By Michelle Garcia
Originally published on Advocate.com May 13 2014 4:30 AM ET
If you haven't heard, MTV has rolled out another show about the complex and changing world of high schoolers. In it, two girls pretend to be lesbians so that they'll be considered interesting and popular.
In Faking It, Karma and Amy are two BFFs who go to a high school in Austin, Texas, where the traditionally weird kids are considered the cool ones. But Karma and Amy are so-o-o boring and ordinary that they're not popular in this so-called bizarro world, so Karma seeks a plan to stand out. When someone mistakes the two for a couple, Karma (Katie Stevens) decides to roll with it.
Why? Well, according to plan, she is now suddenly popular among her peers. And because some dude is suddenly paying attention to her.
Amy hesitantly goes along with this scheme, but after they share a kiss to prove their love in front of the student body (which includes Liam, the hot guy who is now all about Karma the Lesbian), Amy realizes she might actually have feelings for her friend.
Before I launch into the problems I do have with Faking It, I will say that Amy's story is quite captivating. She is definitely this show's best-crafted character, and Rita Volk plays her expertly. She's full of queer teenage angst without being overly self-tortured or annoying. A close second is Shane, played by Michael J. Willett, one of the school's resident gay kids. He reminds me of my out pal Mike, who I went to prom with back in the days of puka shell necklaces and "Thong Song."
Meanwhile, Karma (ugh, even the name makes me roll my eyes) doesn't seem to experience any actual human emotions other than lust for Liam, at least in the episodes I saw. We might chalk that up to typical teenage girl thoughts, but I think that's underestimating teenage girls. Amy has equal screen time, yet she gives off a more realistic gamut of the teenage feels: longing, confusion, hope, and despair, while remaining funny about it.
I can like flawed shows. The running gag in the office is that I go home at night and watch Alf to unwind (not true, but I wish it were). On top of that, I do believe that a protagonist doesn't have to be perfect or relatable to drive a show. In Faking It, Karma seems to be positioned as the main character, but I found her to be grating from the first minute of the pilot. I immediately thought, no wonder she's not popular — it's not because she's ordinary, it's because she's unfunny and annoying. Aside from Amy's dormant feelings being the motivation, it makes me wonder why the two are even friends.
I am usually willing to give the benefit of the doubt to shows that have a shaky start, but I am having a difficult time finding a reason to like this one. I tried; I wanted to be proved wrong. I didn't even want to write anything about my feelings on the show because I just don't think we need yet another critique of some teen show that people watch for 22 minutes of light, fun escape. Last week I wrote a column about how much I hate Internet hate and everyone's inclination to just hate things before giving them a chance. But something about the episodes of this show that I watched continued to irk me to the point where I had to write about it.
As you might guess, my biggest problem with the show is fact that Karma is pretending to be a lesbian to be popular and to grab a boy's attention. In my later school years, there was a lot of girl-on-girl making out at parties, with the sole intent being to impress dudes. I am all about experimentation and the ability to try grasping the mere concept of sexuality. I think the Kinsey scale doesn't even go wide enough to truly reflect the full range of human sexuality, so I am all thumbs-up about experimentation and even nonlabeling.
But when girls are just making out with each other to impress boys, I really believe it irresponsibly subverts the entire idea of sexual self-empowerment. If girls get off on boys watching them make out with girls, then all power to them. But that's just typically not the intent of the action.
The honest truth is this: Girls are often shamed away from owning their sexual self-identities, whether it's by their parents, their friends who call everyone in the free world a ho-bag, their churches that rail against any form of sexual expression from the pulpit, or policies that place the blame for sexual harassment or assault on them (like dress codes that punish girls for dressing "slutty" instead of punishing boys for sexually harassing them).
No, we don't expect MTV comedies to be oh-so-weighted in morality, but Faking It is another example of young women continuing to act upon their urge to impress boys, instead of embracing themselves or learning what they like sexually on their own terms.
I don't want to sound like some hyperbolic, high-and-mighty morality machine (though I'm sure someone will say that I am below in the comments), but I honestly think perpetuating the public image of Karma's relationship with Amy as being changeable by "the right guy" is also kind of not cool. Here we have one lesbian (even though the audience knows she's Faking It) succumbing to the sexual draw of a boy, which I'm sure the other students will eventually discover. Hey, so maybe other lesbians are actually just holding out for "the right guy." Maybe she just has to be taught, right? Maybe if he just kisses her. Maybe if he just grabs her the right way. Maybe if he just has sex with her. Maybe then she'll like guys, right?
Perhaps that's a leap, but like I said, this aspect of the show just does not sit right with me, even if it's just meant to be escapism set in a high school.
My weariness over Faking It isn't because I feel disconnected from teenagers and I don't understand TV shows geared toward them. I am already in love with another MTV show following an oddball, teenage female protagonist: Awkward. This series keenly follows the friendships and many loves of Jenna Hamilton, a girl who everyone ignored until she got into a crazy accident that came off as a suicide attempt. Even when Jenna is acting like an asshole, you still root for her to figure it out.
With Faking It, I'm beyond rooting for Karma. She might figure out what she's doing, or she and Amy might get caught, but it won't be without leaving some serious damage behind — typical high school drama, right?
MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's managing editor. She was a nerd-jock in high school. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.
(For more, check out Kevin O'Keefe's counter-point, In Defense of 'Faking It.')