On Queerbaiting and Misha’s Comments at NJCon
|Title:||On Queerbaiting and Misha’s Comments at NJCon|
|Date(s):||June 26, 2013|
|External Links:||On Queerbaiting and Misha’s Comments at NJCon|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
On Queerbaiting and Misha’s Comments at NJCon is a 2013 essay by t-eyla.
As of February 2017, it has 1,532 notes.
The essay was written in response to a comment by Misha Collins:
“I did a convention in Seattle. I don’t know what it was I said or what transpired, I don’t know what it was. But people got upset and I feel like it was really unfair, what was said.
First of all, I think the term “queerbaiting” is not accurate. It pissed me off, because I feel like a real champion of that community with all those letters [LGBTQA] - you know, I’ve officiated gay weddings. Also, I don’t understand what the term means.”– Misha Collins at NJCon 2013
Some Topics Discussed
- the queerbaiting in House, M.D., Doctor Who, Supernatural, Torchwood
- "Subtext isn’t text"
- Destiel, will it be made canon?
- the "NJCon" and events that occurred there
- TPTB and their responsibilities, awareness
- fandom as a safe space
Let me state first of all that I respect Misha a lot for this comment. I’ve rarely seen celebrities respect slash fandom to a degree where they will engage in a serious discussion about the issues slash fans bring up at cons, often in a less-than-rational fashion. So hey, go Misha. Thanks for engaging. Here’s my answer. It’s long, but keep reading. It’ll all come together in the end.
The original Star Trek series didn’t queerbait. At the time, nobody knew that there was an audience for male/male romance stories, so any romantic tension between Kirk and Spock was accidental. But my God, there was loads of it. The novels played with it, shifted the narrative focus to it, but of course they never made it explicit. Nobody would have published them if they had. Back then, to me that was an accepted fact, and not something I had a lot of angst over. It was just the way things were.
Skip ahead to ten years later, 2007. I had learned English, I’d acquired a LiveJournal account, I was engaged in online fandom. I’d written my own share of “pre-slash” stories and published them on FanFiction.Net. I’d switched fandoms from Star Trek to House, MD. In 2007, House was airing its third season. For all of you who’ve never seen the show: House started out as Sherlock Holmes and Watson in a modern hospital setting. Dr. Gregory House as the brilliant but anti-social and borderline sociopathic diagnostics expert, Dr. James Wilson as his bleeding-heart do-gooder oncologist friend. In the third season, the show pushes House’s and Wilson’s relationship to a breaking point: despite being used and abused by House, will Wilson still support his friend? Does Wilson love House enough to love him unconditionally?
The fandom went crazy. Was House/Wilson going to be made canon? It almost seemed inevitable, from what was going on in the show. In 2007, Twitter had been around for about a year. YouTube for about two. The interaction between fandom and the powers that be, i. e. the show runners/actors, was still minimal, but it existed. Fandom had been outed. TPTB were becoming aware that there was this online community that had very specific expectations of the relationships on the show, expectations that went against the “mainstream” grain.Of course, House/Wilson didn’t become canon. On a two-page TV Guide magazine spread, House coined the term “bromance”, defining it as a relationship between two men that has all aspects of a romantic relationship save the physical ones. House and Wilson had a “bromance”. Which meant that of course they would never have sex with each other. Because man, that’s just weird. They’re bros, right? Bros are manly men and totally not gay, even if they love each other.
Russell T. Davies’ Doctor Who had culminated in an epic finale plot centered on the Doctor’s and the Master’s relationship–which wasn’t explicitely established as romantic, but in the context of the rebooted Doctor Who’s non-heteronormative main themes, it was close enough for me. Unfortunately, after that finale Steven Moffat took over Doctor Who. It took him less than half a season to revert the show to mainlining heteronormative narratives again. I quit the show, telling myself not to be heartbroken. After all, this is what TV is, correct? Queer narratives have no place in mainstream scifi or supernatural TV drama, not usually. Brushing it off as “that’s the way things are” was a lot harder this time than it used to be. I even stopped fannishly engaging with TV for a while. I felt jaded, and later resentful as my marriage started to fall apart. The world was homophobic, why should I expect TV to be any different? And if it was homophobic, why should I bother with it.
