Thursday, December 1, 2011


A Kiss at Lips (1994)

Location: Elgin, Illinois, USA

Opened/Closed: March 1,1994--or whenever it "reopens" in reruns

Lips was an imaginary lesbian bar that appeared during an episode of Roseanne, an American sitcom that ran from 1988 to 1997. Comedian Roseanne Barr played the title role in the show, which concerned a (straight) midwestern working-class married mom.

Lips came into being during the sixth season, an episode called "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (episode 18). You can watch a clip including the bar scene here. "The Kiss" is here.

As you can see, Lips is housed in a little one-story stucco building at the end of a narrow, dead-end street. (Scary!) The interior is an electric blue, with cheesy decorations that look like they were fashioned from aluminum foil. The "clients" are portrayed as leering and aggressive (even More Scary!), and the bartender as flirty and tatooed --no shedding of stereotypes or hetero fears here.

Victoria E. Johnson has written one of the better critiques:

The April 30, 1994 [sic] episode of Roseanne, titled "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," chronicles Roseanne Connor's and her sister Jackie's trip from their hometown of Lanford, Illinois to Elgin for a Friday night on the town at a gay bar with their friend Nancy (played by Sandra Bernhardt) and her partner Sharon (Mariel Hemingway). While Roseanne begins the episode demonstratively vocalizing her "coolness" with the trip and her wisecracking ease around her lesbian and gay friends, when Sharon kisses her at Club Lips, she becomes threatened and confused. The remainder of the episode explores Roseanne's attempt to examine her own fears and desires, and to recuperate her "cool status" within the group and for viewers, thus enabling her to return to "unruly" form the following week.

During the 1990s, it became quite the fad for TV shows to feature a "lesbian kiss episode"--especially during network "sweeps" time. Other shows that featured a single kiss during that period include LA Law, Picket Fences, Party of Five, and Ally McBeal.

Back in 2005, Virginia Heffernan pulled apart the real motives behind the TV "sapphic pucker up" craze:

Eminently visual; cheap, provided the actors are willing; controversial, year in and year out; and elegantly reversible (sweeps lesbians typically vanish or go straight when the week's over), kisses between women are perfect sweeps stunts. They offer something for everyone, from advocacy groups looking for role models to indignation-seeking conservatives, from goggle-eyed male viewers to progressive female ones, from tyrants who demand psychological complexity to plot buffs.

Hooray for the all-purpose lesbian kiss, then, cynical though it may be.

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