Well, this should be a doozy! After my “Supernatural” video sparked a little bit of discussion about the topic, I wanted to take some time to talk a little bit about “queerbaiting.” The term has become sort of a buzzword, not only in film and television critic circles, but also in social justice-y communities in general. A lot of things get labeled as queerbaiting, some justifiably and some not. Any time the accusation is leveled towards any piece of media, you’re inevitably going to have a lot of debates about the subject. Is this queerbaiting…? Are fans just reading too much into it…? Is queerbaiting even a real thing at all…?? These debates can get pretty heated and so it’s worth taking a step back, and taking a broader look at the contexts in which these claims are made and what they actually mean. So… What is “queerbaiting”? Let’s start with a history lesson. So the term “queerbaiting” is actually an offshoot of another term: “queercoding”. –I’m gonna end up saying the word “queer” a lot by the end of the video. Okay? Like, it’s not even gonna sound like a word anymore.– Queercoding was most popular up until the 90s, but it still does happen. Essentially, this means giving a character traits that are commonly associated with gay people, without explicitly saying that a character is gay. This is in part because in the States, the Hays Code, a set of morality guidelines imposed on Hollywood films actively banned depictions of explicitly gay characters up until 1968. This meant that even if certain characters had a resemblance to gay people, you couldn’t explicitly say that they were gay. This was especially common in children’s media like cartoons. Although the Hays Code was replaced by the currently existing film rating system in 1968, this trend continued long afterwards. For example: Ursula, from “The Little Mermaid”, is actually based off of a famous drag queen Divine; Or Him, a villain from the “Powerpuff Girls”, is shown frequently cross-dressing; As well as Bugs Bunny in old 60s cartoons. We also see a lot of characters who act in stereotypically effeminate or flamboyant ways: Like Senor Senor Jr. from “Kim Possible”, Hades from the “Hercules” movie, or Scar from “The Lion King”. Okay. Quick aside here. Because I can already see people like rushing to the comment box to type: [high fast voice] “Okay, but wearing high heels and talking in stereotypically flamboyant ways doesn’t automatically make someone gay, isn’t it stereotyping to call anything queer coding?” Well, no, the creators many times explicitly have gay people in mind when they’re making these characters. They didn’t ‘accidentally’ make Ursula look like Divine. They’re evoking that imagery on purpose. You know, it’s not stereotyping to notice that they’re doing something that they are actually deliberately doing. Especially when the majority of people making these criticisms are actually part of the LGBT+ community. So anyway, what’s the problem with this? So what if these characters have traits that make them look stereotypically gay even if the media doesn’t explicitly say it? Well… Take a look at the characters who are queercoded again. They pretty much fall into two categories: either jokes like Bugs Bunny… or villains. Given that these characters are often marketed towards children, and many of them come from an era when there’s no way that they’re ever going to see an actual positive depiction of a person who has these traits, that’s kind of sending a bad message, don’t ya think? You know… Even if there’s not a room of evil TV execs sitting around rubbing their hands together, nefariously going [Evil Voice] “Ha Ha! We’ll teach those young impressionable minds to associate being gay with being evil, and then they will grow up to hate the homosexuals!” Even if there’s no big conspiracy surrounding it, it can still end up having those kind of harmful effects when these are the only representations that these kids are ever gonna see of people with those traits. Nowadays though, although this still happens to an extent, showrunners are a little bit more cautious of this. Not to mention these aren’t the only depictions of gay people in children’s media that we see anymore. Now with the advent of media like “Clarence”, “In a Heartbeat”, and “The Legend of Korra”, positive depictions of these characters are becoming more and more common. Of course, there is definitely a ways to go and we’ll talk about that, but it’s getting there. Now that showrunners have to actually consciously consider the fact that gay people exist and have feelingsand are a viable consumer base who can give them their moneyIt’s starting to represent a cultural shift. See, originally, with this very negative queercoding the focus was never on a queer audience who might potentially watch your show. They were primarily just thinking about how to be entertaining to straight people. But now with this cultural shift, showrunners are starting to think about how to factor a queer audience into the whole shebang. [Thoughtfully] “How do we get them to give us their money…?” This is where queerbaiting comes in. The definition of “queerbaiting”, according to Wikipedia, is: “the practice to hint at, but then not actually depict, a same-sex romantic relationship between characters in a work of fiction”, but this is pretty vague, right? I mean what’s ‘hinting at’, you know? Is it making jokes? Is it lingering gazes and swelling music? Is that implying a character is gay in an interview and then never actually depicting it? This is kind of hard because some of these things really are up for interpretation. The general consensus seems to just be: ‘we’ll know it when we see it’. Which is, you know, not awesome. More on that in a minute. So why does this happen? Well, there are two possible hypotheses that I see people use to explain the issue: The first one is that some of this queerbaiting is merely accidental. Writers never intended for a relationship between two of these characters to be viewed as romantic. They’re not dropping