Julie Bozza's Reviews > Queerbaiting and Fandom: Teasing Fans through Homoerotic Possibilities

Queerbaiting and Fandom by Joseph Brennan
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it was amazing
bookshelves: fandom, film-and-tv, genders-sexualities, netgalley, lgbtq

I very much enjoyed this, though at times (due to the nature of the subject) it was a tad painful to read. Being the first academic book to consider queerbaiting in depth, care was taken to discuss the relevant terminology, its definitions and its history. Academic essays are interspersed with shorter, slightly more casual Thought Pieces each considering a particular example or genre.

Queerbaiting is definitely a concern at present, and it has been for some years. However, I very much hope that it's the result of a transition that will be of relatively short duration. I think the show "Xena: Warrior Princess" (1995-2001) is a good marker of "before". As discussed in Holly Eva Katherine Randell-Moon's Thought Piece in this book, the cast and creatives made the Xena/Gabrielle relationship as queer as they could, given the refusal of The Powers That Be (TPTB) to allow anything explicitly queer. I strongly feel that "Good Omens" (2019) is a terrific indication of "after" or at least the way forward. I assume it was produced too late to be considered in this book, but I vividly remember watching it for the first time and suddenly realising, "This is actually queer, not queerbaiting." The show includes queerness in sexuality, romance and gender identity, particularly in but not limited to the two main characters, Crowley and Aziraphale. As soon as I realised that I was in such safe hands, I relaxed, and was so much better able to enjoy watching the rest of the show play out.

In between "Xena" and "Good Omens", there are a number of shows which tease the viewers and fans with queer subtext, or promises of queer characters, but never follow through with actual queer content. And the fans are no longer willing to give the producers a pass, as was done in the past with "Xena", because times are changing, our culture is evolving, and queer characters are far more welcome (or at least allowable) now.

There is a cautionary tale told by Leyre Carcas in the Thought Piece "Heterobaiting" on the show "Black Sails" (2014-17). As you would guess from the piece's title, "Black Sails" turned the whole notion of queerbaiting on its head. They teased us with the supportive, sexual, secretive relationship between the pirate Flint and the widow Miranda - before surprising us with a 2nd season episode that explicitly presented us with Flint's "true love", Miranda's husband Thomas. While many welcomed this, there was a harsh backlash, and it is reported that the inclusion of Thomas in future storylines was curtailed. I can only hope that TPTB decide to batten down the hatches and weather such backlashs in the future.

Meanwhile, the three shows that come in for the most criticism in this book are "Supernatural" (2005-?), Sherlock (2010-17?), and the "Harry Potter" universe (1997-?). My own fandom, BBC Merlin (2008-12), earns itself a few dishonourable mentions. Some of this is not comfortable reading; for example, the "Sherlock" showrunners and the fans who ardently insist on The Johnlock Conspiracy all seem to have their moments of behaving badly. And it hurts to see the beyond-fan-friendly actor Misha Collins ("Supernatural") quoted in the top and tail of the book's Introduction as an example of getting it wrong in his remarks. But no matter my discomfort, I couldn't really disagree with the main arguments presented.

While the main examples of queerbaiting came from TV shows and films, there was also discussion of finding it in celebrity culture, children's TV, Real Person Slash fan fiction, Japanese popular culture, talk show practices (i.e. the "fan art segment"), superhero comics and their alternate universes, video games, and the Eurovision Song Contest. So while some of this was dealt with fairly briefly in the Thought Pieces, I was pleased to feel that the notion of queerbaiting had been thoroughly aired!

Reality TV shows weren't considered - and it's interesting to me that some reality shows are ahead of the curve. For example, Australia's renovation show "The Block" (2003-?) included a gay couple in their first and their most recent seasons - and probably in some seasons in between, as well, though I haven't watched them all. Surely such "non-fictional" examples help pave the way for change in fictional shows.

And maybe it would have been nice for this book to include a few examples of TV shows and such which got it right, or are on the right path...? Or is such an approach not suitable in an academic tome?

I did very much appreciate Monique Franklin's essay "Queerbaiting, Queer Readings, and Heteronormative Viewing Practices". Franklin makes a good case for not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were. There is value in keeping and enjoying queer subtext for its own sake, as well as increasing actual, visible queer representation. I might be showing my age, but I'm happy with queer subtext, as long as the text remains open and doesn't close off the queer possibilities that can be found there. One of the joys of the first season of "Merlin" was that the text was very open. We were free to ship anyone with anyone, without any contradiction from the text. It was only later that the creators began to pin down certain relationships. Though of course it cannot be denied that proper queer representation is vitally important, and "Merlin" is such a wasted opportunity in that regard, given that it so beautifully set up both the Merlin/Arthur and Guinevere/Lancelot relationships before insisting on canonical Arthur/Guinevere. TPTB could have taken it that way if they chose... Ah, well!

