The Death of Tara, the Fall of Willow and The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché FAQ
This was prepared by members of "The Kitten, The Witches and the Bad Wardrobe" forum following the events of the Buffy episode 'Seeing Red'. It examines the Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliche in general and inparticular how it relates to the events of late Season 6 of the series "Buffy The Vampire Slayer". The original posting explicitly gave permission for it to be copied and redistributed. The original discussion thread can be found here.
As appropriate, updates will be posted to the foot of this document.
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The "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" is a version of the basic "dead/evil minority cliché" in which minority characters - gay people in general, all people of color - are introduced into a storyline in order to be killed or play the villain. For example, American Indians were almost always villains in westerns. The "black guy" used to be the servant in early films, then he became the drug dealer, then, when "equality" was reached, he got to be the funny sidekick who is tragically killed while all the white guys managed to get away. These clichés are so well known that many recent film comedies have made fun of the token "black guy" who gets killed.
Why were minorities always portrayed as villains or always killed off? Hatred and ignorance, to put it bluntly. Ironically, as various groups obtained more civil rights and demanded more representation in films and television, villain, sidekick and "dead cliche" roles were easy ways for producers to place minorities in their films without giving them meaningful roles. They could take credit for being "enlightened" without drawing ire from mainstream white America. So, whenever minorities started questioning why they received only "lesser" roles, producers could shoot back, "Well, I put a black guy in the movie." But he's dead. "But he made an appearance." But he died. "But it's better than nothing." But he always dies. "Sorry. The white guy could've died, but he just didn't this time." But the white guy never dies. "But he could." But he didn't. "But it's theoretically possible." But...
That's a very frustrating and insulting argument. We'd like to say that times have changed, but when you get to Question #10, revert back to this section and draw your own conclusions.
That all lesbians and, specifically lesbian couples, can never find happiness and always meet tragic ends. One of the most repeated scenarios is that one lesbian dies horribly and her lover goes crazy, killing others or herself. (Sound familiar?)
Until very recently, gays and lesbians were portrayed in film, television, literature and theater to be evil and miserable. They would be villains or weak victims or psychologically unstable people. They would stalk and try to pervert straight people. If one of them fell in love with someone of the same sex, this love would lead to death or insanity or both. A classic film example of this is 1961's The Children's Hour starring Audrey Hepburn and Shirley MacLaine. MacLaine's character hangs herself after she confesses her love for Hepburn. Two films that portray predatory lesbians are Walk on the Wild Side (1962) with Barbara Stanwyck and Young Man With a Horn (1950) starring Lauren Bacall. The Fox (1968) features Sandy Dennis as a lesbian who is crushed to death by a falling tree immediately after making love to Anne Heywood. A gay example (and there are TONS) is Rebel Without a Cause (1955) in which Sal Mineo spends the film crushing on James Dean before getting a bullet in the back. These older films depicted gays this way because the filmmakers were trying to tell people that homosexuality is wrong. They wanted to show that no good could come from it. If you are gay, you are doomed. Period. Heterosexuality was the only safe option.
One would hope that the cliché had died with modern times, but sadly it lives on. The intended moral message that homosexuality is wrong has mostly given way to a results-based exploitation. Lesbians and lesbian couples meet tragic fates in an alarmingly disproportionate number of films and TV shows. One of the most notorious recent examples is Basic Instinct (1992), in which Sharon Stone's character is a murderer and her girlfriend is crazy, jealous and ends up dead. Another is Heavenly Creatures (1994), which has the added horror of being a true story. In this film two teenage girls develop an intense sexual friendship which is blamed for the girls' brutally murdering one of their mothers. Lost and Delirious (2001) depicts a lesbian relationship at a boarding school that ends with one girl denying her love for the other because the peer pressure is too painful and the scorned girl leaping to her death after slowly going mad. High Art (1998) ends with the overdose death of Ally Sheedy's lesbian character. Mulholland Drive (2001) ends with a lesbian having her ex-girlfriend murdered then turning a gun on herself.
As for television, recent examples of lesbians dying horribly or being evil have appeared in literally hundreds of TV episodes. Just a few of the shows that have perpetuated this discouraging cliché are: 24, All My Children, Babylon 5, Dark Angel, ER, Law & Order, Millennium, Northern Exposure, NYPD Blue, The Practice, Quantum Leap, Xena: Warrior Princess, and, now, very sadly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
The impression that these films and TV programs leave, through blatant moralizing and/or thoughtless exploitation, is that lesbian relationships end in death and misery. There are no happy endings. This is the image that has been driven into the psyche of gay people. There is no hope for you. You cannot be happy. This message has also reinforced the bigotry of others by either leading people to believe that gays are evil and worthy of nothing but hatred, or by alluding that they are sick and pitiable, in desperate need of conversion and curing.
