Being born in 1986, there was never a time in my life where MTV did not exist. Unlike my older relatives and friends, I don’t remember its debut — throughout my childhood, I grew up with specialty channel. I couldn’t wait for the new Mariah Carey video, the VMAs or the next episode of the “Road Rules.” As a teen, MTV was my favorite channel on television. However, as I grew older and entered collage and as MTV started to court its programming to a younger and “hipper” crowd, I often found myself flipping past my once beloved channel in search of a channel that better suit my interests (C-SPAN fit quite nicely).
Through the years MTV not only provided some of my favorite music while growing up (Prince, Madonna, and yes even the Backstreet Boys), it also provided some of my first images of queer characters and even queer plotlines. Surprisingly enough, it was on “The Real World Hawaii,” where I saw my first lesbian kiss between out lesbian Ruthie and her “close friend on the show,” Kaia. Even if it was a drunken kiss, and the straight male housemates were practically drooling over them, I was hooked. At 12 years old, it not only sparked my interest, it also made me curious about the feelings I was experiencing. It definitely made me love MTV for more than the music.
For the next couple of years I would find MTV shows, that, for better, and arguably worse, portrayed same-sex relationships, kisses, and characters more than any other channel on television. Although, anyone that has seen Pedro Zamora, the only HIV positive “Real World” participant on the show’s San Francisco season, knows that since then, MTV’s “The Real World” has moved from real to fake.
However, one show has kept me coming back for more is “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila.” Now, I’ve had friends who love watching it with me and friends who loathe the show. And even though I watch the show every week, I understand both arguments from my friends.
On one hand, it’s unlike any other dating show on television, and it has easily become one of my guilty pleasures. As a fan of previous competitive MTV shows such as “Real World”-”Road Rules” challenges, I couldn’t help but love the competitive nature of the show; even it pitted lesbians against straight men. On the other hand, I have many problems with how it plays into bisexual and lesbian stereotypes. There is no such thing as a harmless television show, even when it’s more than likely staged.
After last season, some lesbian friends of mine were convinced that Tila Tequila was not bisexual because she chose Bobby, a charming, sweet, but immature frat boy over Dani, a young, soft-butch lesbian who seemed to have a stronger connection with Tila than Bobby. In an “EXTRA” interview with Bobby, he said he believed he would have lost the competition to Dani because bisexual or lesbian women have a stronger connection to women than men do.
One of the biggest stereotypes that the show plays into is that bisexuality is a sexual orientation where you can have your cake and eat it too. It harps on the myth that bisexuality is a lustful stage and that eventually a person will be either gay/lesbian or straight, and that regardless of what kind of relationship they are in, their bisexuality has vanished. This idea is present with some straight friends of mine, and interestingly enough, even some gay friends of mine have told me that bisexuality is a phase. The fact that some lesbians ask the question “Is she even bisexual, because she chose a man in the end?” shows that bisexuality is still very much misunderstood in society as a whole, and in queer identifying communities.
The show often plays into the idea that bisexuality or lesbianism is a stereotypical straight male fantasy, and Tila is the stereotypical pornographic Asian caricature to fit that role for them. Often times, especially when the male contestants first meet the female contestants, they ask if they’ve ever been with men before, and if they say they haven’t, then to the men (most of them), it’s an open invitation for them to ask the women to be with them or to flirt with them. They all happen to sleep in one big round purple velvet bed. Yep, all 20 men and women sleep in the same bed together, and they’re all there just for Tila’s affections?
In episode three of the second season and current season of “A shot love with Tila Tequila” showed some “realness,” where, Dominic told Tila Tequila that he thought bisexuality was a phase, and that if she ended up being with him, she wouldn’t need to be with a woman. This moment not only showed how some feel about bisexuality but also it showed the lack of understanding when it comes to bisexuals and monogamous relationships. The statement Dominic made implied that he could beat her desire for women, because, the perceived fear when dating bisexuals is that they will run away to another woman or man to fulfill a “need” in them.
While Tila Tequila’s show is a different type of dating show because of the “bisexual” twist, it also strives to appeal to an audience and public who possibly have yet to acknowledge bisexuality, let alone understand it, and while it might open some minds, it also has shut the door on the reality of bisexual relationships.
MTV has come a long way alright, we have more images of LGBTQ characters and shows than ever before, but we must ask the question: Are these images the same stereotypes we have seen before, or is MTV ever going to be “real” with us ever again?
— Samantha Korb, Q-Notes’ ‘Small Screen’ columnist, is a student at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, where she has been involved in campus LGBT organizing and community non-profit work.