Here's to hoping that the need for considering queerbaiting is short-lived. Let's have queer subtext and queer text and just the whole queer shebang! It's time.

### A copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley.
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Reading Progress

November 22, 2019 – Shelved
November 22, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
November 27, 2019 – Started Reading
November 27, 2019 – Shelved as: fandom
November 27, 2019 – Shelved as: film-and-tv
November 27, 2019 – Shelved as: genders-sexualities
November 27, 2019 – Shelved as: netgalley
November 27, 2019 –
8.0% "Excellent intro, which picks through the history and definitions of queerbaiting and related concepts. Supernatural, Merlin, and Sherlock provide cogent examples. I'm interested as an older fan; I grew up in the days when we were eager and grateful for any hint of homoeroticism, or even just for an open text in which we were free to imagine. I can feel a tension between that and the necessary Time's Up! energy today."
November 27, 2019 –
10.0% ""... queerbaiting's uncompromising position: queer people can be better represented in today's media". Well, I definitely cannot argue with that! ... I admit it hurts a bit that Supernatural's Misha Collins is used as an example of getting it wrong, though, when he is the most fan-friendly thing ever, and he really does try to get things right. However, the remarks cited are indeed problematic."
November 28, 2019 –
19.0% "Not sure if my (illness-diminished) brain is grasping this essay, but my understanding of it is currently, "Don't undervalue the subtext! Subtext is meaningful, too!" I suppose my only problem with that is where the gay subtext is later undermined or flatly contradicted by the text. I can happily get by on subtext, sure, as long as its meaning remains valid throughout the show."
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% "OK, I do get and agree with the point that we should consider our queer readings as valid as any other reading. They're not *alternative* readings; they're just readings. Doty is paraphrased as saying there is real power in being unapologetic about claiming these readings are as much "in the text" as any other readings."
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% "One of the joys of Merlin's first season was that the text was very open. We were free to ship anyone with anyone, without any contradiction from the text. It was only later that the creators began to pin down certain relationships."
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% "However, for me one of the joys of fan fic was finding creative ways over and around anything the creators might throw at me. I enjoyed being part of the Resistance. ... I take Henry Jenkins' point, though, that such "subcultural activity ... is denied public visibility" therefore "resistant reading cannot change the political agenda". ..."
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% "My younger fan friends (often more than a generation younger) thought that queer readings available from Merlin just weren't enough. They wanted canonical queerness. And the DVD commentary for the last episode in which the Merlin/Arthur romance was acknowledged by a producer, was too little too late. They're definitely of the Time's Up opinion, and I can't say that I blame them. I'm just used to making do with less."
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% "Following up on earlier thoughts on how huge-budget multinational films need to take into account other countries' suppression of queer sexuality: They already make different versions of such films, e.g. Captain America's To Do / Try List in the modern era was different for different countries. Why not do the same with moments of text vs subtext?"
November 28, 2019 –
20.0% ""For years, fan studies have erroneously characterized slash fandoms as almost entirely straight women, despite the fact that they are communities defined by reading media queerly." Huzzah! ... Oh, and a reference to Farah Mendlesohn, too."
November 28, 2019 –
21.0% "... I assume this was written and published (if not released) before the Amazon/BBC Good Omens. Which was a superb example of genuinely queer (rather than queerbaiting). Would have been nice to include it as an example of a way forward."
November 28, 2019 –
22.0% "Good discussion in this Thought Piece of the agency available in fan-centric places. And again I'm wondering if the timing of this book was a tad early - in this case, to include the validation of AO3 winning a Hugo in recognition of it being just such a place."
November 28, 2019 –
25.0% "Glorious look at Black Sails and its heterobaiting. A gay love story which came at the cost of a backlash, but is at least still there."
November 30, 2019 –
32.0% "Very good chapter on Supernatural and the possibility / probability that Dean is bisexual - and how it would be a particularly egregious example of queerbaiting if that's not directly acknowledged in canon."
November 30, 2019 –
37.0% "Pretty bleak look at BBC Sherlock, its showrunners, and the fans who ardently insist on The Johnlock Conspiracy. No matter what (if anything) is resolved in canon, it can't end well. Queerbaiting at its worst, fandom at its most strident, and perhaps a situation that could only occur during this period of change."
December 4, 2019 – Shelved as: lgbtq
December 4, 2019 – Finished Reading

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