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  • Homosexuality and Narrative
  • Dennis W. Allen (bio)

If the 1993–94 and 1994–95 seasons are any indication, Melrose Place finally seems to have achieved, if not surpassed, the narrative complexity of a Raymond Chandler novel. With a stunning disregard for psychological consistency, the characters, seemingly animated only by greed and lust (if not psychosis), are increasingly involved in a frenetic progression of kidnappings, babynappings, hostile takeovers, blackmail attempts, exploding boats, and gunfire. This proliferation of “event,” however, barely conceals a deeper, equally dizzying, centripetal movement so that, if the narrative follows its current course, within three years all the women will, at some point, have been Mrs. Michael Mancini; everyone will have worked at, if not gained control over, D & D Advertising; and all the characters will have tried to claim Jo’s baby as their own.

Except, of course, for Matt. Preserved by the antimatter of his homosexuality from the gravitational pull of heterosexual sex, marriage, and reproduction (and the apparently related desire to own a large corporation), Matt is usually relegated to the role of (often unwilling) accomplice to the machinations of the other characters. Matt’s status on the narrative margins is only confirmed by the fact that, although he has been given his own series of story lines (most notably his on-again off-again relationship with Jeffrey and his attraction to [End Page 609] Rob, the best man at Billy’s wedding), these rarely intersect with those of the other characters. Yet it is misleading to claim that Matt has his own plots since, finally, all of Matt’s stories turn out to be the same story: the revelation of homosexuality. Thus Matt’s flirtation with Rob becomes, finally, the story of Billy’s discovery that Rob is gay, and Matt’s relationship with Jeffrey centers around a series of similar disclosures: Jeffrey’s admission of his sexuality to his commanding officers in the Navy or Matt’s argument with his parents about concealing the nature of his relationship with Jeffrey from his other relatives at Thanksgiving dinner or, in a metonymic displacement of the basic plot line, Matt’s revelation to Billy and Susan that Jeffrey is HIV-positive.

In a sense, the latter development is not only metonymic but also synecdochic, demonstrating the underlying principles of Matt’s endlessly repeated story. On one level, Jeffrey’s HIV status means that the beginning of Matt and Jeffrey’s narrative continually threatens to collapse, at least in the minds of the characters, into the end of the story: death. If the resulting effect within the plot is that Jeffrey decides he cannot continue his relationship with Matt, literally ending the story line, the episode demonstrates, on the larger level, the narrative status of homosexuality itself in Melrose Place: the continual, abrupt foreclosure of any gay plot. This is not really because homosexuality is presented as impossible or unacceptable but rather, and far more subtly, because, in the heterosexual imaginary that dominates the show, the revelation of homosexuality is the only story that can be told about it. 1 This limitation of narrative possibility seems especially curious given the fact that, from its inception, Melrose Place has included Matt as an openly gay character, as someone who is already out. Yet, the show’s inevitable linking of homosexuality to a narrative of disclosure can be explained by an underlying assumption about the relative epistemological, if not ontological, statuses of hetero- and homosexuality. Melrose Place assumes heterosexuality to be self-evident, the unproblematic ground that motivates the straight characters to manufacture the secrets that it is the function of the plot to reveal in time. In contrast, homosexuality is conceived here as itself a secret. As such, any gay narrative on the show collapses in upon itself because the discovery of homosexuality that must, formally, mark the beginning of the gay plot is also the Aristotelian “recognition scene” that is the beginning of the end of that story. [End Page 610]

Thus, for example, when Susan tells Alison that she is working at a concert at the Hollywood Bowl rather than admitting that she is going there on a date with Alison’s ex-boyfriend Billy...

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pp. 609-634
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