Gay TV (Part I): Queerbaiting

This is Part I of II. Part II will list the most genuinely LGBT-friendly TV shows that I know.

Have you guys heard the term “queerbaiting” before? I had not, until a few years ago, though I’ve seen it on television for most of my life.

Basically, at some point, people (writers and producers) behind various entertainment media, including television, realized that they could drive up sales and ratings in serial dramas (yeah, I’m basically talking about TV, here) by appealing to gay and bisexual viewers and other viewers who are straight but might like to see gay storylines.

Awesome, right? It’s always good when people whose job is to make money notice that your demographic exists.

Unfortunately, for a long time, gay storylines were extremely controversial. Willow and Tara, on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, did not have an on-screen kiss for a very long time after their relationship began. Will And Grace, a show in which two of the protagonists were gay men, did not have an on-screen gay kiss for a long time.

As in, I think that the Dan Schneider Nickelodeon comedy Drake And Josh had a male-on-male on-screen kiss with less of a kerfuffle than those shows.

I always thought that there was an L after the first F in “kerfuffle,” but apparently not. The more you know.

Now, Drake And Josh does not count as a cutting-edge LGBT show because, well, that was not an actual romantic or sexual kiss and was, like everything else on that show, a joke. And it was, well, on a kids show (though one that I watched pretty reliably in high school for reasons totally unrelated to Drake Bell’s appearance).

Anyway, as I mentioned, gay storylines have been pretty controversial on television for a long time. In the past, it could lead to a show being heavily censored and boycotted (in a meaningful way), and that’s if the network allowed it. Now, if you have a gay storyline for the sake of having a gay storyline, you come across as preachy (like on Glee, in which being preachy about every possible social ill seems to supersede plot). It can also cost ratings—on certain shows.

We’ve all probably heard that there will be same-sex parents on the Disney Channel show, Good Luck Charlie. Because it’s a kids show on Disney, this has ruffled more feathers than it would have in a different context.

I, for one, was really surprised to hear that Good Luck Charlie was still on the air. Good for them, I guess?

So, to get around the potential controversy or a simple lack of desire to tell a gay storyline, some television shows will play up sexual tension between two characters of the same sex, even if they both seem to be heterosexual. Sometimes, this is in response to fans of a show overwhelmingly shipping (supporting the relationSHIP between) certain character pairings. Fan enthusiasm can be increased by, well, making the show appealing to people who want to see ambiguous interpersonal escalation on screen.

And it works really well. People will analyze every look and word exchanged between two characters. They’ll do fanart and write endless fanfiction.

The added bonus being that you can have the fans hooked, in a “will-they-or-won’t-they” sort of way, without actually portraying the characters in question as being gay or bisexual.

A well-known example is Xena: Warrior Princess. And that was in the 1990s. The showrunners realized that the show was really popular among lesbians, and they catered to that without actually catering to that. An advantage of queerbaiting with female characters? Straight men love it, too.

More recently, an advantage of queerbaiting with male characters has clearly been that straight women love it, too.

Supernatural and Once Upon A Time are both shows that I watch that have a lot of queerbaiting. Supernatural is much more overt about it, but they both do it. The casts and writers are well-aware that the fans are more or less overwhelming in terms of shipping same-sex pairings (specifically, Dean and Castiel as Destiel on SPN and Emma Swan and Queen Regina as Swan Queen on OUAT).

Now, a lot of people watch these shows with a will-they-or-won’t-they perspective. Others are absolutely convinced that these characters will run off into the sunset.

Guys, they won’t. Supernatural will begin it’s ninth season this fall. Ninth. I watched the pilot when I was a freshman in college (I’m so ancient). Do people who seem to be completely gay or straight sometimes, in real life, suddenly hook up with a member of the same sex? Absolutely. That does not mean that this is going to happen on the show. Though Once Upon A Time is only about to enter its third season, the same is probably pretty true for Swan Queen. They’ll be friends, they’ll look at each other dramatically, and they’ll do magic together.

