Yesterday, it was revealed that Outlander was the new cover story for Entertainment Weekly. Good News! Or, at least it should have been. I found myself very conflicted. My first reaction to the picture of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe’s steamy portrayal of Jamie and Claire was positive. They are very beautiful people and it is a very striking image. This was a cover of a national magazine and people who knew nothing about the books or the show would be seeing OUTLANDER! in the headline and then see that image…I began to feel uneasy.
I just happened to be getting ready for a meeting at work when the image popped up in my feed. With my sense of unease starting to work its way into a full blown feeling, I turned my Ipad screen toward a coworker who knew nothing about the show. “What do you think this TV show is about? ” I quizzed. It took her less than a second to answer. Hearing the word “sex” a crowd gathered. They all nodded their heads in agreement. No one, I repeat NO ONE asked what show it was or expressed any interest beyond looking at the picture.
I, however, made the mistake of looking beyond the picture. I looked at the head lines of the article. “Our favorite Kilty pleasure is back!” sigh…cheesy…”all the Time-Traveling, Bodice-Ripping scoop on the Season”...grrrr…again….by Lynette Rice…a woman…sigh… “What’s Next for Claire and Jamie Hint: He’s wearing pants 😦 … JHRC!!!!!! …sigh…AGAIN with bodice-ripping and kilts.
I took to Twitter to express my dismay.
I expected dissenting opinions.
but…others don’t and they certainly aren’t going to know much about the story from this cover. I tried to put a positive spin on the situation, as I am wont to do from time to time.
still…, an uneasy feeling persisted. I tried to sort through my thoughts and feelings. Was it about the sexy pics? Well, sort of. Let me try and explain. I LOVE the sex in the show and books. The idea that a married couple can be passionate and sexy and committed to each other? What’s not to like? And, the chemistry between those two actors is a joy to behold. But, here is the problem. The tease for the article entitled “Inside the wild, sexy world of Outlander” insinuates that sex is REALLY the ONLY thing the fans really care about.
So what makes the drama, which attracted more than five million multiplatform viewers per episode, such a kilty pleasure for fans? While the network and Moore would like to tout the show’s heady and historically accurate content, most fans point to the fantastic chemistry between Heughan and Balfe.
Most fans? Was there a poll I missed? I suspect that they went on social media and took their cues from the vocal minority that shout for more sex and romance between the two main characters and less about …well…pretty much anything else. I believe that there is an ocean of fans who aren’t as vocal, but who do want more. In fact, it’s the real reason they love the books and the series because it IS more.
I found it ironic that I posted my dismay on Twitter right after I had retweeted congratulations to Outlander for its Women’s Image Network WIN award wins and nominations for film and television. The nonprofit organization celebrates, “media and deserving individuals who promote gender parity to advance the value of women and girls.” Outlander was being recognized for its portrayal of women and its promotion of women as writers and directors. Think about that incongruence. So, I’m left with trying to figure out what the heck is going on.
WHAT I SUSPECT
- Based on the quote from the cover teaser, I’m going to give STARZ the benefit of a doubt…again and believe that this isn’t the promotion they were looking for. However, they are promoting the fact that the show made the cover. And, I’m curious, what is their plan? This doesn’t appear to be the kind of attention that will get the show taken seriously. Are their numbers so bad that they need an immediate fix instead of cultivating an audience that wants to see something more meaningful than other people’s junk?
- The magazine wants to sell magazines and sex sells
- There is something more insidious and more disturbing going on here.
If you were around back when the series was first filmed and then reviewed, you might remember the frustration fans experienced reading write-ups on the series by critics and entertainment journalists. It was truly a lesson on what the industry thought of a show they knew was being marketed to women. It was insulting to say the least. They questioned the show’s worth if men couldn’t be convinced to watch it (by the way they are, but that is beside the point). They stubbornly hung on to the idea that Outlander was a Harlequinesque bodiceripper that would only appeal to middle-age bored housewives. Here we are after a very successful first season that garnered critical praise and multiple awards including three Golden Globes nominations and we are still fighting the bodice-ripper image …why?
Romance authors lament the lack of seriousness given their chosen genre. I have nothing against Romances like all literary genre there are poor examples and good. I have enjoyed reading quite a few over the years. But, Outlander does not fit neatly into that genre. There is certainly a relationship at the core of the story, but unlike a Romance novel, Jamie and Claire’s love story doesn’t stay in the falling in love honeymoon phase. Thank The Lord. As some of us were discussing on Twitter, if they had, the stories would have held our interest for no longer than the time it took to read them. Instead, many of us re-read Diana Gabaldon’s books over and over and never seem to tire of what is revealed between those pages. Herself writes about what happens after people fall in love. She writes about the dynamics of enduring love, complicated relationships and the irony of life. This is what truly engages her readers. She gets deeper and that is what fans hope to see on the screen as well. Despite their differences, today I am struck by a similarity between Romance novels and Outlander. They both have an image problem because they are being marketed to women. Unfairly, that means they are deemed to be less worthy as a genre and film.
Previously, I’ve written about Hollywood’s issue with women and how it runs deeper than just parity in job opportunities and pay. It is how women are portrayed and …marketed to. Women and their value are held in low esteem. My guess is that the coverage of Outlander by EW is systemic of Hollywood’s continued issue with women. They know the show’s extremely large fan base is predominately women. So, what could women possibly be interested in? The “the show’s heady and historically accurate content” or the two main characters getting naked? I think we know which way EW answered that question. Did they watch Outlander fans’ support for the show and its stars and salivate at a chance to get a piece of that popularity pie and the money that goes with it? What they failed to understand is the love and loyalty for this show is based on a dream, a dream that a wonderful book would be shared in a visual format and the world would get to see Jamie and Claire’s story of adventure and survival and …enduring and committed love. Yesterday, many fans expressed the idea that if this attention gets us more seasons of Outlander then so be it. We all know that sex sells. It’s nothing new. On the surface this seems reasonable, but I’m getting that uneasy feeling again. I fear that this attention can put the show on a slippery slope that may lead to pressure to actually turn the show into what they think folks want.
Jamie and Claire have a very vibrant sex life and I’m enjoying the hell out of watching it! Quite frankly, I was relieved when I found out Starz was producing the show because I knew we would have a chance to see some of the best love scenes ever written (IMHO) come to life. The Wedding Episode was glorious. But, sex really isn’t what the show is about! It is a wonderful part of the show, but it isn’t the only thing worth watching the show for, but I’m afraid that is the impression this cover and tease are leaving. The magazine comes out Friday, so I guess we’ll see what they actually said, but I’m not very hopeful they moved away from the “chemistry” angle. I realize this is just one magazine and there will be more opportunities to sell Outlander to the masses, but I really hope this doesn’t become a trend. They will probably sell a lot of issues, some because of the titillating pictures, but I believe many will be sold because Outlander fans support Outlander and want it to succeed.
Here is the most ironic thing of all. I believe Outlander fans would have bought the magazines if they had decided to put a picture of Culloden Moor on the cover. But, I guess we’ll never know because they chose to market it to “women”.
P.S. Well, the article wasn’t too bad! It was certainly better than expected given the cover headlines. Just wanted to thank everyone for their respectful discourse. You certainly don’t have to agree with me, but I appreciate your respectfulness!