Supernatural has done a lot of textual, mostly humorous insinuations about Dean/Cas (and Dean/Sam, though I notice those less since I don’t ship Wincest). The Shipping Question has come up at cons again and again over the years. I’ve always viewed Supernatural as one of the fandoms that did a lot to out fandom to TPTB and break down the fourth wall between creators and consumers. Supernatural’s textual reaction to its fanbase–the books-by-Carver-Edlund arc in season 5, and the way it’s interwoven text and metatext within the show–has always been something I’ve found incredibly fascinating. It’s a manifestation of the ways audiences are changing from passive consumers to active, creative agents through the internet and social media. I never expected Supernatural to take fandom seriously, though. I never expected TPTB to go, hey, maybe we should listen to these people who spend a lot of their spare time writing psychological profiles on the show’s characters and examining the characters and the events on the show against a backdrop of various cultural theories and phenomena. Because hey. That’s not what TV is, is it?
Listening to Misha, it sounds like a definite possibility. It’s not just fangirls dreaming it up anymore. TPTB are confirming that there’s romantic love going on between Dean and Cas. So will it become canon? After years and years of dismissing the idea of a slash relationship becoming canon as ludicrous, will we finally see it happen?
“We don’t talk about it”. Don’t ask, don’t tell. It gets mentioned and supported at cons, it gets alluded to on the show, more and more in the last season–but it doesn’t get to make the leap from subtext to text. And when fandom pushes for it, when we insist that there’s a difference between subtext and text, that it matters whether or not we hear Dean saying that–well, then Destiel questions get banned from cons.I don’t want to insinuate malicious intent. I know Misha supports the LGTBQ+ community. But as an ally, he needs to understand why it’s so important to hear Dean say it. Why it’s not good enough to imply it, why that is not queer representation that a queer community can identify with. It’s not the actual intention of the show to ever go there. Jensen Ackles’ comments imply as much when he talks about how the Aaron scene was played for laughs. Dean’s a manly, heterosexual male. We established that in season 1, didn’t we? It’s nice enough to play with the idea of Dean/Cas at cons, but when it comes to the show, the actual text that will screen to thousands of people across the US and the world, there’s no intention to ever make Dean/Cas canon. Because that would be gay. And weird.
To answer the initial question of “what is queerbaiting”: queerbaiting is raising a queer community’s hope for textual queer representation and then ridiculing and shaming them when they actually ask for it. It’s blurring the line between text and subtext and selling subtext as honest-to-god textual representation. It’s putting scenes like the Aaron scene into the show, in the context of season 8’s queer coding of Dean’s character, and later insisting that the scene was only played for laughs.That’s not fair. Subtext isn’t text. I don’t want to have to beg for scraps off the table of heteronormativity anymore. I have been a loyal television consumer for years. I’ve gotten a degree and then a job in media because of my love for the field, and I am trying to make a space for myself in a business that’s incredibly sexist and homophobic. I want the things that I enjoy for fun and relaxation in my spare time to be for me, not for my white, straight, male neighbor. My white, straight, male neighbor has all of television and film ever to enjoy. I have this one show I like, and I, and the rest of fandom, have finally gotten the creators of that show to the point where they realize we exist, and what we want. But instead of getting what we want, which is not on-screen porn but a simple romance arc like they exist in every show out there, we keep getting baited. The show keeps paying “lip-service” to Dean’s and Cas’ romantic feelings for each other, but those feelings won’t ever be made textual. Because in the end, what we want isn’t important. All the queer coding on the show is just bait to keep us paying for the merch.
This is literally a way better collection of words than I could put together about my thoughts on this subject. The second half of this is very very important. And the people in the SPN fandom who get angry at people calling out queer-baiting when they see it, need to stop, or hold their tongues. Just because a shows creators say "that’s not how the story line is” doesn’t mean they aren’t utilizing it to their advantage and then hiding behind their “fourth wall” claim so the “general” public doesn’t get offended at the possibility of an LGBTQ relationship actually becoming a thing. Now, I don’t think fandoms should demand something the writers deliberately say is not in the story line. But even the writers are completely ambiguous on the subject, saying yes one thing, but no, another thing. If it is not in the storyline, cool, try a lot less blatant subtext.The writers of the show are not naive to this concept, what started out as maybe innocent fun with the fandoms, has turned into a game of “Let’s see how far we can take this thing without actually doing it” and while the shows creators owe absolutely nothing to their viewers, as far as how they want to take the show… Flippantly ignoring their viewer’s concerns altogether just shows they have no appreciation for the loyalty the fans have shown the show for 10 seasons. Banning questions about Dean and Cas’ relationship at cons and being out right angry at fans who ask about it is a little too aggressive for there not to have some meat to the queer-baiting bone.