Well, for starters, Tara meets a typically violent end as a bullet rips through her chest and showers Willow with her blood. Worse, her death causes Willow to go crazy with grief and go on a evil rampage that includes sadistic torture, mutilation and murder, followed by an attempt to destroy the world. It's a two-for-one lesbian cliché package, complete with one dead lesbian and one evil lesbian.
The setting and events leading to Tara's death also fall horribly into the storied lesbian cliché. One of the most overused features of the lesbian cliché is that the death is generally directly associated with the act of lesbian sex. Usually it occurs soon after a real or implied sex scene in order to cement the connection. Tara died at the end of an episode in which she was implied to have spent practically the entire time having sex with Willow; further, she died immediately after a scene of heavy sexual flirtation and beside the bed she and Willow had made love.
Tara could have been shot while pulling weeds - or looking for cameras - in the garden (like Buffy), but she was killed in the bedroom after partaking in the cardinal sin of lesbian sex. This has been done over and over again in film and TV with devastating results, it didn't need to be repeated on BtVS no matter what they claim their intention was.
Compare this to the deaths of straight characters in BtVS - such as Jenny, Angel, Joyce, and Buffy (both times). Not a single one occurs after a real or implied sexual act. In the cases where sex is even mentioned in passing much earlier in the episode, as with Jenny (who was looking forward to her reconciliation with Giles) and Joyce (who was finally dating again), there is no consummation; the deaths therefore cannot possibly be viscerally felt as punishments for acts performed. In fact, they work from the opposite emotional angle - disappointment at an anticipation of something good, unfulfilled.
A closer cousin to the post-sex fates of Willow and Tara might be what happened to Angel, who turned evil immediately after sex. It's interesting to note that in that case, the writers explicitly said that they were doing that deliberately in order to make a point about men who seem to change for the worse after sex. Which means that Tara's post-sex death happened in a show where the connection between sex itself and bad things following sex had already been deliberately established and discussed. However the scene was intended, the show's own structure and history would seem to reinforce the notion that Tara and Willow were punished for having lesbian sex. But, while possibly linked in theme, the negative impact of the fate of Angel and the fate of Willow and Tara are wildly divergent. Angel's fate as a straight white male was not an oft-repeated example of a damning and hurtful cliché, but rather a fresh, clever metaphor for male sexual behavior. It was a new look at an old story. Willow and Tara's fate is an old look at an old story that perpetuates a hopeless outlook for lesbians.
And what of Willow? While it is believable that this historically gentle, moral character, who also carries deep-seated insecurities and rage, would murder Warren to avenge Tara's death, her utter descent into evil is extreme and over-the-top, to say the least. Warren's murder is not a quick "crime of passion," but a prolonged stomach-turning gore-fest that climaxes in his skinning and immolation. Her thirst for blood unsatisfied, Vengeance Willow (as UPN calls her) then tries to hunt down Warren's accomplices, Andrew and Jonathan, eliminate her friends and then...destroy the world. Worse, after two and a half years of metaphorical sex, Willow's descent immediately follows the first material, non-metaphorical sex scenes Willow and Tara have been allowed.
Vengeance Willow's total meltdown mixed with its unfortunate sexual timing strains credibility and, unfortunately, falls head-first into the unstable, evil lesbian cliché. Was, as so many lesbian cliché movies have suggested, Willow's love for Tara so extreme, unhealthy and twisted as to cause her to try to destroy everything and everyone? Everything about the show this season seems to say that it is; even Willow's magic, which for the last two years has been used heavily on the show as a metaphor for lesbian sex and love, has been portrayed this year as addictive, dangerous, and even insane. The unintended message of this storyline: Lesbian love is an intense, dangerous thing. Death and destruction awaits.
Thank god Xander is there to talk Willow down with anecdotes about yellow crayons, or where would we be? A man saves the world from the crazy lesbian. What year is this again? Just checking.
What a horrible, painful and insulting way for Willow and Tara's relationship to end.
