A Lesbian's Perspective of Fried Green Tomatoes
Last week my mother and I decided to rent a "woman's film," Fried Green Tomatoes. We sat mesmerized for 1 hour and 45 minutes by the narrative played out upon our small screen. However, as I realized by our discussion after the film, we had two very different experiences. While she enjoyed the film as a story about two "best friends," I read this friendship as an obvious lesbian relationship hidden within the repressed text of a popular, commercial film. A few months later, at a screening of Silence of the Lambs, the same scenario was replayed. A lesbian friend and I interpreted the absence of confirmed heterosexuality in Jodie Foster's androgynous character as an indication of a lesbian depiction. Angered by our interpretation, a skeptical
heterosexual friend accused us of seeing "gayness" everywhere, that we were inventing a space for ourselves that doesn't exist in mainstream America.
The study of gay and lesbian receptions and interpretations of mainstream media texts is based on assertions such as John Fiske's that "meanings are determined socially: they are constructed out of the conjuncture of the text with the socially situated reader" (80). However, often gay film reviewers criticize these films for their refusals to grant characters a clear lesbian identity. The largest national gay magazine, The Advocate, charges Fried Green Tomatoes with the crime of delesbianization, and argues that "Hollywood has always been partial to deepsixing gay and lesbian material... Its not that the town dislikes lesbians altogether. In fact, if they're mini skirted, ice- pick-wielding psychopaths, the studios will spare no expense in bringing their stories to the screen, as shown most spectacularly in Basic Instinct" (Ehrenstein, 67). In an age where the AIDS virus has increased homophobia and sexual repression, a positive and "out" gay/lesbian portrayal is becoming less and less of an option within the capitalist institution of the commercial cinema.
Criticism, such as The Advocate's, is one way to read the Hollywood "delesbianized" text, but it is a bleak and depressing outlook. It suggests that gays and lesbians are so disempowered that enjoyment cannot be taken in the form of popular pleasure, that there is no place for gays and lesbians within popular culture. It is important to regard Hollywood as a producer of discourse. Although mainstream film tends to reinforce dominant ideology as a form of social control and as an appeal to the majority of consumers, as discourse it transmits and produces power - but it also undermines it. Commercial film "can be both an instrument and an effect of power, but also a hindrance, a stumbling block, a point of resistance, and a starting point for an opposing strategy (Foucault, 101).
The opposing strategy that gay and lesbian film studies offers is an active subtextual reading of popular texts against the dominant discourse. Stick a reading, to a...