[friendlyneighborhoodbystander:] ^^I’ve seen a lot of hate for the supernatural cast (Jensen Ackles and Jared Padelecki in particular, but Misha as well.) And yes, they have made ignorant comments in the past and will probably continue to in the future. That’s not okay, it’s not right. BUT, but there is a difference between being ignorant and being malicious. So, while it is upsetting and the cast seriously needs to educate themselves and think before they speak, one can not say their intention is to do harm. Collins in particular has shown his support for the LGBTQIA+ community. While I don’t condone their words, the hate towards them NEEDS TO STOP. And the anger towards the fans who still support them as well. Things need to change, but trashing the show and the cast based on some out of context quotes from conventions is unacceptable.
[t-eyla (original essayist):]
Subtext isn’t text. If subtext were text, there wouldn’t have to be an extra word for it. I’m not trying to sound rude, it’s just that as a queer person who’s been desperately clinging to her favorite media’s subtext her entire life, this distinction is vital to me. Subtext is not text. Subtext is vital to making a story interesting, it’s an integral part of any narrative, because the point of stories is to make people think, and reflect and wonder. If you lose the subtext part of a narrative, what you’re doing is essentially selling people a 2-D drawing of a house and expecting them to live in it.
But that doesn’t make subtext text. To stay with the house metaphor, text is what the house looks like from the outside. Does it have one or two floors, does it have windows, are there curtains, is there a garden or maybe just a paved front yard. Standing outside the house with someone else, you’re both going to see the same thing. Nobody can argue with there being a garden if there is, in fact, a garden. Once you go inside, you’re on your own. Subtext isn’t tangible. You can’t look at subtext with someone else, because subtext will always be filtered through your own individual interpretation and perception. You can agree on subtextual interpretations that are likely, but … take Destiel as an example. The implication is there. It’s all over the subtext. As someone who analyzes media for a living, I know I can say with a certain level of objectivity that it’s not just crazy fangirls making shit up. But it’s not text, which means that anyone who feels like it can dismiss a queer interpretation as the rambling of crazy, sex-obsessed, teenage fangirls. (incomprehensiblemetaphor also wrote a short comment in reply to you that I thought made a very concise point of why subtext isn’t text.)
I’m not sure I can look at this from an exclusively narrative perspective, considering I’m queer myself, but even when I do try, I don’t see Supernatural being better off leaving Destiel subtext. I can’t help comparing it to the X-Files. Dean and Cas have had the same kind of relationship development as Mulder and Scully did. Mulder and Scully never got overly explicit, but it was made textual–just because they’d been playing with it for six seasons. If the X-Files PTB had just left it as it was, it would have felt like a loose end–and I feel like the same is true for Dean and Cas. Dean is portrayed as the quintessential guy-who-can’t-keep-relationships, Cas is portrayed as the fish out of the water, the odd one out who just wants to be accepted and do the right thing. The way Dean’s and Cas’ relationship has been developed, they’re being groomed to be the perfect match for each other, surviving betrayals and death and war and still coming out of all of it as very close friends. Not hooking them up, or exploring that possibility, at least, would feel like a loose end, because it’s been built up so much. Basically, SPN is past the point of getting off the pot. At this point, not making the possibility of Dean and Cas as a romantic couple textual would be a loss for the overall narrative and would destabilize its structure.Though I sadly must agree with your latest post that I don’t believe Destiel will be made canon. It kinda looked like it might happen for a while, but judging by more recent comments made at cons and by writers, I don’t see SPN being at a point where they’re ready to go there. Unlike you, that does make me angry. Not because I feel like SPN promised me anything, but because as I said in my original post: it’s time. And SPN would be in a good position to do it. But alas, they likely won’t.