hints on purpose, people are just reading into it more than the creators ever really intended. The second one is a little bit more cynical. Essentially a creator wants all the publicity and revenue associated with having a large queer fanbase, but they don’t want to deal with the controversy or loss of a mainstream audience actually associated with having queer characters. They figure that the best of both worlds is to just kind of keep those fans on a string occasionally alluding to a relationship but never really following through. The first explanation might work in some cases, but there are times when it’s painfully obvious that a show is using the prospect of a same-sex relationship to drum up viewership or controversy. Take the first episode of “Riverdale”. The promotional material for that episode heavily featured Betty and Veronica kissing, which is naturally gonna pique the interest of some queer audience members, which is normal, you know, people like seeing stories about people who are like them, especially when there aren’t a lot of those stories. But of course when you actually watch the episode, it’s essentially this whole manufactured thing where they’re only kissing each other for the drama of it all. Which is so close to being self-aware, it’s almost funny. Simply put they wanted all the positive reactions associated with having Betty and Veronica be a couple, they wanted praise, they wanted drama, they wanted a big fan base. But they’ve realized that they don’t actually have to have them be in a relationship to reap any of these benefits. And so it’s hard to say that this is just people reading too much into subtle signs, you know? You can’t ‘accidentally’ use characters kissing for promotional material. They knew what they were doing by having that kiss be a big part of their promo. So there are definitely instances where queerbating is a deliberate, calculated thing on the part of the show runners. Going back to our earlier point: Another reason that this can be a little bit iffy to detect though is that some of the things that many people point to as examples of queerbaiting are often subtle clues that some audience members might not pick up on unless they’re explicitly looking for it. This is really convenient for showrunners, especially if you do believe that this is usually done on purpose because you can put in little nods to the LGBT community that most viewers won’t bat an eye at. For example: “Supernatural” has one of its main characters, Dean, regularly making references that are designed to sail over some people’s heads. For example, making reference to The Purgatory in Miami which is a gay bar, or talking about wanting to open up a charming B&B in Vermont, which was the only state to have legalized same-sex marriage at the time. If you’re part of that select group who are predisposed to noticing aspects of gay culture when they’re brought up It might seem almost glaringly obvious that the creators are hinting at this while still always being able to fall back on, “No homo, bro” for mainstream audiences. But if you’re not looking for them, It might seem kind of silly when people suggest that the show might be engaging in queerbaiting. There are also a lot of things that might register as jokes to one audience but hints or clues to another. For example, once again, on “Supernatural” there are lots of, possibly in jest, references to the relationship between characters Dean and Castiel being a bit more than platonic. Lines like, “The last person who looked at me like that, I got laid…” or “He was your boyfriend first!” seem to pretty explicitly suggest that the showrunners are aware of the possible romantic chemistry between the two leads and are deliberately playing off of it. When we take these references in concert, with some of the aforementioned dialog, possibly implying that one of the characters might be bisexual, it’s easy to notice deliberate hinting on the part of the creators. And while this has been sort of denied or hand waved away several times by the showrunners they’re still doing it. So, you know, it’s easy to say that these are just silly fangirls reading too much into these subtle signals but everyone in the room is well aware of the fact that these characters are set up in a way that seems romantic. And… Honestly… If some of these interactions were between a man and a woman… there would be no hesitation in interpreting them that way. Given all of the self-aware fourth-wall breaking references to the pairing in the show itself, it feels pretty deliberate. This might all seem kind of confusing in terms of intentions though. I mean, why would hinting at a relationship ever earn a creator praise on an LGBT viewer base if they never even really went through with it? Well, to answer that, let’s take a look at JK Rowling, an author who I really want to like, but she just makes it so hard! In 2007, after the release of the Harry Potter books, Rowling made headlines everywhere by revealing the fact that one of her characters, Dumbledore, was gay. She’s earned a lot of praise with one news site actually calling her “#woke”, and another calling it “a victory for homosexuality everywhere.” Of course, he’s not actually canonically depicted as gay. This is just a ‘Word of God’ announcement after the fact, you know, if you have to have a press conference to announce it to the world, it was clearly not anything more than subtext in your book. Not that much of a victory, you know. But, you know, the character’s a teacher, and the books are from a kid’s perspective, and he doesn’t learn about the sex life of any of his professors, and there’s a bit of a subtext involving Dumbledore’s relationship with Grindelwald in his youth… Well, now that there’s a second “Fantastic Beasts” movie coming out that will actually depict Grindelwald and Dumbledore in their youth from a more adult perspective, it seems like this would be the opportunity to actually depict the relationship that’s been hinted at for so many years, right? Apparently