The thing is that fans who watch the show primarily for the queerbaiting will be satisfied by that. It’s why Supernatural has been on for nearly a decade.

I don’t think that queerbaiting hurts anyone, but I do think that it is a bit wasteful and outdated. Most of the time.

However, queerbaiting does have its place: television for younger viewers.

At the moment, some TV that targets (if not exclusively) younger audiences contains gay characters. But they are never stated as such, or shown to be gay—but they are also never shown to be not gay. This basically comes down to networks or studios saying: “No, you may not identify anyone as gay.”

Probably the best example of this is Blue Beetle and Impulse on Young Justice. While the show’s writer, Greg Weisman (a major writing idol of mine), has stated that he believes that there are LGBT characters on the show, he asked and was told that he would not be allowed to identify them on-screen.

Queerbaiting is totally appropriate for shows where the writers are all but required to show male protagonists have a female love interest. There was a lot of queerbaiting on Generator Rex (a lot; this set of images barely begins to cover it), which was a surprisingly good show (not the strongest first few episodes).

And then there’s Transformers Prime, a recent (still on the air) show on Hub that is infinitely better than the Michael Bay Transformers films (as in, this show actually has a plot and I understand what is happening at all times). Among other things, the show has a Decepticon named Knockout who is very clearly gay. He conforms to a few too many stereotypes to win a GLAAD award, and, since Cybertronians do not officially have sexes, labels like “gay” or “straight” are meaningless, he does whistle at Optimus Prime and compliment his appearance (along with that of several other transformers) on the show.

There’s also queerbaiting in the pilot of Sam And Cat, a spin-off of both iCarly and Victorious. I haven’t seen past the pilot but I hope that they keep that up.

Queerbaiting in these instances is fine. Good, even. It’s something that will go over the heads of younger viewers but be appreciated by older ones (honestly, if you’re an adult and you automatically dismiss all cartoons because they happen to be cartoons, you need to look at your life and look at your choices). And it’s something that viewers can see or ignore as they choose. I look forward to living in a world where an action cartoon that targets a ten-year-old audience can have official, canon gay characters. A gay protagonist, even.

Sadly, we are not yet there.


PS: I did not mention that the BBC series Merlin had a lot of queerbaiting. That show somehow managed to do it really tastefully.

I also did not mention the queerbaiting on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Totally acceptable, as that may have been the greatest show to ever air on television, but it was allegedly a kids show.

I was going to put in another screencap that I took, but it may have been too inappropriate.

You Might Also Like ...

Real And Pretend: How We Use Real Beliefs To View Fictional Settings

We all have beliefs about how the universe works. Some of those beliefs are religious in nature, and others are not. Most of us occasionally encounter information or ideas that might challenge those beliefs. I think that that is a fairly standard human experience.

I love to read science fiction and fantasy stories, and I have for my entire life. I love to watch films based in such worlds. I also love science fiction and fantasy television shows. I love video games from these same genres.

I have noticed, in my own experiences as a reader, viewer, and gamer, that I tend to project some of my own beliefs onto whatever I am watching. I do not just mean evaluating the moral decisions of characters based upon my own (objectively correct) view of right and wrong—just about everyone does that, regardless of the genre. I mean that, while stories set in our world (like crime dramas or romantic comedies) may have religious conflict and people of various and even conflicting faiths, these stories are fairly standard, and it makes sense that we believe about stories set in our world what we believe in everyday life (as in, an atheist probably will not think “well, maybe Christianity is right in the Law & Order universe).

It also makes sense that our viewing might be similar to that in science fiction. If you are, say, a Christian, it makes sense that you would have a Christian worldview, even when watching a science fiction story that is set a few centuries in the future—you would not believe that your God is going anywhere between now and the future, even if events are extremely unlikely to play out exactly like they do on a television show.

But fantasy worlds that are clearly separate from our own? That’s something else. These are worlds in which the author (or writers) control everything about the setting. There might be multiple religions in a setting, but either none of them are correct, one of them is correct, or, in some cases, all of them might somehow be correct. But, intellectually, I know that it’s up to the author.

