Monday, April 18, 2011

Santana Lopez and What Lies Beneath: Part 7


Because Santana is teetering on the precipice of some serious character development, we then have to wonder what the future of her character will be.  Functionally speaking, it seems fair to say that Santana should no longer be wielded solely as a wise-cracking villain and well-placed plot device, but rather as a fleshed-out, three-dimensional character.  With the events of “Sexy,” the writers took their first huge step towards making this a reality, but, being of little faith, I can’t help but wonder if the progress will be set aside for the sake of having a functional villain in the Glee Club. 

Regardless, there’s talk of Santana coming out and identifying as a lesbian, which certainly aligns with her actions in “Sexy,” and is a remarkable storyline to give this character, considering her past function on the show.  Making Santana confront her sexuality irreversibly embeds her in Glee’s message of identity and equality, and allows her to experience challenges and obstacles like any main character.  It’s a huge statement for this one-time single-layered bitchy cheerleader to operate on the show in a powerful and impacting way, and gives the character of Santana Lopez the opportunity to mean something to people, to young women in particular who struggle with their sexuality in high school, or even to anyone who struggles with love.  The decision to maneuver Santana to the forefront of that message is nothing short of phenomenal.

However, there are a few potential hiccups in handling that could come into play.  Don’t get me wrong; the idea that Santana decides to identify as a lesbian is absolutely 100% valid.  But this is a character who has historically been portrayed as generally enjoying sex with men and women, and who has repeatedly rejected the idea of being labeled.  By bringing Santana forward and identifying her as a lesbian, it almost disregards these two ideas that the show themselves constructed.  Those heterosexual relationships the show presented us with previously would be pushed further underground - when we already had little to conclude about Santana’s feelings towards them to begin with - and disconnected completely from Santana’s character.  It’d almost be as though they never existed.  And past that, the scenario would label Santana, something she has been explicitly vocal about avoiding.

In all, it makes me worry that the writers will come up heavy-handed in the execution.  Santana was a character who was always comfortable with sex and the implications of sex - she was practically defined by it.  Rather, it was the vulnerability that Santana had issues with.  And that notion can easily support the idea that Santana will struggle with her sexuality - as long as it’s made clear that the struggle to deal with those emotions makes Santana feel vulnerable.  The buzz words here are not “gay” or “lesbian” or “coming out” - they are “feelings,” vulnerability,” and “love.”  There’s a fine line between them, but in order for a gay storyline for Santana to work fluently with the rest of her character, specific emphasis must be placed on those words first.

If there isn’t, it’s almost as if Santana’s characterization will be reborn, not as this character we know that happens to be gay, but rather as a Gay Character, where all her previous representations will be dusted under the rug in favor of a socially relevant storyline.  That’s not to say that a socially relevant storyline isn’t important, or that the execution can’t be handled with sophistication and care - perhaps Santana can reflect (as much as she would) on her past relationships, thereby allowing us to understand what they meant to her, and let us understand her hang-ups with emotions and vulnerability.  Therefore, any conclusion she reaches about her sexual identity can come about naturally and honestly, in a way that feels genuine to the character and what little we know about her. 

As it is, the path of Santana Lopez from beginning until now has been rife with question marks and clues that lead to a larger, more fascinating picture than just a Scheming Cheerleader: she has insecurities just like any other character on the show, experiencing issues with vulnerability and identity, someone who’s scared of her own feelings, in love with her best friend, and is just trying to handle it all the best way she knows how.


Thus concludes Santana Lopez Week!  Thanks for reading, all.  I received so many thoughtful comments throughout the course of the week, and I read and appreciate all of them.  Santana is definitely a tough nut to crack, and everybody’s got slightly different interpretations that are all interesting, thought-provoking and certainly valid.

And, fun fact: Santana Week has clocked in as the most verbose of the Character Weeks with nearly 10,000 words.  Gadzooks!  And if you want another fun fact: there’s only forty words difference between Quinn Week and Rachel Week.  Alright, enough fun facts.  Enjoy the new episode on Tuesday!




  1. I really hope the writers do right by her character, I've always enjoyed Santana. Her bitchiness is hilarious, but you can tell there's something more going on there. I still think that she should be bisexual, that would make the most sense. But whatever, let the writers do what they want as long as it's interesting.

  2. Loved reading this blog on Santana. Brava, Brava! :D

  3. A great week of posts - well written and insightful. The only thing I would disagree with here is "generally enjoying sex with men ...." I'm not sure how we know this, I always had the impression that she was going through the motions so to speak, it never occurred to me that she actually enjoyed it!

  4. I think you've put the cart before the horse in regards to Santana's relationships with men. They're not devoid of feeling because they're underdeveloped, they're devoid of feeling because Santana has no feelings for them. She talks big about enjoying sex and being attracted to guys, but it's consistently shown that neither is true. Go back and look at her after sex with Finn, and listen to how she talks about her previous experiences. And sure, she makes a big show about being into Hot Carl the public. But compare that to how she behaves towards him when it's just him, her, and Brittany in his office. She treats Puck like an accessory, she sleeps with Finn basically due to an assignment from Sue, she negotiates a relationship with Sam for mutual revenge. It's just a show. It's always just a show when it comes to guys. She was scared of her true self, so she overcompensated. Whatever guys she's slept with (and there have canonically only been two for certain) were slept with basically to prove a point to herself and to create an image. That's how I've been reading it since the beginning of Season 2.

