How the Media Uses and Abuses Queer Audiences for the Sake of Ratings
You’re watching a show, when two characters of the same gender say something that makes you go “Hmm… that’s a rather romantic thing for two apparently straight people to say”. You analyze the characters’ chemistry and physical interactions, noticing the homoerotic subtext. It’s enough to make you scream “Get a room already!”
And yet they don’t. You take to the fan forums, avidly reading through similar theories. Even the cast is aware of this fan pairing. The subtext surrounding the characters is so apparent that it might as well be text. You’re relieved that the LGBT community’s demands for representation in the media will finally happen with this relationship. Hasn’t its buildup been so elaborate that it would almost be illogical for the characters not to fall in love? Surely the writers will grant them the same opportunity for love as any straight couple.
But after seasons of romantic subtext and fans explicitly demanding it to be canonized, the characters’ intricately developed relationship stagnates with a ‘no homo’ comment thrown in for gags. Forgive me, but I missed the part where relationships other than hetero ones are jokes.
I present ‘queerbaiting’; hinting at queer romance stories in order to incite LGBT fans to watch something, without any intention of canonizing it.
But what’s the big deal? It’s just a show. But it’s not just as show for the queer fans who desperately want to see people like them in the media. It’s wonderful for show creators to support gay rights, but until they actually work to represent these people, it’s all talk, no action. It’s not ‘just a show’ when the reasoning behind queerbaiting is homophobia. Show creators will dismiss a queer ship so as not to offend their straight audience. They’ll reprimand other shows for not representing queer couples and then say that “it just wouldn’t fit with my story”. Even if a queer ship is not the couple that creators had intended, if they see that it clearly works with the plot and is in high demand from fans, wouldn’t it be in their best interests to write the story people want? Queer viewers are so desperate for representation in TV shows that they will watch any show that has characters who might not be 100% straight. The writers know it and abuse this loyalty for the ratings. Take Once Upon a Time for instance. Regina, the mother of Henry, and Emma, the woman who gave him up for adoption, start off hating each other, but by the 4th season, Emma sacrifices herself for Regina. Throw in lines like “How to get the saviour to taste my forbidden fruit” which sound way too sexual to not be, and beautiful family moments between the three characters (Henry and his two moms) and you’ve got a beautiful love story that never actually happens.
Basically, queerbaiting tells LGBT viewers that their relationships are ‘scandalous’ enough for people to be interested in, but unworthy of actually supporting. After all, ‘no homo’, right?