On Friday the 13th, MTV’s 30 minute dramedy Faking It was cancelled due to “low ratings.” The next episode, airing on May 17th, will be the last.
Executive producer Carter Covington tweeted at 9 am: “Sad news this morning. For all the #FakingIt fans out there, we’re so grateful you loved this show as much as we did” and promised to reveal what he had planned for the rest of the show after the finale aired.
Fans ensured that the Faking It tag trended after the cancellation. Some viewers shared personal stories about what the characters meant to them; others expressed a deep pain and loss that the show will leave; others simply offered their support for the cast. The actors and writers released similar statements about the show’s impact, thanked the fans for their love and support, and bowed out of their three-season run with grace, but without being shy about their heartbreak.
Playing Amy has been the most incredible journey. Thank you, thank you all the fans for your support and love.
— Rita Volk (@therealritavolk) May 13, 2016
Where does this pain come from, and how can we use it to contextualize the meaning of MTV cancelling a show like Faking It? After all, Faking It is no ordinary piece of mainstream media: first and foremost, the cast features a variety of typically marginalized queer characters. The title comes from season one in which Amy Raudenfeld (Rita Volk) and her BFF Karma Ashcroft (Katie Stevens) fake being lesbians to earn popularity at school. But, as fate would have it, Amy quickly realizes she isn’t actually faking it at all. For the remainder of the show, Amy and Karma have a will-they-won’t-they relationship–a type of romance usually reserved for straight, opposite-sex best friends and almost never for your average high school queer girl.
Besides Karma and Amy, the show features other main characters with unique characteristics of their own: Lauren Cooper (Bailey De Young) struggles with creating an identity separate from her intersex biology, and Shane Harvey (Michael J. Willett), a vivacious gay man, has little to none of the shame and discomfort over sexuality that gay characters are often saddled with. Lesbian, bisexual, polyamorous, asexual, and transgender characters decorate the show’s background (bonus: the transgender character is played by Elliot Fletcher, who is also trans). These characters’ storylines often end up discussing complex issues of identity and oppression succinctly within the framework of a teen drama.
Because of this uniqueness, the cancellation of a Faking It comes at what is possibly the literal worst time ever (this is an exaggeration… but also, is it?). So far, 2016 is a pretty unsafe time to be an LGBT girl on television. This year alone, television has lost queer women such as Rose (Bridget Regan) from Jane the Virgin, Lexa (Alycia Debnam-Carey) from The 100, Mimi Whiteman (Marisa Tomei) and her wife Camilla (Naomi Campbell) from Empire, and Denise (Merritt Wever) from The Walking Dead. And there have been more. Television has such a long history of killing queer characters that it now has it’s own trope: Bury Your Gays, sometimes called Dead Lesbian Syndrome as it disproportionately affects female characters.
LGBT viewers are rebelling against these unhappy endings. Fans of Lexa from The 100 created the hashtag #LGBTFansDeserveBetter to voice their disapproval. They also published a pledge, nicknamed The Lexa Pledge, that was created by and for television professionals to sign in order to show they understand the delicacy of LGBT storylines. While most points in the pledge describe simply showing LGBT characters the same decency as straight characters, one point specifically mentions the Bury Your Gays trope as something signers promise to avoid.
This representation problem is more complicated than it seems. Covington himself was wary of such a pledge because, although he believes in the basic principles, “it’s dangerous to tell a showrunner how to write their show.”
No creative professional would disagree with him–freedom is important, and showrunners and producers already have to argue with their networks just to write the content they want to write sometimes. The pressure to pledge away creative license to fans on top of that must be a hard deal to make with yourself.
However, the way LGBT characters have been treated recently still isn’t… great. In most shows, LGBT characters are side characters and guest stars. Side characters are disposable by their nature. Most of the dead (or even just poorly written) lesbians and bisexuals on TV are friends, villains, coworkers, or other side characters who were written in service of straight main casts and therefore are expendable if the main cast needs them to be, for shock value or otherwise. Characters written in main roles are protected by their writers. Think of the few “safe” queer characters we see regularly on TV, such as Clarke from The 100, Cosima from Orphan Black. Even though their lovers both died, they themselves are safely inside the main cast and get to be kept around much longer because of the relationship the viewers have with them. (OK, so either of them could still die at any second because of the nature of their respective universes… we have to grasp at straws for representation here, that’s the point I’m trying to make.)
Even amongst the scattered LGBT leads, Faking It made itself different by offering well-rounded representation, and, crucially, by linking that representation to characters who were indispensable, as opposed to linking it exclusively to side characters who could be kicked off the show at any moment.
However, MTV’s decision to cancel Faking It makes it clear that even that isn’t enough. Looking at the stats given by MTV, the ratings do seem pretty dismal. But ratings in the modern era are confusing at best and inconsequential at worst, with a variety of new systems that often don’t account for the latest tools and consumer viewing habits. This season, MTV also chose not to have Faking It stream for free on their website at all, which undoubtedly impacted viewership, since this feature was available during season two.
Even though it’s hard to argue with raw numbers, this cancellation fits contextually with the treatment all of the other LGBT women on TV this year–if queer ladies are side characters, they die; if they’re main characters on their own show, they get cancelled with little to no effort from the network to stop it. Meanwhile, MTV’s favorite child Teen Wolf has been criticized for constant queerbaiting without any actual delivery (despite that the cast thinks it’s a beacon of acceptance), and continues to push women and people of color off the show by either killing them or by not even bothering to wrap up their stories.
So perhaps we need to do more than just have writers and producers pledge to LGBT fans and characters, “I won’t hurt you.” Perhaps it’s time to have those writers and producers, and their bosses, and their bosses bosses, pledge, “I will make sure you’re treated as important and real, because you are.”
In another dismal confession, Covington acknowledged that the likelihood of another network picking up the show was just about zero, since MTV owns the show. He did, however, give some insight into the change that he hoped this show would bring to the industry:
“My hope is that Faking It will be the first show that started what I call the post-gay era on television,” he told The Hollywood Reporter this morning. “We always tried to approach the storytelling as coming from a place beyond coming out stories and really exploring the lives of all our characters, regardless of their sexuality. My hope is that other shows will pick up from this [and] move the ball forward. Audiences are ready for shows that don’t focus on characters differences and sexuality and speak more to our common characteristics as human beings.”
Despite the losses of this representation on television, LGBT fans do deserve better, and we’re demanding it. It will be a continual struggle to get–and keep–our storylines on television, and even though Faking It is nearing it’s end, it’s legacy can hopefully be the start.