  5. I do disagree that she has been shown to "enjoy sex with men." I think that was something fandom fabricated to ease our consciences. We always just assumed it. But in the canon, we don't see her reply to Rachel in TPoM when she asks about saying "no" that she should just enjoy herself....she says "never say no." And "If everyone put out wed have a winning football team." And "ive noticed it takes twenty or so times for the feeling of accomplishment to kick in." Not saying these were intentional red flags, but we've actually never heard or seen (def not w Finn) that she sleeps with men for enjoyment....status, obligation, revenge, yes. But I feel that as a fandom we tried to interpret her thin canon w boys as best case scenario...but we really haven't been reassured ever that she "enjoyed it."

  6. I get your concern that in their desire to tell another socially conscious story they may disconnect Santana's past history the moment the confirm her lesbianism. I just don't think her behavior so far is completely at odds with her being gay.

    I agree with the other comments about the lack of emotion Santana has had in her past relationships with men. Also, sexual orientation is about what you feel, not what you do and say. She could've been having sex with those guys for the wrong reasons (and I think she was), and she could've been lying to cover up her homosexuality, it wouldn't be unheard of. I really, really hope it gets addressed on the show and we get the explanation from her own mouth so people will stop questioning this.

    I have to disagree too on your point that Santana's struggles are more about her issues with intimacy and vulnerability rather than her sexuality. I do think those are there, but her struggle with being gay is not at odds with those. I personally thing she struggles with both issues: opening up and her sexuality.

    She seemed to be in control and comfortable in her sexuality, but IMO it's because she's been detached all along from the sex she has, and since she has been conforming to society's heterosexual's values, she's been finding herself safe from the repercussions of coming out. That detachment gave her a sense of power and control that she's bound to lose now that the genie is out of the bottle. A genie that she has possibly been aware of for some time, if her gay panic in Duets is any indication.

    As to the no labels thing, in my experience those who reject them the most vehemently are those who are not okay with who they are because they don't want to be 'that'. A fluid person who is fine with themselves might find them annoying, but not let it get to them. A person who is terrified of being labeled as gay probably has considered that they really may be, and they refuse the label with such passion because the label would make it real, which is something they're not ready for. I obviously can't make a sweeping generalization about this, but I've seen it.

    Finally, delving more into Santana's story doesn't necessarily have to be at odds with her occasional antagonistic role in the show. We've seen the more human side of Sue, and she's still the bad guy. And the level of Santana's villainy has always been somewhat mild, but so amusing, so she could still be Santana and still get sympathy from people and be more of a lead. That's what I'm hoping for, anyway.

  7. I agree with Nat, especially the part about Santana's issues with emotional vulnerability being entwined with her issues about sexuality and actually adding further credence to the idea that she's gay. Santana is afraid of emotional connections so she gets with people she knows she can't have an emotional connection with - a series of boys. You're right about Santana's history with boys being too big an issue for them to just brush under the rug and I don't think they will.

    And I'm actually excited to see that. Because it's a story that's not often told despite the fact that it's actually a fairly common one. And it makes even more sense given Santana's terror at labels. Like Nat said, there's being uncomfortable with labels (which I think is more where Brittany would actually fall - I don't think she'd understand a label) and there's being terrified of labels because you know the label that probably fits you and you're afraid of that. And I think Santana fits the latter category. Being a lesbian really doesn't mean anything more than liking girls but that's not what our culture teaches - there are a whole slew of stereotypical behaviors ascribed to the label by society and I suspect that's what Santana's afraid of. So I think it's important that Santana accept the label simply so that she can understand that the label can apply to her but not define her. In the same way that being Latina applies to her but doesn't define her. And that being gay doesn't make her any less Santana, if that makes sense.

    Or at least that POV makes sense given what you've previously pointed out about Santana letting others define her.

  8. You're right, the writers wresting Santana into a new identity has erased everything before or at least made it irrelevant. In some ways I think that's a good thing. What they put Santana through in the past was just terrible.

    Although now that Santana is out and proud and will be seen in a new light, they may need to look back to those times that no longer make sense and create a backstory/justification for Santana's erratic sleeping around.

    My reasons for her was that she is gay not bi but was ashamed of being gay and slept around to seem straight. Still that is yet to be explained. Maybe it never will be.

    If the writers do take up this challenge really they will be just ret-conning for poor writing before. They obviously did not have a clear plan for Santana's character from day-one - she was just one of those two girls in the background. They can be forgiven for Santana evolving into a break-out character, but leaving the past unexplained is troublesome.

    As for labels I think by where we are now in Season 3, Santana has accepted her label and is learning to run with it.


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