not. Given that Rowling’s revealed that no, Dumbledore is not going to be actually depicted as gay in the movies. So this feels kind of cheap, doesn’t it? I mean she gets all the praise for having a gay character without ever having to actually depict a gay character. She also revealed in her book that the werewolf condition was a metaphor for HIV all along, which is an interesting thing to reveal years later out of nowhere. Especially given that a lot of the werewolves in her books were real big assholes who deliberately tried to infect and inflict violence on other people, but, whatever, not a great way to subtly tell everyone to treat folks with HIV with empathy but… But again, there’s nothing to really suggest this in the book, just vague hints if you squint. But, well, it’s an easy way to get praise and celebration for seeming progressive, isn’t it? So, unfortunately, even if this shouldn’t be the case, even alluding to the fact that gay people might exist in your universe can earn you a lot of praise without ever having to actually represent gay people in your work. And, in terms of hooking in an LGBT audience, well… unfortunately, some people are so starved for representation that they’ll watch anything that even vaguely hints at the possibility of such a relationship. And the thing is, a lot of creators know this, that’s why many times shows that queerbait won’t explicitly come out and say “No, this isn’t happening.” They’ll simply maintain a *tee-hee*, “Will they or won’t they? You’ll have to tune in next week to see!” response. For example the cop show “Rizzoli and Isles” once astutely called, ‘the gayest non-gay show on television’, has been accused of queerbaiting due to the relationship between the two female leads. One of the lead actors for the show explicitly admitted in an interview that even though they have no intention of following through with it, they’ll often deliberately play up the possibility of a relationship between the two main characters, you know, for funsies! This can be especially hurtful however, when instead of simply teasing at a relationship, fans are made fun of for being “silly”, or “delusional”, for possibly seeing a relationship between these characters. Sometimes, this takes the form of actors loudly making fun of the possibility of such a pairing ever happening. Several actors from the TV show “Supergirl” came under fire pretty recently for what some people interpreted as making fun of one of these pairings at a convention and then finishing it with, “That was pretty brave”: [singsong] “They’re only friends! They’re only friends!” “They’re not gonna get together! They’re only friends!” Other times, this happens in the show itself: look at the popularity of crazy fangirl characters like Becky on “Supernatural”, or The Fan Club on “Sherlock”. Yanno… There’s something a bit insidious about making these relationships seem romantic on purpose, and then turning around and telling fans they’re silly or delusional for noticing it. So, all this to say that essentially, queerbaiting is a deliberate attempt to suggest at a same-sex relationship through editing, dialog, and/or out-of-universe declarations while never intending to actually portray that same-sex relationship universe But you know, this is still a pretty broad definition with room for interpretation. And of course not everything that has the queerbaiting label slapped onto it actually is queerbaiting. So let’s take a look not only at what queerbaiting is, but also what it isn’t. So, you know, “queerbaiting bad”. But as important as it is to talk about shows that correctly have accusations of queerbaiting leveled against them, what about when that’s not necessarily the most accurate term to describe what’s happening? So first of all, a censored same-sex relationship is not queerbaiting. So this is something that we see pretty often on children’s TV. The show runners will push hard for a same-sex relationship between its main characters only to be told “No, that’s inappropriate for children” or, “No, we air our show in countries where that’s not legal and we don’t want to have to pull it so you have to tone it down”. So the show runners will be limited in what they can actually depict but will still push for it as much as they can. We see this with “Gravity Falls”, where after years of having any mention of same-sex relationships being censored by Disney, two side characters are finally allowed to have a brief mention of a relationship in the very last episode. This isn’t a case of a creator putting in hints to draw in an unsuspecting audience with no intention of ever depicting a same-sex relationship, rather it’s a creator doing as much as they possibly can to depict this relationship under the given circumstances. There are two main shows that fit this definition that are frequently accused of queerbaiting. There’s “Adventure Time” and “The Legend of Korra”. Critics of “Adventure Time” point out that despite romantic intimacy between characters Marceline and Bubblegum and out-of-universe confirmation that the two dated this couldn’t be more explicitly stated in the show. Similarly, critics of “Korra” point out that the two female leads were only allowed to become a couple in the final episode and unlike their different-gendered predecessors Aang and Katara, they did not kiss. So why is this not queerbaiting? The main difference here is intent. In the case of these shows, the creators genuinely do want to depict a same-sex relationship and will do as much as they can to make sure that that relationship appears as much as possible. For instance, unlike with the “Harry Potter” series, the expanded core material does actually depict the two leads kissing and explicitly stating that they’re dating. It’s also worth mentioning that these shows are able to pave the way for more explicit depictions of same-sex relationships on children’s TV. I’ve managed to get through this entire video so far without mentioning “Steven Universe” because I really didn’t want the comments