But it does, even if it's hard to see when looking at any given single example. Practically any example of the lesbian cliché, or in fact any kind of cliché, will tend to sound like crying wolf when presented by itself in the absence of other examples - especially when the show being talked about is reasonably sophisticated and not a clear case of pure exploitation. A cliché doesn't become a cliché in a vacuum, and it doesn't have to seem like some kind of obvious, monstrously bad piece of writing. A cliché becomes a cliché when the weight of hundreds and hundreds of previous examples make any given example another piece in the pile. We're not pointing to dead Tara and saying, look how obvious a cliché this was. We're pointing to a pile of hundreds and hundreds of dead and evil film, TV, theater, and novel lesbians and saying, why add Willow and Tara to that pile?
We are grateful. We are SO grateful. And we've said so every chance we've gotten. We've written letters to Mutant Enemy and Fox praising and thanking the show for giving gay people, especially questioning youth, two beautiful, caring lesbian characters that they could relate to. We've encouraged the media to pay attention to and praise the Willow/Tara storyline. We've begged friends and family to watch the show. Some of us have been lucky enough to meet Mr. Whedon, Ms. Hannigan, Ms. Benson, and other Mutant Enemy staffers and tell them how much this storyline means to the gay community and how much we appreciate their efforts.
Willow and Tara have indeed provided a role model which was nearly unique in prime-time television, and have served as an example of the beneficial effects such a positive image can have. Numerous letters have been written by gay teens and adults detailing how the existence of Willow and Tara have helped them find hope for the future, come out of the closet, or become comfortable with their orientation.
However, rather than making up for Tara's death, it actually just made it worse. People placed their trust in the Willow/Tara relationship, and came to regard it as a rare safe place where they could return to renew their hopes; a fairly natural thing to do in light of the fact that there were so few other places they could go to do so. So when the Willow/Tara relationship collapsed into the same cliché of death and insanity as so many others had before, hope and trust that had built up over years was crushed. The message seemed to be that there is no hope, no safe place, and that the happiness was a lie - death and derangement will always be the end result.
But they did know. Sadly, this is part of why Tara's death hurts so much. We talked to Mutant Enemy and they talked back. They said they understood where we were coming from and that they knew how important the Willow/Tara storyline was in social context. They, on their own without prodding, publicly claimed knowledge of the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" and repeatedly made statements indicating that they would never do it. Here are some ME quotes regarding Tara's future on the show:
Doug Petrie (Sci-Fi Universe 2/21/00): "Willow and Tara are going to have a good, happy, satisfying relationship. That's something that we're more acutely aware of and we definitely don't want to touch on 'being a lesbian is bad.' We've all seen shows where if you have any kind of gay tendencies, you must be killed or made to suffer for no other reason other than you're gay. We're hyper aware of that, so we're more predisposed to have things work out for Willow and Tara. In fact, if Tara were a guy, I would predict a near 100 per cent chance of a breakup for Willow. The fact that Tara is not a guy may make things work out better, because we can avoid what we feel is this old cliché."
Joss Whedon (Bronze Beta 5/24/00): "...one post from a gay or questioning teen saying the show helped them is worth six hundred hate letters...Here's the word: Tara's not gonna disappear. She's part of the show, part of Willow's life."
Joss Whedon (Entertainment Weekly 5/01): "I have no plans to send Tara anywhere. Amber (Benson) and Alyson (Hannigan) have such great chemistry; they're so great together, and they're very romantic together. We have terrible, terrible things to do to them because they're on my show, so needless to say, horrible things will happen--but as a couple, I think they work really well. As for Amber, even if she weren't going out with Willow, I think she's become a big part of the heart of the show."
Steven DeKnight (Bronze Beta 1/25/02): "As for Tara getting killed--OVER MY DEAD BODY!"
Drew Greenberg (Bronze Beta, 4/01/02)): "Amber (Benson) and Emma (Caulfield) are both sticking around, neither one is going anywhere, so don't worry."
Besides the reassuring words of the writers, the reputation of Buffy the Vampire Slayer itself provided great hope that "The Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" would never touch Willow and Tara. The entire premise of BtVS is built around a shattered cliché. Buffy herself was created as the antithesis of the stereotypically helpless blonde girl who is always killed by the monster in horror films. Buffy is a blonde girl who kicks the monster's ass. Up until now, BtVS has been known for its clever writers who take glee in over-turning any and all clichés. Other clichés BtVS has conquered include the "magically appearing younger sibling/cousin cliché." This was brilliantly mocked when Buffy's previously unheard of little sister Dawn suddenly appeared in the midst of S5, and the oblivious Scoobies acted as though she'd been there all along. "Buffy: The Musical" overcame the silliness of the cast randomly bursting into song by making the Scoobies the unwilling participants of a musical production forced upon them by a demon. This mocked the "novelty episode cliché" by openly winking at the conceit of the ploy and making it a plot point to be solved.
