Why Shane is the New Jordan Catalano

This essay was originally published in 2007 on my personal blog, This Girl Called Automatic Win.


In honor of tomorrow’s Season Four Premiere of The L Word, I’m posting an essay I wrote for my nerve intern application about two years ago. I tried to update it a little to reflect the unfortunate circumstance we know as “Season Three,” but then my eyes started to hurt. Hopefully it still makes sense.

I hadn’t seen anything like her before and I just couldn’t stop thinking about her. I also couldn’t believe it had taken me so long (ten actual months since the premiere on Showtime) to Netflix the first season of The L Word, which I had done on a whim so arbitrary that I can’t even remember what small shred of desire shaped that whim to begin with. But after that first week of compulsive viewing of the entire season, there was nothing whimsical about my all-consuming obsession with Shane “I don’t do relationships” McCutcheson, the androgynous sexy sinewy smoky-eyed woman who fucked with abandon and broke hearts like I break wine glasses.

I confessed to my roommate and viewing partner, Krista, that my burning desire for Shane, reflected by my new Shane-influenced fashion sense (vintage rock t-shirts and paper-thin sheathes of men’s wifebeaters, no bra, distressed jeans just barely hanging on bony hips), was ruining my relationship with my boyfriend (he liked me being mostly hetero and wearing yoga pants). Krista felt the same. Like teenage boys with Brooke Burke posters and Brittney Skye DVDs, we shunned the girls from our class and mourned the impenetrability of a fictional character, the sweet wet dream that is yearning for the non-existent. “You know what?” Krista asked me, staring wistfully the television screen, which was dutifully re-playing our favorite Shane-Cherie sex scene–“I haven’t felt this way about someone since Jordan Catalano.”

Like all daughters raised by feminists in the “Free to be You and Me” generation, Krista and I had never plastered our teenage bedrooms with glossy Kirk Cameron posters from Tiger Beat. My first star-crush, I believe, was for the Hard Day’s Night– era Paul McCartney. Star crushes were for lonely teenagers in square-shaped states who’s parents subscribed to TV Guide and still had the Friends finale on VHS. We were above all that, so when someone manages to penetrate our countercultural hearts, even now, in our mid-twenties, they hit us hard. Over the years, only a few men and women have emerged from the airbrushed pack to assert themselves as Worthy. These are characters with on relatively well-written shows or movies, though they were often too mysterious to speak many lines, well written or otherwise, themselves. Characters who to us, seemed real enough that the unavoidable fact of their non-existence was nothing short of heartbreaking.

We want to make love to these characters. We want to slide underneath their smoky exteriors and watch them sleep. We want to extract tales of their troubled childhoods like organs, and then dress ourselves in them. We want to strut down the hallways of our mind-numbing public high school or through the catty girl-clubs of West Hollywood with people so potent that you get wet just looking at them. Or, as Rickie from My So-Called Life (the vehicle for aforementioned Jordan Catalano) would say: “You’re so beautiful, it hurts to look at you.”

What Jordan Catalano had, and what Shane has, is casual sex appeal. It is possible to theorize that Shane is a grown-up Jordan, and Jordan is a budding Shane, but no one could possibly claim that, at the age of their capture, the two have similar personalities. Their only similarity—which cements their mutual ability to sneak into our conscious and unconscious dream-life—is not simply being good-looking, but being the right kind of aloof.

We never questioned 15-year-old Angela Chase’s (Claire Danes) attraction to Jordan, though they had never spoken and, as was often pointed out to Angela, he couldn’t even read (How beautiful and damaged! How much we could help!). Carmen delivers a snarky glance to Shane after declaring that she would sleep with a Republican because: “Stupid, Shane, can also be sexy.”

But Shane and Jordan are both products of neglectful or absent parents and have experienced a relative amount of formative damage and, as such, are completely self-sufficient, if uneducated and possibly poor. They have skills—Jordan fixes cars, Shane fixes dyke-mullets—and skills, it seems, can also be sexy.