[climb-misha-like-a-tree:] I read so much about Destiel….. I’m a Destiel girl, but as much as I want them to become canon, WB will never allow it. And that’s said. Why is being a gay couple something bad and should be ashamed of?
[sugary-is-my-ending:] Maybe old, but gold! Wish we were able to get someone read this. It touches me so, so much even if I can’t personally relate to everything this intelligent person has written here. Queerbaiting is a real thing people, you see it all the time. Why are we so afraid to take it across the line? It’s almost 2014. These issues need to be discussed now. Brought up now. Some answers demanded now too (but in a polite manner, of course). :)
[fangirlishness:] Very well spoken, T'eyla. Misha is adorable and I am holding out some hope seeing as he’s going to be a regular in season 9. Not much, since Supernatural has had the worst track record of misogyny ever, but that seems to have been changing in season 8. So maybe a little hope after all. It already feels good to be part of a fandom like this - fandom today is not the same as fandom a few years ago. We, as a power, are growing up, too, and that gives me hope, as well.
[zaphura:] honestly, in this day and age I have only seen these much issues with same sex relationships on SPN and SPN cons. take Doctor Who for example, the doctor kisses everyone and Jack is omnisexual but no one gives a fuck. take Spartacus. take True Blood. really sick of all the SPN drama. either PUT UP OR SHUT UP. stop leading us on if its never gonna happen.
[punkascas:] I actually have sympathy for the con organisers–it’s a challenge to run an event that pleases everyone and ensures everyone has a good time. Though I agree that it’s highly distressing that–not even considering the issue of safe space for queer fen–questions regarding Cas and Dean’s on screen relationship are now considered too polarising to permit.
It’s the ethos in fandom itself, on Tumblr, that bothers me. It’s the fact that these issues are so polarising within fandom in-and-of themselves. Regardless of your personal interpretation of Cas and Dean’s relationship, it should be allowed to be discussed how it’s represented on the show–including whether or not there’s queerbaiting; including whether or not there’s a chance for Dean to be established canonically as a bisexual character. We’ve been internalising a huge amount of shame. Not only is that gross and harmful, but it’s pointless.Fandom has had a long history of policing itself. Not only do we need to hold TPTB accountable, we need to hold ourserlves accountable for perpetuating a homophobic atmosphere.
[greekedtext:] The booing at NJCon of course is not the responsibility of TPTB, but it is still a symptom of the overall problem; the booing shows us why we need Dean/Cass to stop being so-heavily-implied-it’s-practically-canon and actually get some textually explicit confirmation so that such questions will be legitimized and the subject can be discussed in a mature and thoughtful fashion, in public places like cons, without derailing into “OMG DON’T BRING YOUR PORN FANTASIES HERE.” Because it’s not about porn. It’s about queer fans looking for a home, and right now this fandom is not a safe space. I don’t think we can hope that this fandom will become a safe space until Dean comes out or kisses Cass or the show otherwise drops an romantic anvil so heavy that it can’t be denied.
[kickdrumheart:] Torchwood, and it’s 3 canon bisexual characters, and how progressive that was (and still is) but ultimately 2 of those characters died, so now I’m not sure it was that much better.
i mean seriously. That scene with Aaron was played for laughs?
I do not remember laughing.
I remember my heart rate rocketing, and being utterly overwhelmed with what I (thought I) was looking at.Played for laughs? Fuck you, spn, fuck you sideways.
That’s one of the reasons I loved Torchwood so much, Jack Harkness and Ianto Jones, they got together and it seemed like everything was… well, ok is a strong word when dealing with the Who fandom and/or Torchwood, but then they ripped that from us too.
I learned not to hope too much; that we will never even get what we want, from RTD. The death of Ianto (especially so soon after the deaths of Toshiko and Owen) broke the fandom in so many ways, and the show never recovered from it.
I will always hold a small amount of hope for Dean and Cas to go beyond this hinting and innuendo, but I will not believe it is going to happen until it actually does. At least this way I will be spared the feeling of resentment and betrayal for being mislead, yet again.
I’m fairly certain that this is the last fandom that I will really invest myself in, because I don’t think I could handle another implosion.I really hope they don’t fudge it up.