I have made some excellent progress watching the Lizzie Bennet diaries while prepping for my thesis defense. As an adaptation of a literary classic, that interacts with new media, and creates an entire alternate world through youtube, facebook and twitter, it resonates with some of my thesis topics.
There, got the justification out of the way. There are many things a person could comment on about this series but my biggest questions are around race and gender: the show is aware of these questions, and in its FAQ section attempts to justify its position. If they were less keen to be seen in a positive light (from the perspective of critical race and gender theories) it would bother me so much less.
In part of the FAQ the show justifies the use of the word “slut” because up until Rush Limbaugh this word had no negative connotations. (REALLY???) Another answer attests that they are ashamed that it took many episodes to pass the Bechdel test, in which two women talk to one another about something other than a man. I ask: if they can adapt a novel to such an extent that it includes twitter, people living together prior to/rather than getting married (reflecting the 21st century), can they not also adapt it to include more conversations between women about topics other than men? Alternate option: acknowledge that the novel is what it is.
The series (in this same FAQ area) also proclaims itself to be diverse and explains that because they wanted to imbue the show with racial diversity they chose to set it in Southern California. Problem 1: All the interactions centre on the Bennet family, which is a family of redheads. When other characters come on set they only talk about the Bennets. In this sense it fails the racial Bechdel test. Problem 2: The series (like most film and television) is not as racially diverse as California (in a State where “Hispanic” people will soon become the census majority, they are no “Hispanic” characters). Problem 3: The show glows with pride over its Asian characters. The Bennet family’s friends, Bing and Caroline Lee, as well as Charlotte and Maria Yu, are Asian. Cool. Where I sit, in front of my computer, watching these ever so addictive three or four minute episodes, it seems like the Asian-American characters who get the most airtime are those who look least typically Asian. (Sidebar: people can identify however they want. I have to wonder if the actors the show identifies as Asian would identify themselves that way. Perhaps, as their biographies and interviews suggest, they themselves want to play interesting roles, and not serve as accessories to the primary plotline)
This suggests that the show expects its viewers to be interested in issues of race and gender, but that they are not interested in engaging with either (the show/audience wants to appear “progressive” while maintaining the status quo).