Mutant Enemy knows clichés. They knew all about the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" by their own admission and their own experience.
Update: During a Succubus Club radio interview on 5/15/02, David Fury admitted the following: " In retrospect, I can see the cliché . That was not our intent, we wanted to show (Willow and Tara) together and happy. We dramatized them being back together. It created the impression in a lot of people's mind that the event of her death was linked to them having sex. I do understand it, I say oh yeah. It was not intended. We make mistakes."
While it is gratifying to hear Mr. Fury not only admit the existence of the
cliché , but also that the Willow/Tara storyline falls into it (something
Mr. DeKnight was unwilling to do), it is disappointing that he claims ME can
only see this in retrospect. It is clear from ME's previous statements on the
subject that they were well aware of the cliché before planning Tara's
demise. They were aware of it, they indicated they would not repeat it...then
they did it anyway.
No. First of all, how can Tara be both a mere "plot device" - a tool to get at Willow - and also be a "real person"? That is a contradiction. They can't have it both ways. Is Anya only a "plot device" to get to Xander? No. She has her own storyline and Emma Caulfield is a full regular in the credits. Is Spike a mere "plot device" to get at Buffy? No. Storyline. Credits. Amber Benson was the only Scooby significant other kept out of the credits. Tara was sent away most of S6 and not given an individual storyline, only to be brought back as a "plot device" to make Willow go crazy. From this, one can only conclude that ME didn't view Tara as a "real person" at all. She was a disposable object and she was treated as such.
Did ME kill Tara because she was gay? No. But intentions don't matter, results do. The sad fact is that most lesbian couples meet horrible ends in films and television and Willow and Tara met a horrible end, too. They were the FIRST and ONLY long-term lesbian couple on network television and now they are horribly lost. There is no other couple to replace them. ME killed the unicorn for a cheap plot device they swore they were above. All the straight main characters survived and have a chance for happiness just as they have each and every season of BtVS (Angel was brought back). Only the gay ones are dead/evil. As usual. Hence, the cliché. All of the gay characters to ever grace Sunnydale - Larry, Tara, Willow, and apparently Andrew - have ended up either dead or evil. All of them. One hundred percent. Also, the only two characters with bisexual undertones, Faith and VampWillow, are also mysteriously dead and/or evil.
Writing is about making choices. Mutant Enemy had plenty of opportunities to send Willow down her dark magic path before "Seeing Red," and they chose not to use them. They could have, for example, had Willow pulled into darkness by her own pride and/or her own insecurity, rather than choosing to pull her in through her anger and thirst for vengeance instead. Even if Mutant Enemy had its heart absolutely set on making Willow vengeful, Tara's death wasn't the only way to get there. It was the way Mutant Enemy chose. They deliberately chose the cliché when plenty of other possibilities were available to them. Not to mention that Willow's S6 vengeance storyline is merely an extreme retread of Willow's actions in S5's "Tough Love," in which she attacked Glory for brain-sucking Tara. Necessary forward progression? That's arguable.
Yes, Joyce and Jenny died, but 1) they weren't Scoobies and we are discussing W/T's treatment as compared to the other core Scoobies, B/S/X/D/A, 2) they were adults whose deaths were foreshadowed and given moral reason (Jenny) and great meaning (Joyce), 3) Robia LaMorte had personal reasons for leaving the show, Amber Benson has said she wanted to stay, 4) Joyce's death was planned and carefully laid out since S1 in order to provide a lesson to the entire Scooby Gang, Tara's death was decided upon last year because it was the easiest way to hurt Willow, it was a means to an end, there was no moral reason and certainly no meaning, 5) they weren't minorities.
So, Joyce and Jenny are not relevant to the discussion, but just to be thorough, let's discuss the impact of their loss for a moment. They died and who was left in Sunnydale to have straight sex and pursue the right of happiness? Who? Oh, that's right. Buffy, Xander, Anya, Dawn, Giles, Oz, Riley, Angel, etc, etc, etc.
