Fetishisation & LGBT Representation
So a television show has taken over my life. It’s not the first time it’s happened.
I recently started watching a Norwegian show called SKAM, which feels like a tamer version of Skins where I actually like all the characters and the plot lines aren’t juvenile. Skam is currently in it’s third season, and each season focuses on a specific character who all attend this one high school in Oslo. It’s a small time show, and has not garnered much attention until season three; where the main character is teenage boy, Isak, who is coming to terms with the possibility that he might not be straight and falls in love with another boy.
This sudden surge has got a lot of people questioning just why it is suddenly popular, but I think it would be stupid to not assume it’s because this show has two cute boys kissing in it. And the original fans of SKAM have noticed this too.
This does not apply to SKAM alone; shows, films, and books have all gained attention if there is a couple you can ship, and while seeing queer canon couples in media is hard evidence of progress, it can also pose many problems.
I’ve written many blog posts about books with LGBT representation, about why I personally seek out LGBT fiction and also explain why all the stories I write include LGBT people in them. It is a subject close to my heart, and being queer myself, I think it’s very important to represent the diversity of sexuality in many ways, but especially on the subject of puberty and your teenage years.
It is why when I saw a gif of two male characters kissing, I sought out SKAM.
But there is a fine line between being desperate for LGBT representation that you’ll consume anything with it in, and fetishising queer relationships. It’s difficult, because fetishisation can very easily come across as support; having a whole army of viewers/readers/consumers enjoying a story that is predominantly about a queer couple/character and being full on vocal about it speaks volumes to writers, showrunners, producers, studios, and publishers. It is telling these gatekeepers that ‘this is the content we want to see, we want LGBT people in the stories we share, so please include them.’
However, at the same time, you have these same fans not enjoying content when there are no sexual scenes. At the moment in the SKAM story line (from when I drafted this post), Even, Isak’s love interest, has not been around for a few days (and is not replying to Isak’s texts). SKAM releases clips of the upcoming episode every day to create suspense, and it sometimes feels like I’m watching reality television. It leaves the viewer begging for more content where they will see Isak happy (he’s very stressed and sad at the moment) by us all chanting to bring Even back. But at the same time, are we wanting Even back so that Isak and Even can make out? If that’s the case, what is the point in the heart-wrenching story of Isak coming to terms with his sexuality? Of homophobia in his high school? Of his family situation?
These are not examples of being an LGBT ally, nor is it being supportive of LGBT relationships in fiction. This is fetishisation; when you do not want a story, when you could not care less about the struggles and the discrimination that LGBT people deal with on the daily, you just want to see two hot guys kiss. And it’s the same reason we look down on lesbian porn that is purely for the male gaze (and not actually for queer women).
I feel like this kind of viewership/readership is what creates queerbaiting. Queerbaiting is a downright stupid thing that is a result of consumers wanting to see ‘cute LGBT relationships’, and writers/producers/studios finding a way to gain that viewership without pissing off conservatives and the average viewer. Shippers will be able to identify subtle hints, while the rest of the nation can peacefully watch their shows without having to be confronted with ‘the gays’.
Examples of this include shows like Teen Wolf, that continually pointed out the possibility of Stiles being bisexual, including amping up shipping opportunities with another character, Derek Hale. However, if you completely disregard that idea, you can easily ignore it, as it is clearly not the case. And, as producers and writers have said in interviews, Stiles is straight. Yet they still include queerbaiting within their show to make sure they do not lose that viewership.
SKAM, like many shows, novels, and films (although less so), are front runners in the demand for more representation. They are unabashedly diverse, representative, and supportive of the LGBT community and their stories. I think if you love to ship (as we all do), I hope you are able to take a step back and consider why you are doing so. Of course, you want to see them together because you love them together, but it’s important to not boil down queer story lines to just their sex scenes. It is bad for representation as a whole and does no good in the long run.
And don’t get me started on real life shipping.