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IN HER 1995 INTRODUCTION TO IMMORTAL. INVISIBLE: LESBIANS AND THE Moving Image, Tasmin Wilton comments on the invisibility of lesbian sexuality throughout the history of mainstream television and cinema. Beginning with a discussion of early American film, Wilton posits that despite the odd cinematic lesbian moments, such as when Greta Garbo kisses her maid servant in Queen Christina or Marlene Dietrich kisses a female night clubber in Morocco, lesbian sexuality in the starlet era has remained invisible primarily because the actresses who comprise the pantheon of early Hollywood goddesses were con-ferred their immortality precisely as heterosexual icons (2). Wilton also argues that these types of "fleeting moments of lesbianism" continue to make up the "flickering shape" of cinematic lesbian (in)visibility, a problem that she argues is augmented by the protracted failure of feminist and film theorists to address these notions of invisibility in the moving image.
In the last eight years, however, lesbian sexuality has become more explicitly manifest in mainstream film, and since the debut of the August 1993 issue of Vanity Fair, which features Cindy Crawford erotically shaving country singer k.d. lang, several critics have marked a trend in popular culture that promotes the idea that "lesbian sexuality is hot" (Garrity 193). One of the most popular genres of the moving image that provides evidence for the continued momentum of this trend is a recent string of successful mainstream teen movies, including Wild Things, Cruel Intentions, American Pie 2, and Not Another Teen Movie. (1) Given the inclusion of at least one girl-girl sexual encounter in each of these films, it is important to ask whether or not these teen movies are helping to welcome a new era in lesbian visibility, or if these movies merely capitalize on male heterosexual fantasies, further epitomizing the male gaze as described in Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and the Narrative Cinema." In addition, there is the important question of why these girl-girl sex scenes appear frequently in movies aimed at teens and young adults in the first place, especially since close to half of all box office tickets are purchased by 16- to 24-year-olds. (2)
To answer these questions, it is essential to realize that most (if not all) of the mainstream teen films that include lesbian sexuality do not portray those women as traditionally lesbian. For example, Kelly Van Ryan and Susie Toller in Wild Things, Cecile Caldwell and Kathryn Merteuil in Cruel Intentions, and Merteuil's parody, Katherine Wyler, in Not Another Teen Movie, are all sexually interested in both men and women, and the two friends in American Pie 2, Amber and Danielle, only pretend to be lesbians in order to teach the male cast a lesson in assumptions. While all of these characters appear comfortable engaging in lesbian sexual practices, none of them is exclusively interested in the homosexual lifestyle, which contrasts with the more authentic lesbian depictions found in independent and foreign teen films, such as But I'm a Cheerleader and Heavenly Creatures. This contrast suggests that mainstream producers are uncomfortable incorporating authentic lesbianism on screen, but are simultaneously willing to depict a type of "watered-down" lesbianism in order to capitalize on the femme-chic trend.
One way that mainstream producers dilute their lesbian portrayals is by heterosexualizing these scenes in order to promote the conventional straight male's lesbian fantasy. The casting of the "lesbian" role in these teen films bolsters this argument because each of the films discussed in this article features conventional, heterosexually desirable women, and many of these leading actresses are, much like Dietrich and Garbo before them, earning their reputations as heterosexual icons. For example, Denise Richards, who plays Kelly Van Ryan in Wild Things, also stars as the James Bond girl in The World Is Not Enough, and Sarah Michelle Geller, star of Cruel Intentions, is well known for her heterosexual appeal in works like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And while many would consider Neve Campbell's character in Wild Things as butch, her "manliness" is only an act put on to advance the group's plot to scam Kelly's mother out of millions. At the end of the film, once the plan is seen as an official success, Campbell's character both looks and acts in much more femininized ways, completely shedding her butch gothic look by dressing in white high-cut bathing suits and dying her hair blond. Additionally, Campbell is mostly known for her heterosexual roles in the Scream series and the television show Party of Five. These casting selections, then, work to exclusively portray "luscious lesbianism" on screen and speak to the idea that lesbianism is acceptable to mainstream audiences as long as it is heterosexualized for the straight male audience.
In fact, a scene in American Pie 2 explicitly speaks to this idea when the boys announce over their walkie-talkies that they are watching two lesbians in action. In this scene, a male truck driver who overhears their conversation blurts back over his CB, …