Now let's kill Tara. Who's left to have gay sex and pursue the right of happiness? Who? Oh, Willow, the cliched crazy, bereft lesbian who will never be happy again because she's been tormented beyond that of any character in the history of the show. After all, no other core Scooby has permanently lost their significant other to death. Tara and Willow are unique in their torment.
What about all those white male vamps and villains who have died? Again, we are discussing core Scoobies here, but, for the sake of argument, Straight White Male (SWMs) characters aren't minorities. You kill a white male character, there are thousands waiting to take his place on BtVS and every other show on television. According to the Children Now "2001 Prime Time Diversity Report," gay and lesbian characters make up less than 2 percent of all characters on television. Of that 2 percent, 92 percent are gay men, meaning that only 0.16 percent of all TV characters are lesbians.
Actually, that's now 0.16 percent minus Tara.
There are so many SWM's (and SWF's) on television that a variety of stories are being told about them. Some characters are good, some are bad, some poor, some rich, happy, depressed, single, married, dead, alive. You name a situation and there is a straight white character available to represent it. That's simply not true of gay characters. There are so few in film and TV and the bad stereotypes are still so ingrained, that positive characters such as Willow and Tara are simply precious. To lose W/T, who are the ONLY long-term lesbian couple on network television is simply devastating. To lose them to the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché" is nauseating and demoralizing.
A lot of people, including Steven DeKnight during his 5/8/02 Succubus Club interview, claim that Xander or Anya or anyone else on the show could have been killed off, so all is fair. Well, anyone could have been killed but they weren't. There are five straight major characters and two gay ones on BtVS. Only the gay ones are dead and evil.
This "would've, could've" argument is similar to the one parodied in Question #1. It is a glib answer that, by its design, actually answers nothing while attempting to deflect responsibility. The killing of a TV character is not a random act of God, it is the result of a choice by the writing staff. ME is arguing that every character had an equal chance of being killed off, but that is not true. The fact is that, because Amber Benson was the only Scooby significant other not to be given regular status in the credits, the cards were unfairly stacked against her from the beginning. Tara never stood a chance, despite ME's protests to the contrary. She was always a marked woman, as her second-class contract status proves. Was this because Amber's character was gay? Of course not. However, appearances are everything. And the fact remains that the actor who portrayed the gay significant other was treated differently than the actors that played the straight ones, therefore guaranteeing that the gay character's future on the show was more limited than that of the straight characters.
It is worth noting that Seth Green, who played Willow's former boyfriend Oz, was a series regular. Could he have been killed off? Sure. And since he was a full member of the cast, his death would not have appeared pre-determined. As it stands, Seth wanted off the show and Oz was written out, not killed off. Amber Benson was brought in as Willow's girlfriend, was never made a regular, did not want off the show, but was killed off. Equal treatment? Not so much.
Appearances. Are. Everything.
As for equal treatment in the area of misery, let's compare BtVS's two longest-running couples, Xander and Anya and Willow and Tara. What has happened to Xander and Anya over the last two years? They hooked up in a direct, no angst fashion; they apparently had a ton of sex; they did research; they got engaged; they saved the world; they planned their wedding; then Xander left Anya at the altar. Not that much angst for X/A until their ill-fated wedding. In fact, nothing happened to them at all.
How about Willow and Tara? Their initial get-together was an angsty triangle involving Oz; their affections were mostly metaphorical and hidden; there was the big "Is Tara a demon?" scare; followed by Tara's four-episode brain-suck; they saved the world; next Willow became a magic addict; then Tara left and they were separated for most of the season; finally Tara came back and she and Willow engage in their very first implied (though not overt like the straight couples) on screen sex and Tara immediately gets her heart splattered all over Willow's shirt.
Conclusion: Not only did W/T suffer more as a couple, Tara did not survive. Anya did. Xander and Anya could still get back together. Willow and Tara's chances died with Tara.
As for Buffy, who would have thought that in Sunnydale, you can sleep with not one vampire, but two, and STILL not be in as much danger as sleeping with another woman? Even in a horror universe filled with monsters, the surest way for a Scooby to get killed or go evil is to be gay (results so far point to a 100% chance of it). Some things just never, ever change.
ALL the straight characters on the show are alive to seek happiness in Season 7. The gay characters are either dead or utterly bereft with no chance for happiness.
No chance for happiness. The cliché strikes again.
