Queerbaiting and the dangers of fooling your audience

Art by Sam Bumanlag

It’s 2018, folks. We’ve come a long way since the 60s and the 70s, but the LGBTQ+ community is still trying to find representation in the media. Sure, indie flicks aren’t afraid to show homosexual couples and their stories, but these might not be accessible to everyone, especially to questioning kids in small towns.

This is where the problem of queerbaiting comes in. Queerbaiting is when writers tease at a possible a relationship between two straight characters but having no pay off whatsoever between them. Writers and directors usually do this to get people to watch their shows or movies. Think of it like a fisherman trying to bait a fish with a worm it’s never going to get to eat.

 


People behind the scenes count on the participation of the community as a marketing strategy.

 

At its core, queerbaiting is shady. People behind the scenes count on the participation of the community as a marketing strategy. When queer folk find something they can support, they will do so with all their soul, from Twitter tirades and Tumblr reblogs.

In seasons eight and nine of Supernatural, there was a significant rise in ratings due to the growing “relationship” between characters Dean and Castiel. Another example was in Riverdale with the infamous Beronica kiss. It was so out of the blue and so random but it sparked a lot of attention. Fans freaked out over the possibility of the two girls getting together but the kiss was never brought up again. W e i r d. On the flip side, the show was praised for the way a character came out, but also faced backlash for the treatment they gave her that followed after. So why not just say it upfront and have an openly queer relationship onscreen?

 

It’s all part of the “will they or won’t they?” storyline that gets watchers hooked to a series, which isn’t a bad thing, since some plots are based on this concept. The problem is in the different treatment of heterosexual relationships and non-heterosexual relationships — one is acknowledged while the other is just insinuated.

 

Writers still want to keep their conservative (that’s code for slightly homophobic) audiences and have gay viewers as well. Since some shows and movies are too afraid to have established queer characters, it can make finding representation difficult.

Most of the time, you can’t tell whether or not a show has been queerbaiting until the very end of it where a big reveal might happen (these two characters are *gasp* gay and *bigger gasp* they’re in love!), which is the most frustrating part of it. Some signs of queerbaiting are painfully obvious though, like comments from the cast or from directors. The stars of Rizzoli and Isles admitted to playing up the relationship of the two female leads and making it more ~suggestive~ with lingering touches and gazes. At the same time, they insisted that there is “nothing gay about them.”

 

Good representation shouldn’t just be implied or something “between the lines” because then that would leave their existence in that medium debatable. If something isn’t made clear, like a sexuality or a relationship, then it becomes easy for other people to deny it. It’s difficult to relate to a gay relationship if others just say it’s “open to interpretation”.

 

Aside from touching and looking, some characters are also suggested to have romantic potential between them by other people in the story. Many fans have accused BBC’s Sherlock of queerbaiting due to the constant questioning of their characters sexualities on the show. It’s all part of the “will they or won’t they?” storyline that gets watchers hooked to a series, which isn’t a bad thing, since some plots are based on this concept. The problem is in the different treatment of heterosexual relationships and non-heterosexual relationships — one is acknowledged while the other is just insinuated. Sometimes, even established queer relationships are sidelined while straight couples take center despite being less significant (hello, Supergirl’s Sanvers?).

Queerbaiting is just one of many problems that the LGBTQ+ faces in the media. Bury Your Gays is a really harmful trope where queer characters are more likely to get killed off after having a moment or to just simply serve as a plot point. The Gay Best Friend is also a stereotype that turns gay people into accessories for the female lead. They give advice and makeovers, have funny one-liners, and are never given complex personalities.

 

The Gay Agenda isn’t about spreading glitter everywhere, it’s about breaking down misconceptions and spreading acceptance.

 

Isn’t it a step towards inclusivity though? Isn’t queerbaiting one way to nod at the presence of a queer audience and spark fandom discussion? Well, to answer both questions simply, no. No, it’s not. Representation of the LGBTQ+ community shouldn’t all be subtext. Good representation shouldn’t just be implied or something “between the lines” because then that would leave their existence in that medium debatable. If something isn’t made clear, like a sexuality or a relationship, then it becomes easy for other people to deny it. It’s difficult to relate to a gay relationship if others just say it’s “open to interpretation”.

It’s understandable how some people find clarifying a relationship annoying; sometimes it may not seem to fit the story or it takes away any ambiguity. Despite this, the negative effects of queerbaiting definitely eclipse whatever plot problems it could bring, and besides, a good writer should be able to work it into the script, right? We’re not asking for someone’s sexuality to be the forefront of every movie, show, or play, but leaving a same-sex relationship undeveloped and unclear makes it hard for queer youth to hope for a happy ending. The Gay Agenda isn’t about spreading glitter everywhere, it’s about breaking down misconceptions and spreading acceptance.

Tags:
#gender #tv

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