Who castrated Keema?

I watch The Wire. It’s an interesting story, it has some insightful things to say about some of the biggest problems in our culture and political system, and it manages for the most part to avoid excessive use of clichés and dumb dialog. But this is HBO we’re talking about, which means one thing: people are going to be getting naked and doing gross shit that makes you wish you hadn’t seen it. HBO is just plain incapable of producing a sex scene in one of its shows that doesn’t include some gross element of domination, humiliation, or borderline rape. People on HBO don’t have sex, they get banged, and the bangees are usually women, while the bangers are men. I suppose you could say that the women in Sex and the City were doing the banging, but I wouldn’t know because I’d sooner cut my own Achilles tendon than watch a single episode of a show that might as well have “Being a real urban woman means fucking as many strange men as possible while being independently wealthy and wearing shoes that increase your chances of breaking your ankle by 6000%” as its motto. And I suppose Oz did have that one female guard who forced some of the inmates to bang her.

But still, those are exceptions. Look at Entourage (Sex and the City for dudes), The Wire, The Sopranos, Rome, Deadwood, and whatever else is going on at HBO, and you’ll see that 99% of the sex scenes involve some woman being either forced to do something sexual or being used like a fifi bag and then treated like shit afterward. I suppose that’s not surprising coming from a network that thinks it’s being progressive when it hires the biggest swine on television (Bill Maher) to host its one political show. (Apparently it’s not only OK with the HBO execs that Maher is still telling Bill Clinton jokes in 2008, but it’s also OK that he’s overtly misogynistic and completely dismissive of the female guests on his show.) So I didn’t really expect much out of The Wire in that respect, especially since it’s a show about cops on a channel that allows nudity and swearing. I wasn’t surprised at all to see Bunk and McNulty banging away in nearly every episode, nor was I surprised to see Carcetti banging some political consultant while looking at himself in the mirror. It’s HBO. If there isn’t at least one sex scene per episode that makes me want to be celibate, there’s something wrong.

But there was a character in the first three seasons of the show that didn’t fit in so well with HBO’s sex scene SOP, Keema. She was also in the fourth and is in the fifth season, but whoever that woman is, she isn’t the Keema from seasons 1-3. First of all, the real Keema was gay, and not just sort of gay, really gay. Her gayness came up just as often as Bunk and McNulty’s interest in bar sluts did[1]. It wasn’t a secret: she had a partner, she had affairs, she looked at women with the guys. And that leads me to another interesting facet of Keema’s character: she partied with the guys and was one of them. I suppose it’s a little stereotypical that if a female cop is going to be accepted by the guys she has to be a lesbian, but at least she was being accepted as one of the guys and the show didn’t revolve around her constantly having to prove herself. (Too bad that part was practically science fiction.) Keema was a flawed badass, a real 3D character in a televised world full of female characters that are either shadows or caricatures. Until the end of season 3.

One of my favorite comedic exercises is to imagine that I’m observing a creative meeting for a commercial, television show, or movie. I recently pictured a meeting taking place about two years ago at HBO headquarters in which a numbers guy named Todd is talking to the writing team responsible for The Wire about their plans for the fourth season. Todd is saying, “Keema just isn’t appealing to a wide enough demographic. She’s too butch. We want our female officer to appeal to housewives and single women, not just black lesbians. Now, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t an anti-gay thing, it’s strictly numbers.” That has to be what happened because in the fourth season, and what I’ve seen of the fifth, Keema has been… well… uh… emasculated. In the fourth season she was shunted back from Major Crimes to Homicide, which meant that she would have to stop wearing Adidas track suits and sneakers and start wearing pantsuits and high heels. Not only that, she dropped the ultra-utilitarian ponytail for a shoulder-length minivan hairdo. The general effect was reminiscent of a Jenny Jones “Makeover My Butch Mom!” episode. Not only that, but she no longer had a partner, she stopped partying with the guys (even though she was now working among the heaviest drinkers in the precinct), she stopped chasing women, and she virtually disappeared from view. The only hint that she was a lesbian came when she visited her ex-partner in one episode, a scene that lasted maybe 30 seconds. To add insult to erasure, in the last episode I saw of the fifth season, she was carrying some kid out the back of a building in which a murder had been committed, leaving the boys to do the investigatory work while she stood outside playing mommy.

It’s pretty early in this blog, so I ought to say up front that I’m about as into gender roles as James Dobson is into abortion. I don’t like that word I just used, emasculated. I also don’t like the title of this blog, because referring to Keema as having been castrated means that only men are capable of being drunken, philandering badasses. Nor do I like the idea that taking care of a child is something that only women do. Very few entertainment sources, from music to movies to television to magazines to, to a lesser extent, books, allow men or women to tread outside the confines of the gender roles our society has assigned to them, so I get quite excited when it does happen and, conversely, I get irritated when I see a character who had been allowed to transgress the boundaries of “male” or “female” behavior get forced back into the gender-role box.

I’m not a lesbian (unfortunately), so I’m not going to take it upon myself to discuss the meaning of Keema’s de-lesbianification (or get too into the aspects of Keema’s character that were a bit stereotyped), but I am a woman who is tired of finding nothing to identify with among any of the female characters I see in the media, so I will say that I am disappointed that, once again, HBO has proven that it has little room for female characters who amount to anything other than brainless conglomerations of tits and ass designed to appeal to base male urges. (I don’t want to hear anything about Sex and the City here; those women were nothing but personifications of male fantasies, which is probably why they appeal so much to the kinds of women who aspire to be personifications of male fantasy themselves.) I’m not going to stop watching The Wire; it does have interesting points to make about our cultural and political condition, but I must say that I am disappointed to see one of the few media outlets with anything like a progressive slant prove my theory that the only way to be a liberal and not be called a faggot is to be a misogynist. HBO’s programming is yet another example of Playboy liberalism, in which there’s just no room for (real) lesbians or women with their own personalities and sexualities.

[1] HBO’s sexist stereotype, not mine. I’m not into the idea of bar sluts, or slutdom in general. Not only do they not actually exist – especially in the one-dimensional way that they are portrayed on film and television – but the idea that women hanging out drinking and looking for someone to have sex with is something shameful seems a bit unfair, no? I think anyone hanging out looking for a stranger to have sex with has lost the point of what sex is about, but until it’s shameful for men to do it, I’m not harping on women for it.

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5 thoughts on “Who castrated Keema?

  1. I don’t watch HBO or television, but I did see that movie Gia that I think was an HBO movie. I’m mentioning it just in case you want a sex scene that doesn’t make you vomit (plus it stars Angelina Jolie).


  2. I totally agree with you on HBO and sex scenes, except for Tell Me You Love Me which only ran one season. It had loads of graphic sex scenes, that were actually plot driven and were believable (to me anyway) as just couples having sex for the myriad reasons couples have sex.

    I thought it was a bit of a breakthrough, if one insists we have to watch characters humping. Frankly I don’t feel the need to watch other people having sex any more than I want to watch close graphic details of them chewing and swallowing food or taking a dump. But this was as inoffensive as I have seen and it got the axe right away.

    BTW, your posts don’t include the year anymore. It would be great for nit-picky fans like me who are making their way through your wonderful archive.


  3. starting at the beginning to read all the way through.
    having read candice bushnell’s original SATC columns in the NY Observer, i came to the HBO series with high hopes. if i may be candid? i think she was thrown under the bus by the gay showrunner, darren star, who emphasizes all the girls-as-gay-men tropes you could desire. i blame him. marc cherry is just as bad

    here’s one of bushnell’s classics. don’t think it’s anti feminist. you may just hate manhattan. thass alright.



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