If you watched Guiding Light on June 10, 2009, you didn't just watch Olivia Spencer walk into a store and shop for a vibrator. You watched a television milestone.
Think about it - when was the last time you turned on the television at 3pm, and watched the better part of an hour devoted to a female character's sexual frustration? When was the last time you saw an attractive female character opt out of a sexual situation with an attractive man and turn, instead, to her own devices? When was the last time you watched two female soap opera characters run into one another at a sex shop and actually acknowledge that there's no shame in "taking care of one's self?" I'll tell you when: NEVER. You've never seen this on daytime television. You've probably never seen this on any television show that doesn't require a cable decoder.
Guiding Light is slated to end a 72 year run on September 18th and, true to form, the show is pushing the envelope and addressing social taboos right until the bitter end. Not satisfied with just presenting a same-sex love story that focuses on the love part, first and foremost, or posing a challenging response to the question "what is family?", the writers of GL have chosen to go one step further.
Otalia and The Noble Savage
There is a tendency, in some circles, to relegate gays and lesbians (and yes - I know this is a story without labels...but come on...it's a story about two women who are in love and who want to have sex with one another. Lesbian sex. There. I said it.) to Noble Savage status. A lot of people can tolerate the idea of two women falling beautifully in love with one another, and making beautiful, poetic, choreographed, rose-petal-covered-bed, 10,000-candles-surrounding-them, Adagio-for-Strings-as-background-music, under-the-satin-sheets, tear-inducing, serving-a higher-purpose love with one another, but they can't take it any other way. And I'm not pointing at the religious right, either. I'm thinking about the supposedly tolerant left, some misguided feminists, and even factions of the lesbian community. I'm thinking about a good friend of mine - a good, strong, progressive feminist who once said in complete earnest that, despite her undeniable sexual attraction to men, she longed to be a lesbian because, "straight people f*ck, but lesbians make love." (I told her to go to NYC's Clit Club on a Friday night, spend some time in the bathroom, and think again about this ridiculous theory.)
Ellen Wheeler and Jill Lorie Hurst have wisely made the decision to avoid this Noble Savage territory. Considering the fact that Olivia Spencer is well established as a sexual being, to suddenly squash any hint of raw, sexual need in her would have been foolish, and it wouldn't have rung true. Olivia loves sex. She's rarely gone for very long without having sex with someone. When she was close to death, one of the first things she pursued to "feel alive" was sex. Spoilers indicate that Olivia will tell Natalia that sex is not something that has to happen for them but, make no mistake about it: sex is most definitely something that has to happen for Olivia. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be kissing Josh (and yes, people, she kissed him as much as he kissed her - that exchange was mutual.) If it weren't important, Olivia wouldn't be walking around looking like a lost tourist. If it weren't important, she wouldn't be groaning in frustration at upward-facing dog. If sex weren't important to Olivia, if she were some sort of Noble Sapphic Savage, completely devoid carnal desire, she wouldn't be trying to decide between the Pearl Rabbit and the Pocket Rocket.
If, as a viewer, you're frustrated about Otalia's thus-far sexual stalemate, Olivia Spencer is just plain horny. And it is not a bad thing. It is a normal, natural thing for which there are remedies. Women - all sorts of women - deal with this every day. Wheeler and Hurst want you to know this.
Pushing the Envelope
How easy it would have been to keep Olivia and Natalia on a chaste, Noble Savage trajectory! How safe! Even Father Ray could live with the idea of Natalia "having feelings" for Olivia, as long as she had no intention of acting on those feelings. This, however, will not be the case. It really can't be the case, because one of the characters involved in this pairing is someone who we know loves and craves sex. Does anyone really believe Olivia capable of entering into and sticking with a committed, monogamous relationship that doesn't include sex? She may say that she's willing to do this, but nothing we know about Olivia indicates that this is even a possibility for her.
While the big Otalia consummation scene will almost certainly be a very fanciful, poetic, choreographed affair, (this is pretty much de riguer for any soap super couple's first time - unless it's Luke raping Laura, but I digress) Wheeler and Hurst are pushing the envelope and breaking ground by visiting Olivia's sexual frustration well in advance of The Big Event. And visiting Springfield's low-rent version of Toys in Babeland, no less.
Olivia Spencer is no Noble Savage. She's just a normal, healthy, woman in ned of sexual gratification. And, between you, me and the lamppost? If she doesn't already have a Pocket Rocket, it's only because she lost it in the move.
© 2009 Lana M. Nieves
Limited Licensing: I, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publish it under the Creative Commons Attribution license, granting distribution of my copyrighted work without making changes, with mandatory attribution to Lana M. Nieves and for non-commercial purposes only. - Lana M. Nieves