After my examination of the Chuck Cunningham Syndrome, some readers were a little upset that I just glossed over Tori on Saved by the Bell. As if some great explanation was actually needed to explain what Chuck Klosterman dubbed the “The Tori Paradox.” They wanted a cosmetic event, a wormhole, or planetary alignment to rationalize why Tori was in some episodes, while Kelly and Jessie are in other episodes. When the truth is probably a little simpler: Tori and Lisa were lesbians.
Now I’m not talking about anything happening on the set, or between Leanna Creel and Lark Voorhees. In real life, we know what happened. Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and Elizabeth Berkley were in a contract dispute, NBC wanted more episodes, they wouldn’t star in them, all of which led to Lisa Turtle needing a new pretend BFF. So, in walked Leanna Creel as new girl and resident tough chick with a heart of gold, Tori Scott. Tori’s job was to fill up just enough episodes to get those crazy kids to graduation, where she could then promptly vanish without a trace. However, Tori was only in 10 episodes of the last season (the last real season), and instead of having 10 consecutive Tori episodes NBC alternated Tori with Kelly/Jessie episodes of SBTB… creating a universe where Tori and Kelly/Jessie cannot occupy the same space at the same time (sort of like the movie Time Cop but with fewer full splits). But the problem wasn’t a space-time anomaly that caused a rift in the Tori Paradox, but Kelly and Jessie’s own prejudice to Lisa’s relationship.
In the reality of the show (or unreality), it wasn’t that Kelly and Jessie were physically unable to exist with Tori, it’s that they chose to not be around when Tori was near. They snubbed her, but were essentially snubbing Lisa. You have to remember how conservative these girls were. Kelly’s the All-American Girl: a wholesome girl from a large family of gun nuts. There are a lot of conservative values that go into volleyball and part-time jobs at the Max. And while Jessie had all the trappings of a liberal activist, how often did she actually help a real person? It was always some faceless cause that has little to do with helping people and more to do with her own self-righteousness. Take a good hard look at her in those high waisted jeans, she wears her jeans like her attitude. Jessie was in student government, she was all about her grade point average, and getting into an Ivy League School. She was basically just a pill popper only concerned with getting good grades and maintaining her perfect public image. Having lesbian friends doesn’t get you into Stansbury after all. Ousting Lisa would seem like the more humane thing to do. The Bayside gang did the same thing to Kelly when she cheated on Zack with Jeff. If you did something considered taboo, they would cut you out of the clique. Or take when Jessie didn’t want to dance with the guy who was shorter than her, she didn’t even want to be seen with someone outside the statistical norm. These are girls who wouldn’t risk their popularity and social status because Lisa felt the need to experiment.
So, if they were lesbians, how come all of Bayside High didn’t know about it? Because Lisa was the school gossip and she wasn’t about to gossip on herself. Which also explains why she was so obsessed with secrets because she had secrets of her own. As we go further and further into Lisa and Tori’s relationship, it all starts to make a lot of sense. On one end you have Tori Scott: the tough biker chick. (we know this because she wears a leather jacket… she even wore a leather jacket with a toga). Perhaps, you could even call her butch? She’s a drifter, a woman with a past, and somehow, someway she managed to resist both Zack and Slater (and Screech and Mr. Belding if you want to include them). Inconceivable! And on the other end, you have Lisa Turtle: daddy’s little girl. She likes clothes, fashion, and lipstick. She went to the Fashion Institute of Technology of New York where sexual experimentation is practically a degree. She doesn’t like Screech, or any man that I know of. How many dates did Lisa even go on? Maybe, four? That "blerdy" student council kid, the freshman she accidentally went with to the Senior Kick-Off party, her dancing partner who dumped her after she sprained her ankle, and Screech. Or beard, beard, beard, and curly-haired beard. These weren’t real relationships, these were special guest stars.
Now let’s examine Tori’s time on Saved by the Bell, which becomes very telling. Tori first cements her relationship with Lisa when she helped out with the Fall Ball. The dance committee turned on Lisa, but not Tori. Tori was there for Lisa when Lisa needed someone the most. Was this the beginning of a beautiful friendship? Tori and Lisa then form a Bayside "Teen-Line", a safe place where the alienated could share their feelings. Did they have feelings that needed to be shared? Tori later tricks Slater and Screech into slow dancing and kissing each other at the Masquerade Ball? Was this a gag or a prelude of things to come? Lastly, Lisa, Tori, and the rest of the girls want more money for girl's sports at Bayside, which leads to a battle of sexes. I didn’t make that up, that’s an episode. A general theme of this season is of Tori and Lisa growing closer and closer, and discovering the power of their femininity together.
To me though, the most telling moment in Lisa and Tori’s relationship has little to do with Tori. It was when Zack and Lisa kissed. If you look at it in the proper context, Lisa had just met Tori and exciting feelings were beginning to stir. Scary feelings though, too. If Lisa was questioning her sexuality, what would be the best test? Probably to make out with the sleaziest, douchebag in school. If she could make out with Zack Morris and not feel anything for that blond Tom Cruise then maybe she was gay.
This is not an enjoyable embrace.
Now I understand that labeling Tori as a lesbian is playing into a stereotype. Perhaps, unfairly. What were her character traits: tough, rides motorcycle, wears leather jacket, a demeanor somewhat similar to The Facts of Life’s Jo. Yes, it’s unfair jump to the conclusion that she’s homosexual because she’s good with a bike and has grease on her cheek, but this is Saved by the Bell. Saved by the Bell was a show of stereotypes. The nerds looked like nerds, dressed like nerds, talked like nerds, they even answered to the name “nerds.” On SBTB, if it walked like a duck and talked like a duck, it was a nerd! And jocks were jocks: big, dumb, and in letterman jackets. Blondes were bimbos. These were not complex characters, they were window dressings and their characters ran as deep as their costumes. So, if you have girl that looks like a lesbian and acts like a lesbian, on Saved by the Bell, she was a lesbian.
And does it further the case that Leanna Creel is an actual lesbian? I know, I know that doesn’t mean that Tori is a lesbian. Just because Rupert Everett’s gay doesn’t mean Dr. Claw is gay (Inspector Gadget... go, go, stupid reference). But it kinda does, too. There’s always something odd about a man with a cat, plus that Harvey Fierstein voice. Intellectually we are able to divorce the actor from the role, but emotionally we can never truly separate them, even if it’s just on a microscopic cellular level. Mathew Broderick is Ferris Bueller, Michael J. Fox is Marty McFly, Mark-Paul Gosselaar is Zack Morris, Leanna Creel is Tori Scott and Tori Scott is gay.
Much like real high school, lines got drawn, some got ostracized, feelings were hurt, friendships ended, loves faded, there were nerds, jocks, preppies, bimbos, homosexuals, there were persecutors and persecuted, but in the end it's okay because you still know it will be all right when you’re saved by the bell.
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