by Latoya Peterson
So after Joanna posted her article on Gimme Sugar I decided to check out some of the episodes On Demand. Since On Demand was horrifically slow with adding new episodes, I found the rest on Logo’s site.
After watching the first few episodes, I was charmed. I generally liked the show, the women cast, and while there were a few things I had some questions on, the show was entertaining enough for me to look forward to the new episodes.
However, checking out the reaction to the show online was a bit of a shock.
The show was panned by AfterEllen’s She Made Me Watch It segment. I mean, damn. The vloggers and I came away from the show with two completely different impressions. The AE crew also seemed upset at the whole concept of vapid twenty somethings and the idea of reality TV in general.*
From where I sit, the show is looking very different from the usual reality show fare due to the strong business focus and the portrayal of women of color in the GLBT community.
The Business Dynamic
I was ready to dance around my apartment when I realized the Sugar crew was actually serious about starting this club. Unlike other reality shows that show a few seconds of entrepreneurial instinct or the elaborately funded lifestyles of the young and jobless, Gimme Sugar is actually displaying what it takes to start a business from the ground up.
The numbers are staggering. The Sugar crew thought that holding a car wash would be enough to raise the money without realizing that setting up a club night has heavy costs associated. They raised $300 from the car wash – the club they are looking to book costs requires a $2,000 deposit, a $6,000 guaranteed bar tab, and pays a 10% return on liquor sales after they meet the guarantee. Charlene sagely points out that they will make less than their initial investment, which Alex waves away as the cost of doing business. The Sugars also incurred costs related to the photo shoot, make up artists on the photo shoot, and cost of flyer printing and design, which were not discussed. I am also interested to see when exactly they are going to deal with things like insurance and liability – half of Alex’s drive to start a club night stemmed from her being refused entry at her favorite hangout spot for being underage. However, there are stiff penalties associated if a minor manages to get alcohol or if someone is injured during a club night. It appears that the series is going to allow the girls to figure out their own steep learning curve, but it will be interesting to see how the women deal with the realities of promoting a club night.
Gimme Sugar also shows the downside of working with your friends, which isn’t often explored in reality show world. Trying to start a business is expensive, frustrating, time consuming and risky – and that tends to manifest in stress. The Sugar girls are often seen fighting over the basics of the business, everything from the name to costs associated to creative direction. Their friendships are under a great deal of strain, but this is something important to see – that businesses are often started with the best intentions but quickly become serious when money is on the line.
The Friendship Dynamic
The show is centered around Charlene, who often narrates transitional events or adds her own commentary. However, I am not so sure about the other girls. While there is definitely some affection and camaraderie, it seems a bit more like a bunch of girls who are all friends with Charlene who happen to hang out with each other.
Case in point: Robin. She is not much of an onscreen presence, but when she is represented, she tends to be starting something. In episode two, she intentionally hooks up the new girl, Sayeh, with Bathilda’s ex. She confides that she knows Bathilda and her ex (Brittenelle) have unfinished business, but decides “it would be funny” to try to start something up. When it works, and Bathilda starts acting out, its Davonee that drops in to remind everyone of the fault lines they are playing over. However, Robin still isn’t done, and decides to set up Sayeh and Brittenelle on a secret date. She calls Sayeh to meet her at a restaurant and calls her later to admit that she really set her up on a date with Brittenelle. As Sayeh is on the impromptu date with Brittenelle, Robin and the rest of the girls file into the restaurant, creating another awkward situation between Bathilda and Brittenelle. Through it all, Robin continues to make comments like “oh they are so cute together!”
Now, every clique has their own code of ethics. But if that’s how “friends” on the scene act, maybe Bathilda would be better off hanging with enemies. Now, I could be wrong on the meaning of these actions – in her interview, Charlene cracks a joke about the West Hollywood scene, saying “Where My Ex is Your Ex.” And by episode four, it seems like the girls have patched up all their differences, with Bathilda even helping Sayeh with wardrobe and style. But judging by the reactions of Alex and Davonee, I take it that this kind of behavior is shady.
And Sayeh is kind of suspect as well – you’re in a new group of friends and you decide to hook up with someone’s ex? To each her own, I suppose. But I am thinking the group friendship dynamic isn’t as strong as it is made out to be with anyone but Charlene.
An Offhanded Comment
In episode two, Davonee and Bathilda are playing around when they are caught by Davonee’s jealous love interest Djosefin. After Djosefin accuses them of messing around, Bathilda chases her down to set the record straight. “I don’t like Asians!” she screams “[Davonee] doesn’t like Asians!”
Djosefin accepts this and uses the fact as a kind of stand in apology. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you don’t like Asians, I don’t know that!”
Now I am left with an arched eyebrow at this one. You don’t date people from your own ethnic group? At all? As a rule? Hmm…
I know I’m not a lesbian
…but can someone please explain the “Shane” references that came from AfterEllen readers commenting on the show? I have gleaned that Shane is apparently a character on the L-word with self-destructive tendencies. Is this fictional character now an archetype?
I want to steal all the jackets in Charlene’s closet. Just saying. The red leather one she wears in the first episode is hot like fire.
Bi-Bashing on the show
Malinda Lo, managing editor for AfterEllen.com, praised the show, calling it “a lighthearted reality series that features more Asian-American lesbians than have ever been seen before on television” focusing on the need for representations of queer friendship groups on television. However, she pointed to one part of the show that appears to be a reocurring theme – Bi-Bashing.
As in many series that include lesbian/bi women, biphobia is present in Gimme Sugar. Alex, who is bisexual, is often ridiculed for her bisexuality by her otherwise supportive lesbian friends.
This is unfortunate because it presents bi-bashing as acceptable social behavior. It is clear that Alex’s friends do like her, but their dismissal of her sexual orientation as disgusting is disappointing. Even if it reflects reality in the lesbian community — where bisexuals are often discriminated against — it also reflects poorly on the girls of Gimme Sugar.
In episodes two and three, Alex explores her bisexuality and ends up dating a guy named Matty. While some of her friends (most vocally, Devonee) display disgust at her actions and choices, things don’t get heated until Matt drops by the Truck Stop (current Lesbian club night) and proceeds to show his affection. Later on, in episode four, Sayeh is embracing her queerness but still stops short of embracing the label of “lesbian.” One of the girls she is flirting with questions this, and Sayeh replies “Why can’t I be bi?” The woman just shakes her head. She begins to explain but Sayeh cuts her off with a kiss.
I will definitely be checking for this dynamic in future episodes.
Gimme Sugar was compelling enough for me to actually tune in to this week’s episode during its original air time, which is amazing if you know my aversion to set schedules. Perhaps it is because the world Gimme Sugar explores is foreign to me on two different counts – it takes place in a predominantly lesbian environment and it also deals with a business that I am not familiar with. However, judging from the comments online, I am wondering if Gimme Sugar is on the wrong network. Many of the women on AfterEllen seem to be searching for a deeper, more intellectual representation of lesbianism than is presented in Gimme Sugar. However, I think the MTV crowd will be well served by this show, post Tila Tequila. While Tila’s show is intended to be an over the top dating show, Gimme Sugar actually explores the reality of being an out lesbian – in the same glittery style that MTV pioneered.
I mean, hell, it beats the Hills.
*Reality TV is generally referred to as “unscripted television” – any facade of reality has gone out the window ages ago. The last reality show I remember watching was one of the early seasons of the Real World. Boring conversations, a lot of people dreaming about stuff they wanted to do while stuck in some job they don’t really care about, and a roommate who stays home all day and drips kool-aid on the floor. I am not surprised that reality got swapped for a glitzier one.