Queerbaiting: It’s Time To Stop
I’ve never started a blog post angry.
And maybe, some would say that I should come back to it later, collect my thoughts so that I can write this piece with…I don’t know, a more level head, instead of a hot one?
Well, no, I’m not going to do that, because I’m tired™. I’m so tired of the entertainment industry and the lengths it goes to hurt others and in doing so, form the very dangerous opinions of others.
Queerbaiting, by definition, is “when people in the media (usually television/movies) add homoerotic tension between two characters to attract more liberal and queer viewers with the indication of them not ever getting together for real in the show/book/movie.” It is, quite clearly, one of the many collections of tropes which are downright awful.
Before I get into roasting this trope, I understand the difference between subtext and queerbaiting. Historically, homoerotic subtext in cinema was a movement of LGBT cast and crew revolting to the rules and regulations placed on them about portraying queer relationships. This video discusses the brief history of subtext, before moving on to why nowadays, in a more progressive society, it should not still be happening. But also how the directors and producers and writers of today are not using it for the same reasons.
Often found in television and films (I know this is a book blog, sorry), queerbaiting is, to me, a malicious, hurtful and ignorant thing to put into your work, and causes way more problems than solves. While many have interpreted it as a way to secretly give you what you want, all I see it as is a form of publicity.
Queerbaiting is a fantastic way to get buzz about your show. You know how? Because the best way to get your show out there to a dedicated audience who will watch the show, talk about the show all over the internet, and buy all the merch, is a fandom. And one of the largest areas of a fandom is shipping. I talked about LGBT shipping and how it can become a problem when not treated with respect, but the crux of the matter is is that queer viewers will do anything to find and promote LGBT couples and story lines. To see a canon queer couple within a show/film/book or even the beginnings of one is enough to get excited. It’s representation, and if you are a part of a minority, seeing yourself represented in the media in a positive light is something you will gravitate towards. And even if you’re not LGBT, you can still see LGBT rep and want to promote it and watch it do well.
If a show has characteristics of a queer couple blossoming, naturally, queer viewers in particular are going to gather around it. This happens to me a lot. In the same blog post I linked to earlier, a lot of the content I consume (and enjoy consuming) is content with LGBT rep. Sometimes it is just a recognition that ‘we exist’, and sometimes it is a full LGBT story line with in depth plots and characterisation. However, I am often disappointed when a show/film is actually queerbaiting, and quite thankfully, it now does not take me long to notice it.
Quite recently, the pilot for new show Riverdale, was released on Netflix. It’s been coined as an adaptation of the Archie comics but ‘darker and grittier’ with Twin Peaks vibes. While this alone sounded interesting enough, I’d also come across the very small but blooming fandom that had already begun shipping Beronica (Betty and Veronica). I know the story of Betty and Veronica; I know that they’re opposites that are vying for the attention of Archie, and that their interactions bounce along the line of friendship and enemy, but what I’d found was Riverdale had plans to be a more progressive and diverse show. Ergo, I saw a gifset of Betty and Veronica sharing a kiss, and rejoiced at the ideas of frenemies on paper becoming a queer couple on screen.
Oh, how well that went.
Including other problematic elements which are further explained in this article, Riverdale has done nothing more than tricked queer viewers into switching on their pilot, and attracted the straight male viewers who enjoy watching two hot (playing under-aged) girls kiss. Squick. While it could be interpreted as the beginnings of a possible queer storyline, Lila Reinhart, who plays Betty, has gone on to say that a story line like that is “just not [the show]”, and continues to dig herself further into a hole by suggesting queer story lines are only for fanfictions.
It’s terrible, but it’s no shock. Television, predominantly, is rife with these sorts of scenes and dialogue. Another example is Sherlock, who recently tied up their last episode of season four with a confusing and convoluted story line with lots of plot holes. But the one thing that angered most was the Sherlock and John romance plot coming to a crashing halt as it was revealed to be queerbaiting.
Sherlock, one of the largest fandoms on the internet, spanning back decades, centuries, back before the internet even existed and when Arthur Conan Doyle was writing short stories and full length novels about the detective and the doctor. But it is the writers of Sherlock who continually suggested in their writing and in interviews that their ‘progressive’ show would change the game for the Sherlock Holmes universe and explore the connection these two characters had. But instead, they used it as a way to make people all over the world do nothing but talk about Sherlock and promote their show for free.
It is not just the feeling of being ‘tricked’, nor is it the annoyance from having to play the silly game of ‘are they gay or not?’, it’s actually the very well documented view that queer couples, queer storylines, and queer romance is a joke. No story could ever be serious with a queer story line, so we won’t actually include one, we’ll just hint to it to make you watch the next episode. And it’s so damn hurtful.
I feel, for the most part, that books and publishing are working harder than film and television studios to better represent LGBT characters and romance, especially when it comes to Young Adult, which, to me, is the front runner in creating that space in romance for LGBT romance, where everyone can indulge from the cutesy rom-com type to the heart-breaking and dramatic romance. But we’re still faced with queerbaiting in these circles too, which brings me to Harry Potter and The Cursed Child.
While many of us have yet to see the stage play, millions have read the script, and it was quite clear that something romantic was going on between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the sons of Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, respectively. Now, since the first readers of the Harry Potter series have gone from children to young adults, J.K. Rowling has been criticized for her lack of diversity, including the fact that there is not a single LGBT character, let alone romance, in any of the 7 novels. Many have explained that could have been due to it’s time of publishing, and the inclusion of LGBT characters could have affected the decision for it to be published.
Cut to now. J.K. Rowling is a household name. Harry Potter is a phenomenon. It is not the 90s. Why was it necessary to queerbait? Why, after criticisms of lack of LGBT diversity within the Harry Potter universe have you got to merely suggest that there might be a romance between Albus and Scorpius, and not outright say it? But even then, the ‘might’ is pretty bold, after reading about the ending regarding Scorpius and his romantic escapades (but I won’t spoil). Again, it was hurtful and infuriating to read.
I’ll say it again, I really think that book publishing is working a lot harder than other sources of entertainment to stop queerbaiting in its tracks. But television and movies have a long way to go, and it starts by seeing queer couples as not a joke but a perfectly valid example of a romance story worth telling explicitly, as well as understanding that straight white men are not the only demographic worth caring about (and also just because they’re straight doesn’t mean they’d feel uncomfortable watching LGBT romance!)
Have rep or don’t queerbait. Pick one.