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I’m so ready for the gay #gayzzoli #Rizzles #RizzoliOnIsles

The title from this post is actually a tweet posted by Twitter user GayzzoliForever just before Tuesday night’s Rizzoli and Isles episode aired on the East Coast. I’ve been studying Twitter and watching Rizzoli and Isles for a few years, and this week I decided to give myself some time to work on a fun side project. It’s kind of like Google’s 20% time. Anyway, I decided to do some analysis about  the hashtags #gayzzoli and #rizzles.

I’m interested in how viewers engage with the text and subtext, and I’m especially curious about a subtext like #gayzzoli. What behaviors do #gayzzoli viewers label as “gay”? How do they respond when characters act more or less in line with the subtext? Why do we sexualize a friendship between two straight women, and what happens when we do? GLBT subtexts are certainly not new – e.g., for a really interesting study of slash fiction, for instance, see Rhiannon Bury‘s “Cyberspaces of their Own” – but this real-time, public discussion of a GLBT subtext seems remarkably bold. Even Sasha Alexander, who plays Dr. Maura Isles, talks about the subtext (she’s done it before, but that link goes to a recent clip from CONAN on TBS). She joked that season 4 would be called “Rizzoli on Isles,” hence the bonus hashtag in GayzzoliForever’s tweet in the title. Tess Gerritsen, the author of the books on which the show is based, and Janet Tamaro, the creator of the show, have talked about the #gayzzoli phenomenon too. SPOILER ALERT: Some of the tweets may contain spoilers, so watch the episode before reading if you care about that stuff. I don’t even watch the “next week on” snippets after the show, so I totally understand.

The #gayzzoli and #rizzles hashtags cropped up as viewers started to see and label a lesbian subtext in TNT’s buddy cop drama. I like a good lesbian story (whether text or subtext) as much as the next same-sex married girl, so of course I follow the #gayzzoli chatter and watch Rizzoli and Isles. Granted, I don’t actually “ship” Rizzoli and Isles, but I don’t blame those who do. (By “ship” I mean believe or want there to be a romantic relationship between two characters – see UrbanDictionary). We could also use more lesbians on TV – especially smart, successful ones. I’m not sure yet where #gayzzoli started (may AfterEllen?), but #rizzles is the dominant portmanteau for Rizzoli and Isles shippers.

Twitter’s certainly not the only home of Gayzzoli. Dorothy Snarker over at AfterEllen.com has a great set of lesbian subtext recaps, for instance. But every research project has to start somewhere, and I started with Tuesday’s episode (season 3, episode 13) “Virtual Love”. So let’s take a look at what happened Tuesday night.

Which tweets are included?

I included all tweets returned by the Streaming API between 7:50pm CST and 9:10pm CST that contained the #gayzzoli or #rizzles hashtags.

Where did #gayzzoli tweets come from?

Eastern Time (US & Canada) 280
Central Time (US & Canada) 93
(blank) 81
Brasilia 36
Pacific Time (US & Canada) 22
Atlantic Time (Canada) 20
Quito 19
Lima 17
Arizona 14
Brisbane 9
Hawaii 4
Mexico City 4
Amsterdam 3
Santiago 3
Casablanca 2
Central America 2
Tehran 2
Indiana (East) 1
Mountain Time (US & Canada) 1

Remember, these are tweets from the original 9pm Eastern airing, so it’s not surprising the Pacific time zone isn’t well-represented. I’ll have to see whether there’s another #gayzzoli burst during the Pacific time airing. My guess is yes. “(blank)” means tweets posted by people who didn’t provide their time zone. Of course, even people who did provide a time zone may not actually tweet from that time zone, but what can I say, data’s messy.

Who’s tweeting?

During those 80 minutes, 613 tweets appeared, posted by 128 users. I haven’t yet looked into who these users are, but we’ll save that for another day. Here’s a little chart of the most frequent tweeters (the y-axis is total number of tweets with either hashtag posted during the 80 minutes):

Tweeters tweeting about #gayzolli and #rizzles

When did they tweet?

This graph shows the frequency of tweets over time. We can see clear peaks and valleys in the #gayzzoli and #rizzles tweets, and matching those tweet time stamps up with the show timing can tell us what was happening on screen when Twitter thought something #gayzzoli was happening. Anybody watching and want to weigh in? It’s going to take some time for me to get clips or screen grabs for those time periods. Stay tuned.

 Tweets over time

I can tell you that just before that peak at 8:36 pm CST, Jane and Maura (that’s Det. Jane Rizzoli and Dr. Maura Isles) entered Maura’s house with ice cream and pizza. Here’s what some fans had to say then:

That tweet from @dawson_shay is especially meta – “calzona” is the portmanteau for Callie and Arizona on Grey’s Anatomy, a lesbian couple played by a pair of straight actresses. At least, when I quit watching Grey’s two episodes into the current season, they were still a couple. One never knows what Shonda Rhimes might do.

So what’s the point?

For this blog post? The point is really to show you what I up to. I’m not all public officials and political communication. The conversations we have in social media are interesting on lots of levels, and I’m hoping to spend more time studying conversations like #gayzzoli. There’s clearly something up for the viewers and tweeters of Rizzoli and Isles, at least. I have to go back to my “real” work now and finish a grant application. Thanks for taking a quick 20% time break with me.

So, what do you think ?

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