You might need examples of what I am talking about. On Supernatural, for example, which is set in a version of our world in which supernatural/horror creatures are a reality, there is also a semi-Abrahamic (though somewhat syncretic) structure to the world. That is, most monsters (vampires, werewolves, shape-shifters) came from an evil and immortal creature named Eve. Demons abound, and they are malevolent spirits who originate from a horrible alternate dimension in which the souls of wicked humans are tortured for all time. Demons were created by a …

Continue reading

You Might Also Like ...

Many Twilight-Bashers Miss The Point

photo of twilight pictures
Look, I hate Twilight as much as the next person. Actually, I probably hate it more than most. Twilight does not do any favors for women—and it also does not do any favors in terms of its portrayal of vampires. And I like women. And I like vampires. Love them, even. Since I was in second or third grade. Vampires, I mean.

I hate self-hating vampire guys who fall in love with local girls who are human but somehow special (Angel, Mick St. John, Stefan Salvatore, Bill Compton), but I can still enjoy the stories in which they are central characters. And I am not a fan of supernatural worlds in which “vampires” are so different from what I imagine that they hardly qualify for the name (Joss Whedon’s Buffyverse vampires and the vampires of Supernatural). And yet these stories can still be incredibly enjoyable.

Twilight takes both of these common flaws in vampire stories to new, upsetting extremes.

Twilight features the Cullen family of “vampires,” who are a small clan of self-hating vampires who live in secret but try to have a semblance of human lives. Not every vampire in the Twilight universe fits this description, but the “good guy” vampires do.

The “vampires” in Twilight better resemble human-shaped, venomous (for some reason) golems made out of sparkly caesarstone than vampires. I mean, really.

Twilight-bashing should never translate to vampire-bashing. Aside from the readers, vampires are the real victims, here. Vampires, from the older stories of magical beings or ravenous dead that feed upon the flesh or blood of the …

Continue reading

You Might Also Like ...

Watch This: Arrow

(Proud of me for resisting a title like “Arrow Hits The Mark?” You should be. I also might have made the title: “Stephen Amell Gives This Wretched World The Olliver Queen It Deserves.”)

So, can you tell that I am kind of a slave to The CW? I may no longer watch Gossip Girl (though my love for Blair Waldorf is absolute and undying), but I am absolutely in love with The Vampire Diaries—which is much, much better than the title would suggest, is actually better than True Blood, and has something like fourteen million viewers. Though it was tragically not renewed, last season’s The Secret Circle was absolutely amazing. And I watch Supernatural every Wednesday night—that show is several episodes into its eighth season.

So, as a great big nerd, I was excited but nervous when I heard that The CW was making a show based upon the DC superhero, Green Arrow. Despite the appearance of the protagonist and a number of excellent casting decisions, Smallville, which reimagined Clark Kent’s adolescence as he comes to terms with his blossoming superpowers and struggles to save the day while keeping his secret, all before his days as Superman, Smallville was just not a good show. There were wonderful things about it. There were also some dreadful things about it that made it difficult to watch.

The Green Arrow himself looks like a Robin Hood figure. He is a masterful archer whose gadgety arrows (often self-indulgent gadgety arrows) assist him in a number of circumstances (you know Hawkeye from The Avengers? Similar basic idea. Radically different characters and backstories). In real life, his name is Olliver Queen, and he is a billionaire and owns a company, Queen Consolidated, which is based in Star City—one of many fictional metropolitan areas that exist within the DC Universe (like Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, Bludhaven). His villains are rarely big-shots, but assassin and archer Merlyn is arguably his archenemy, and Green Arrow has always had unpleasant run-ins with the Eastern European aristocratic supervillain, Count Vertigo. He has a sidekick, Speedy (best shown on Young Justice, where in addition to being incredibly handsome, he ceases to be a sidekick and adopts the name “Red Arrow”). Above all else, Green Arrow is an archer who learned how to shoot a bow while trapped on an island after his boat was sabotaged. Now he works in secret …

Continue reading

You Might Also Like ...