to become a goddamn bloodbath, but I guess I have to. Rebecca Sugar, the show’s creator, actually worked on “Adventure Time” prior to creating “Steven Universe” and “Adventure Time’s” influence on the show is undeniable. “Steven Universe”, on top of being a cool sci-fi show, explicitly depict numerous same-sex relationships between its characters. But a lot of people seem to frame this as “Steven Universe” being what “Korra” and “Adventure Time” should have been, and not understanding the fact that the existence of these older shows are the reason that we can have these more explicit depictions of these relationships in the first place. These shows’ significance in blazing the trail for more explicit representation definitely sets them apart from run-of-the-mill queerbaiting. Also not queerbaiting: intensely platonic friendships. There’s a reason why nobody calls JD and Turk from “Scrubs” queerbaiting. Pretty much any time the topic of queerbaiting is brought up you’re invariably gonna have some grumpy dude in the comments going, [squeaky voice] “Why can’t these stupid Tumblr Social Justice Warriors appreciate a platonic relationship between two characters of the same sex without calling it gay?” So hey, let’s talk friendship. There is actually a huge difference between a depiction of a close intimate friendship and outright queerbating. For example, let’s compare Dean and Cast from “Supernatural” to Jake & Boyle from “Brooklyn Nine-Nine”. Both pairs are close and have been through a lot for each other. In the latter, there are even jokes about Boyle being incredibly attached to Jake. So where do they differ? For one, shows like “Scrubs” and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” don’t give us these wink-wink, nudge-nudge, hints that these friendships might turn romantic. If they ever are mistaken for a couple there’s no sad lingering gazes lamenting the fact that it isn’t so. They don’t throw in some subtle hints that the characters might secretly be in love. They can still hug, share their feelings, and generally be close and intimate with each other but this intimacy is never used to set up a future relationship that will never be. As a result shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “Scrubs” don’t generally have accusations of queerbaiting leveled against them. So to say that fans who point this o ut are all just delusional idiots who don’t understand the value of deeply platonic relationships is not entirely accurate or fair. Finally, offensive stereotypes are not queerbaiting. Some people will look at media that depicts queer people in a way that reinforces harmful stereotypes and will call that queerbaiting. For example, the teen TV show “Glee” has come under fire multiple times for pretty much all of their minority characters being some kind of stereotype: You know, you have the shy, nerdy Asian, the flamboyant gay boy, the sassy black woman… et cetera. The look at characters like Kurt who’s essentially a walking stereotype of what gay guys are like, saying things like “Oh my Gaga”, and relentlessly pursuing a straight guy in season one, and rightfully notice that this is bad representation. But it’s not queerbaiting. It’s not even really queer coding because these characters are explicitly depicted as gay, it’s just bad. With a lot of terms that are used in… [Demonic Voice] Social Justice communities, you have well-meaning people over-extending their usage to things that don’t really fit under that definition. For example: you have people asking if wearing henna to an Indian wedding they were invited to, is an example of harmful cultural appropriation. And the problem with that is that it obfuscates the underlying causes behind these issues. Harmful representation and queerbaiting are both problems but they come from different places and have different effects on society. Conflating the two actually makes it harder to talk about where both of these problems actually come from or how to go about fixing them. Queerbaiting is a fairly frustrating trend in television, and it doesn’t seem to show any signs of stopping. So what are we to do about this? Well, actual depictions of same-sex couples is a good place to start. For one, shows that have same-sex couples becoming popular sends a really good message to showrunners that are considering queerbaiting saying “Hey! You can actually show these couples and still be a successful show,” right? Also, one of the reasons a lot of people, especially young fans, tend to fall for queerbaiting is simply a lack of other positive material. But with the advent of shows like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and films like “Love, Simon” gullible young fans won’t need to turn on shitty queerbaiting YA shows to see any representation of themselves. At the same time an overextension of the term queerbaiting to things that are not actually queerbaiting is not only reductive, but often obfuscates the reasons why queerbaiting can be so harmful in the first place. Using it as an umbrella term for anything on TV that’s harmful to queer people can actually do more harm than it does good. Like many other terms in social activism and media criticism, it’s an important concept to understand. But its meaning and impact should be carefully considered before taking part in discussions about it. Thanks so much for watching my video essay. As a side note: 10,000 subscribers! What the fuck? I have no idea what happened, but thank you so much! I’m really glad that you like my weird, dorky videos. I’m not gonna be able to have a video essay up next week because I am actually going to be in Iceland. But when I get back, I’m gonna be doing two things. I’m gonna be doing a 10,000 subscribers Q&A video, so if you have any questions or things you wanted to know just leave them in the comments. And I’m also going to have a pretty big announcement that I’m very excited about. So leave your questions here, and I’m very excited to make this announcement and Q&A video when I do get back. Thank you!