute, both pernicious Asian stereotypes, but it seems she really wants to be a doctor of her own volition and not because her parents pressured her to, and, as for being a prostitute, well, it’s Melrose Place. Am I making excuses because she stirs my pot? Maybe. But that’s also my point.

When it comes to the progress of racial representation on trashy shows, baby steps are just that in a lose/lose race to some weird ass problematic finish line. So why do I care, then? Because so much of Melrose Place, and moreso the overall blob that it is symptomatic of, was a driving force in my own confused (pause) sexual development. Melrose Place was where sex lived on TV and, sadly, it was like a  white party where you show up dressed all in white and then you’re like, *forehead slap*, oh you meant WHITE party (ask Vanessa A. Williams, who didn’t make it past the first season).

The re-make/re-visit still has no male ethnic characters, I know, but hey, I’m having a conversation with my pre-teen hormone addled self here. Having Jacobsen and Lucas — both better actors than the material demands — as two of the more interesting and, yes, attractive female characters on the show in a weird way has me pining, wishing I could send this version back to my old gangly self so I wouldn’t enter highschool with all these messed up notions of what colour female was the most attractive. By that measure, Melrose is doing leagues better than buzzed-up Glee, where the Asian girl is of course a not-goth-but-goth-ish type and the black girl is large and sassy and both are in the background.

Then again, with this version of Melrose I’d probably just have spent my early highschool years with messed up notions of sex and girls of mixed-race. Same same but different.

Fuck. See what you do to people, Melrose Place?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 11, 2009 12:08 pm

    I really love Glee. It’s funny and self-deprecating and kinda grown-up but silly at the same time. What I don’t love about it is that despite the very obvious inclusion of POC’s (People Of Colour, for those unfamiliar with race-politics-speak), the main characters couldn’t possibly be non-white. Some might call it nitpicky, but I don’t. If you look across America (let’s leave Canada outta this one cus this is clearly an American venture) I guarantee you that bitchy head cheerleaders, sexually frustrated star jocks and dedicated glee club teachers come in all colours.

    I will add that I’m interested to see how sexuality will be represented on Glee….Oh shit, this was about Melrose Place I better save it for a post.

    Sorry to take it off-topic, the idea of any show with Ashlee Simpson on it gets my head fuzzy. But great post, with great ideas.

    • jeflee permalink*
      September 11, 2009 7:22 pm

      Sexuality on Glee will be interesting, def. I’m also interested to see how certain songs are handled. We saw ‘Take a Bow’ and ‘Push It’, both pretty innocuous — but I wonder what happens when something, also by a black artist but more tied to blackness, is performed. It happens on American Idol, I’m sure it’ll happen here. On Idol it has a harmless karaoke tribute effect, but on Glee what happens when there’s narrative context and the song is changed?

      Good related Oh Word post: http://www.ohword.com/nike-p-rods-ice-cube-it-was-a-good-day/

      p.s. I’m liking Glee so far, too.

      • Simon permalink*
        September 12, 2009 3:05 am

        P-Rod’s are the shit. Some of the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn.

  2. Simon permalink*
    September 11, 2009 3:51 pm

    From the NY Daily News post:

    “Ashlee Simpson-Wentz, who turns 25 in October, admits she was too young to catch [the original Melrose Place] the first time around, too. “I never really watched shows like this until I was pregnant,” says the singer-actress. “But they’re so much fun — they’re part of American culture.”

    I found that quote incredibly deep for some reason.

    • jeflee permalink*
      September 11, 2009 7:09 pm

      Word, thanks — awesome, apt quotation.

  3. September 13, 2009 4:51 pm

    The thing is, we should stop watching and write letters to advertisers about why we’re not watching. But we don’t, and I include myself in that we, and that’s why Hollywood is still whiter than blow. Meanwhile, the anti-choice activists continue to ensure that no real mention of abortion happens anywhere on tv, or even in movies, ever, even when Degrassi is show Stateside. Is it because “people of colour” is a big, sprawling entity and they’re a tight political group? Or is because we don’t have enough energy? Or because we don’t have enough self-respect? Or what?

    Personally I wouldn’t touch Melrose Place with a ten foot pole, but I hear “Glee” is good, so I might check it out. I’m disappointed in “True Blood;” first season seemed like it was going to be so crazily diverse and amazing, but this season all the black characters are pretty much in the background (and REALLY did we have to see Tara and Eggs doing it doggy style at the orgy?) while the white vampires get to have cool historical flashbacks with awesome costumes. Sigh.

    • jeflee permalink*
      September 18, 2009 12:37 pm

      Big sprawling entity, for sure. I think we have truckloads of energy and self-respect, but it’s hard to organize, and everybody has degrees. Problem with identity/representation issues is that everyone is out for theirs. The anti-choice movement like you said is tight, and their message is easy to focus and slogan-ize. I mean, technically Melrose Place gave me what I wanted. The problem is nuanced and that’s hard to be specific about or rally a group around. (Or am I just making excuses for not letter writing?…) Still haven’t checked out True Blood, but sounds interesting. Speaking of race and vampires, have you read “Fledgling” by Octavia Butler?

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