Well, actually, given that not only are all the Gypsy characters dead (Jenny, Enosh), but practically all the black characters have been killed (Kendra, Forrest, Mr. Trick, the slayer from the seventies), as have the vanishingly few Asian characters (like the Chinese slayer), and Native American characters (like Hus), not to mention that Hispanic characters have been practically nonexistent (has there been anyone but Tito?) - in a show set in Southern California! - in fact it's pretty reasonable to question the show's treatment of minorities in general. In fact, after all the bodies are cleared away, the only significant minority characters we seem to be left with are one Jewish lesbian who has turned evil, and one black character on a different show on another network.
Of course, as has been mentioned previously, there have been deaths of non-minority characters on the show as well, but a glance at the cast list is enough to demonstrate that the percentage rate of this hasn't been anywhere close to as high, and the number left after the deaths is, well, plentiful rather than zero. While it is doubtful, once again, that Mutant Enemy is being deliberately racist, it isn't a stretch to say that they've been thoughtlessly perpetuating the general dead/nonexistent minority cliché in the same way that they've been perpetuating the dead/evil lesbian cliché. Pointing out that the show has killed off its Gypsies, etc. as well doesn't undercut our point . . . it just adds another dimension to it.
The most visible effect is generally on gay and lesbian teenagers. It is not unusual for gay and lesbian teenagers to be trying to come to terms with their sexual identity in an overtly or subtly hostile environment. And if that is indeed the case, any gay peers are frequently either closeted or still grappling with their identity themselves, leaving many gay teens pretty much bereft of anyone they can talk to comfortably about these issues; and any gay adults they might meet are likely to be either closeted or discreet, leaving them without role models as well (bear in mind that gays and lesbians are one of the few minority groups whose parents are not necessarily members of the same minority.)
So, the gay and lesbian teenagers who are already the most likely to be at risk as a result of dealing with bigotry, and the most likely to feel completely alone, are also the ones most likely to have to draw their images of gay life from the media, for lack of any direct sources. And what do they find there? A usually unvarying, depressingly bleak portrait of mental illness and inevitable violent death. The pervasiveness of the cliché has left the media largely bereft of any positive same-sex couples. So it's not exactly reassuring for teens who are possibly already depressed, confused, frightened, or all three, and it can have a catastrophic effect on how they feel about themselves and their future.
More generally, the dead/evil lesbian cliché in the media sends out a message, whether unconscious or overt, that homosexual sex, love, and impulses are wrong, deranged, and will be punished. It isn't going out on a limb to say that this is likely to increase the incidence of homophobia in society, and make gays and lesbians of all ages feel unwelcome and disliked.
Absolutely! We applaud Mutant Enemy for pushing this issue with first The WB and then UPN. Willow and Tara's relationship was beautifully written and portrayed. It was historic in its longevity, sensitivity and sensuality. However, the mere fact that ME needed to fight for intimate scenes between W/T in the 21st Century should tell people that gay characters are desperately needed on TV and killing them off not only sends a horrible message, it wastes a golden opportunity to continue to make a difference. Despite all of ME's pushing, Willow and Tara were only blatantly intimate in their last episode together. Even then, no actual sex scene was shown. The one and only truly sexual moment--Willow ducking her head under the sheet and Tara moaning--was cut from "Seeing Red" by UPN. (Although the network had no problem showing Willow skinning Warren.) Compare that to Buffy/Riley and Buffy/Spike where there were numerous graphic sex scenes in and out of bed that included full pelvic thrusts, groans, etc. And sadly, as mentioned earlier,Willow and Tara's intimacy led directly into Tara's murder, which is an unfortunate component of the "Dead/Evil Lesbian Cliché." It would have been much preferable to completely separate Tara's death from any sexual acts.
Equality? We're not there yet, baby.
There are actually a fair number of reasons that this is a specious argument. For one thing, what's wrong with keeping them sacrosanct, anyway? We've had enough dead lesbians in the past, is it too much to ask that a show which prides itself on being ground-breaking and cliché-subverting actually keep the lesbian couple alive for once?
In addition, the lives of several characters are clearly already considered untouchable; none of the core Scoobies is going to die permanently. Adding another to this list therefore wouldn't particularly mess with the show's established mode of operation. Heck, "don't kill Dawn" was practically the Season 5 motto.
Also, a character being kept alive and not evil is a very different thing from saying a character is immune to trouble, as the entire show has adequately demonstrated. Simply keeping a character alive is hardly making them permanently smiley and happy.