Most Americans work too much and are constantly on the verge of a heart/anxiety attack, which is not exactly sexy–the second shifting women and ladder-climbing men of our social climate have bodies that grow slack from the sedentary lifestyle of car seats and cubicles and libidos that find easier release during the morning shower than in pursuit or seduction or that old feeling we called Tenderness. Relationships either function immediately or are discarded, like so much extra baggage. We love Shane because she doesn’t give a shit and she’s never in a hurry. We love her because she breathes, visibly. Jordan breathes, too. They breathe. Breathing is sexy. It was hot then, and it’s hot now, too. Angela overanalyzes things until “they barely even exist,” and Jordan doesn’t think that much about anything.

We want to sit with them, and breathe. We want to inhale calm, and then be fucked by it, passionately, the kind of passion that seems to be reserved by artists, nomads and Buddhists. While everyone else is resume-building, Shane and Jordan are fucking. And they aren’t about to apologize for their shoddy resumes, either.

Jordan tells Angela: “See, I have this philosophy…So my feeling is, whatever happens, happens.” Shane tells Carmen: “I don’t have a plan. That’s the point.” When confronted by potential lovers, they take the “I’m too relaxed to care about your feelings” route, carefully constructing a wall that becomes more and more alluring the more impenetrable it seems to be.

Furthermore, we know that when they do fall, they fall hard. In Season One, Shane falls for Hollywood socialite Cherrie Jaffee and is quickly burned when Cherie’s husband uncovers their affair and forbids them to see each other. Shane protests: “You know..my entire life, people have said that I would become a psychopath if I didn’t learn how to feel. But I wanna know, Cherie, what the fuck is so great about feeling? Because I finally let myself. And I feel like my heart’s been completely ripped out.” In living rooms across America, lustfilled lesbians collectively sigh—if Shane loved us, we would love her back, and we would do it right! Because ultimately, Cherie rejects Shane’s heart and the aura that attracted her (and us) to Shane in favor of her socialite lifestyle. Cherie tells Shane that their emotional love doesn’t have a fighting chance against her charity balls and East Hampton beach houses: “In this fucking ugly
world, that kind of love does not exist.”

In Season Two, Shane’s steely heart faces a new challenge. Carmen. The two share some steamy sex scenes but eventually, Carmen loses her patience for Shane’s emotional distance and starts dating her roommate, Jenny—thus leaving the allegedly free-spirit to do drugs, drink a lot, start fights, fuck dumb-looking girls and cry to herself. Carmen is utterly likeable, honest, approachable and beautiful. When Season Three begins, they are a seemingly functional couple, until a now-divorced Cherie books an appointment at Shane’s hair salon and later tears off Shane’s clothing by her private pool. Shane fucks her with a strap on. It’s more or less the hottest thing that happens all season.

Shane and Carmen argue over this for a few episodes, but after Dana’s death, Shane pulls a Brian Kinney and proposes marriage during the gang’s trek in the woods to spread Dana’s ashes. Lest we believe that Shane could ever really abandon those roots that colonized her figure into our libido, she stands Carmen up at the altar.

Jordan’s realization that he has fallen for Angela is equally touching; we love a good wall-crashing, especially when it’s our protagonist with the anvil. Jordan’s story was stopped at the end of MSCL’s brief television run, just after he discovered: “It’s like you think you’re safe or something, ‘cause you can just walk away, any time, because you don’t like, need her. You don’t need anyone. But the thing you didn’t realize is, you’re wrong.” Jordan made the mistake of sleeping with Rayanne, which made him realize how much he loved Angela. Sound familiar?

In the second season of our minds, many placed Angela with the deserving Brian Krakow (played by Devon Gummersall, who later resurfaced on The L Word as a “lesbian-identified male”). A majority of watchers, myself and Krista included, just couldn’t break up with Jordan.

mscl_4“Have you ever noticed that every time Shane walks into a room, someone leaves crying?” Bette (Jennifer Beals) asks in the pilot episode of The L Word. In the My So-Called Life pilot, Angela moans to her best friend: “I just like how he’s always leaning. Against stuff. He leans great. Well, [I’d like] either sex or a conversation. Ideally both.”

Ultimately, Jordan looked really good, with his touchable hair and classic baby-blue eyes, and his Cobain-esque flannels draped a absolutely fuckable bod. And Shane, with her scrawny strut, pouty lips and rock-star wardrobe, is relentlessly attractive. In fact, with Jared Leto’s latest reincarnation as an emo-pop-punk rock star, the two actors are virtually identical.

