REVIEW: Maria San Filippo’s The B Word: Bisexuality in Contemporary Film and Television

Jul 9, 2021 | 2014 Winter - The Bi *Trans* Connection, Reviews

Review by Jennie R.

I really wanted to like this book. When I got The B Word in the mail, I was excited to get right into it! However, starting at the cover, the book seems stuck back a decade ago. I was working in a bookshop for the summer when I agreed to review it. I was so excited that a new book on bisexuality was out that I suggested our bookstore carry it as well. The owner agreed; however, the book was so visually unappealing, that the owner didn’t want to put it on our main display table. Trying not to judge a book by its cover, I delved in, hoping to be blown away.

However, once I started reading, I quickly became disillusioned with the book. Most of the television and film examples that San Filippo gives are from the 1990s and a few are from the early 2000s. In my opinion, since the title states that it is bisexuality in “contemporary” media, it should at least focus on the new millennium. Hoping that after the introduction we would move on, I kept reading. The book is broken up into four chapters: “Unthinking Monosexuality: Bisexual Representability in Art Cinema,” “Power Play/s: Bisexuality as Privilege and Pathology in Sexploitation Cinema,” “Of Cowboys and Cocksmen: Bisexuality and the Contemporary Hollywood Bromance,” and “Bisexuality on the Boob Tube.” While the chapters do try to get more contemporary in their examples, I found this book to be stuck in the past. I was born in 1990, so I have never seen (nor heard of) many of the examples. Yes, I might be a reader on the younger side of the spectrum, but having graduated with my bachelor’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies, I could see one of my classes wanting to use this book as teachable material. I find it hard to believe that more examples of bisexuality could not be found in the current millennium, and if not, that would have made an excellent subject to discuss in this book.

Other than the dated nature of this book, I found it very hard to read. Examples are drawn out and convoluted, making for confusing reading that felt overly stuffy and academic in nature. Unless a reader is well-versed in Queer Theory, Women’s and Gender Studies or Feminist Studies, this book is very tough to read and understand. Having written a thesis on LGBT topics myself, I understand the importance of making sure your audience is able to understand your writing and ideas. In my opinion, if you write above someone’s head, you are not helping them to learn from your work. I didn’t expect this book to be a young adult novel, but it read like a really long academic journal. I want mainstream readers to be able to read this book and understand why the lack of bisexuality – or the presence of problematic bisexuality – in media is a problem. It would be very hard for someone with no prior knowledge of this subject to make it through this book cover to cover. It was hard enough for me to finish it.

While I’ve been harsh on The B Word, some of the content was redeeming. The last two chapters were the most interesting for me. While I disagree with many of San Filippo’s examples of “bromances” as bisexual content, her section about Brokeback Mountain was excellent. It is her one shining moment in discussing bisexuality in contemporary media. It is understandable, current and gave me a new way to think about the relationships within Brokeback Mountain. If all of her examples had the kind of insight and depth that this one does, this would be a different book review.

San Filippo’s last chapter has many short examples of contemporary material, something I had been waiting for the whole book. But many times she just lists the television show without delving into detail or analysis. I wish San Filippo had focused her research on the gems she hid in the last two chapters, instead of going on at length about examples that feel out of date.

While this book definitely belongs in the academic sphere, I hesitate to recommend it to most readers who aren’t doing research on bisexuality. I had such very high hopes for this book and what it could do for bisexual visibility not only on bookshelves, but perhaps even the media. Sadly, from cover to cover this book was a struggle to finish. I appreciate the time and effort given to the subject by Maria San Filippo; however it just did not meet my expectations.

Jennie R. is a recent graduate with her B.S. in Women’s and Gender Studies and Nonprofit Administration. She currently works at a public radio station.

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