But finally - most people arguing against the lesbian cliché are not even really arguing the Tara can't die! The argument is simply that she shouldn't die in a cliché manner. If Tara had gotten to die at the end of a story arc that made her death meaningful, important, and true to her character, there would be a lot of sad fans, but most of them would not be enraged the way we are now. But ME chose to have Tara shot randomly immediately after sex in a way that drives her lover insane and makes her evil.
Absolutely not! It was a beautifully written episode that displayed some of the sweetest, sexiest Willow and Tara moments ever. It was not his decision to kill off Tara. It was Joss Whedon's. What irked some W/T fans is that Mr. DeKnight (and other ME writers) claimed that Tara would not die this season. After Tara was killed - in Mr. DeKnight's very own episode - fans wanted to know why he lied to them. In his Succubus Club interview, he claimed that he had to lie because of spoilers and that fans shouldn't have believed him. After all the promises ME made regarding keeping Tara on the show, W/T fans found it callous that Mr. DeKnight would outright lie. Mr. DeKnight did not have to lie. A simple "no comment" would have sufficed.
Tara attracted many fans who are marginalized in society because they are shy or gay or stuttered or all three. More than any other character on the show, her fans were a sensitive, gentle group, many of whom found solace in Tara and W/T that they couldn't find anywhere else. To bolster false hope about the fate of a character that meant so much to people just so they could splatter her blood onto Willow's shirt, was especially cruel. For Mr. DeKnight to then act proud of his accomplishment was callous. This was not the death of any character. It was the death of a character that represented hope to thousands of people. Great care was required. Great insensitivity was shown.
Normally, it would have been wonderful to see Amber Benson in the opening credits. Her fans have been begging for her to be a regular for the last two seasons. She is the ONLY significant other of a Scooby to not have been made a regular. Her omission had become glaring. Unfortunately, Amber was included in the credits in the very episode Tara was murdered. Mr. DeKnight admitted that this was intended both as a goodbye present to Amber and to be "mischievous" to the fans. We cannot speak for Amber, but it seems to us that putting her in the credits for her final episode was a slap in the face. Why wasn't she included from the beginning of the season like all the other Scooby significant others like Anya, Riley and Oz? Too little, too late.
Furthermore, seeing how fans were already going to be shocked and hurt by the ending of "Seeing Red," ME did not need to heighten the pain by "mischievously" adding her to the credits, building false hope to make their plan of devastation more complete. It was a mean and crass move.
After indicating they were above falling into lesbian clichés and then leaping gleefully, head-first into not one, but two of them, Mutant Enemy should not be surprised by the reaction of the gay community. We would, of course, love to have Tara back, but nothing is going to change the fact that ME chose to perpetuate extremely hurtful clichés, lied about not killing Tara this season, and, according to Mr. DeKnight, purposely tried to make the loss hurt more by putting Amber Benson in the credits for the episode of Tara's death. Nothing will change the fact that seeing Willow covered in Tara's blood made an infamously vocal group of people that hated Tara because she was gay and viciously maligned Amber Benson because she didn't conform to some stupid, preconceived notion of female beauty very, very happy. ME fed W/T fans to the wolves - wolves they claimed to disdain - for a ratings stunt. That's really sad and pretty hard to forget.
Real damage has been caused, no matter what the future holds.
It means that the gay community has been hurt and mislead... again. It means that perpetuating a tired, horribly clichéd storyline was ultimately more important to ME than keeping their word. That hurting Willow above all the other Scoobies was more important than being socially responsible. That killing Tara anywhere but in the bedroom thus downplaying the lesbian cliché, required too much effort and apparently would have meant giving up too many ratings points. That giving all the homophobes, Tara-haters and Amber-bashers (a segment ME supposedly holds in great disdain) exactly what they've wanted since Tara first appeared was preferable to thinking a little harder and coming up with another story solution.
It means that, just like all those old (and new) movies that ended without hope for gay characters, so ends this season of BtVS. Mutant Enemy can say that it could have happened to anyone in Sunnydale all it wants. Sure, it could have. But it didn't. It happened to the lesbians...as freakin' usual.
Long live the cliché.
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Links (These links are to pages related to the issues in the FAQ and were selected by the site owner, not the authors of the FAQ some relate to the specifics of the homophobic murder of Tara whilst others relate to issues of violence against women and/or gay/lesbian people)
Last Updated: Saturday, November 8, 2008 18:25