Jordan left us before his murky character could ever be fleshed out, but Shane was renewed. And as long as The L Word is on, we will continue to yearn for her like the adolescents who dreamt of Jordan Catalano, dream of a love with a lanky lady who is so beautiful, it hurts to look at her. And, for just a moment, we’ll breathe.


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Riese is the 35-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York City and mellowed out in California before returning to Michigan for reasons that are unclear to her now — she is currently plotting her return to the West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2384 articles for us.

8 Comments

  1. 0

    Nice. *applause*

    I couldn’t decide if the seemingly random proposal or the wordless vanishing act was more crappy. I mean, pretty much as soon as Carmen accepts you know it’s not gonna happen, and then with her dad’s line ‘that’s just who I am’ – that pissed me off, they just introduced him as a tool to get Shane to fuck Carmen over. There’s just all this exposition in two seconds. “Where’s Shane?” “Oh, she’s off to find her dad. We didn’t realize we needed this whole storyline that should have been in the last episode, so here’s some awkward exposition!”

    And I don’t really buy that shane would be like, “oh, well, I’m obviously just the younger female version of my father, so if marriage doesn’t work for him, it won’t work for me. I’d better just walk away.” Especially since she was like “I want kids” five minutes earlier. And then she didn’t even talk to Carmen about it herself, and I don’t see her as a coward. so that pissed me off too.

    Anyway. Oh, I almost bought My So-Called Life on DVD once, but it was uber-expensive, so I got something else instead. Same way I almost got Six Feet Under the other day but then I was like “$260? Fuck that, I’ll just get season 8 of south park”

  2. 0

    agreed. i think the introduction of the father as a device was retarded–shane has never listened to other people before, why would she start right then? if it was played as a lame cop-out, that would be fine–but it wasn’t. It was played as a legitimate concern by Shane, and that is just well, dumb.

    I think the inclination of a playa to get married to someone they almost lose is not improbable–i know many situations in real life in which that happens–almost like they can’t handle any sort of in between, it’s either SINGLE SINGLE or married. Also it could have worked if Shane and Dana’s friendship had been established or developed AT ALL–as is, it seemed like a weak foundation for such a crisis. Surely Shane would recognize that her grief was not comprable to people like Alice, who actually had been close to Dana. WE are TOLD that Shane and Dana are close, but I don’t think there was a single instance of them having a conversation without others present, and even then, only within the context of a hair salon.

  3. 0

    Yeah, she’s kind of trying to fix her mess-up with Carmen still. She just wants to make her happy again, pretty much. Just like, with the whole fire-extinguisher-ing and “I dreamt you flew away, you bitch!”. She pretty much kept punishing her for one mistake/being herself and she felt. like. helpless. But she didn’t give up, she had to try and fix it. So I buy/understand that. I dunno if she’d just blurt it out while Carmen’s gardening, but hey, why not.

  4. 0

    Also, I think that marraige proposals that happen during gardening or memorial hikes at summer camp are generally not successful. A little pre-meditation ensures greater promise. Oh, Sharmen….

  5. 0

    I love that this is the only website in the world where I can see the hottest lesbian pics and know the latest lesbian news and perfect my English at the same time. Perhaps that BA was not totally useless. At least not to me! It’s likely bringing me here more often than I would have otherwise.

  6. 0

    what’s the favorite shane-cherie sex scene that you replayed? is it the one in the old barber chair, where cherie’s legs are up in the air!?! because that’s one of my favorites, that and the first shane-carmen sex scene. i also like the scene in the intro when shane takes that girl into the bathroom and then you see them making out through the door.
    shane’s universal appeal is amazing. all my friends, gay and straight, male and female, who have watched lword are inevitably like ‘damn, shane is hot.’ she inspires obsession. somehow, she’s everyone’s type. like you say, i think it’s a combination between her appearance and her ‘i’ll fuck you/i don’t give a fuck’ attitude. she represents the universal appeal, hetero- and homosexual, of someone who doesn’t care. but why does that appeal exist? maybe it’s a reflection of the human tendency to want what you can’t have. you could say it’s also the desire to be a savior, to be the one who steps in and rips down their wall and saves them and reintroduces them to love. shane’s appeal, at least for me, also has to do with her grunginess – i like a certain amount of dirt.
    man, i was so sad when carmen left lword. she is beautiful and i love her. i also love you and your writings.

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