Dean Winchester and Castiel. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Quinn Fabray and Rachel Berry. Veronica Lodge and Betty Cooper.
What do all of these pairs of characters have in common? They are prime examples of queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting is a phenomenon that has become increasingly prevalent in TV shows as society has grown more accepting and open toward homosexuality. Essentially, it is a tactic used by writers in order to draw attention to the show, especially from the queer population. Platonic conversations between two same-gendered heterosexual characters are suddenly riddled with homoerotic undertones. The line between friends and lovers is blurred and people from the queer community begin to watch in hopes of the characters’ relationship ascending to the romantic level.
Sadly, in queerbaiting, this will never happen. The two characters will ultimately continue being strictly heterosexual, all while still making the pseudo-homoerotic remarks to one another in order to maintain the queer population’s interest. At the end of the day, the queer community is being exploited for their views.
If you are straight, you might not understand why we fall for queerbaiting. We can sometimes recognize instances of queerbaiting, so why do we still watch the shows after we have identified it?
The answer is simple: we continue watching in hopes of representation, or even just for the illusion of representation. While, yes, the LGBT community is getting increasingly positive and more common representation across shows (see: "Supergirl"’s Alex Danvers and Maggie Sawyer and "Legend of Korra"’s Asami and Korra), it is still limited.
In shows, we often only get one LGBT couple – sometimes two if we are lucky. Straight people and couples are still largely in the majority. Sometimes, we might identify with one pair of queer (or queerbait) characters more than another pair. Thus, we take what we can get, even if we know deep down inside that the writers are using us for our views.
We can take a look at “Supergirl” for a good example of representation as well as potential queerbaiting. The “Supergirl” writers were able to create one of the most authentic, relatable lesbian relationships in a long time between Alex and Maggie. Alex’s coming out story was down-to-earth and a tearjerker. Also, her relationship with Maggie is absolutely believable. However, fans are also buzzing about the relationship between Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor, commonly referred to as Supercorp by fans of the show.
The queer viewers have noted the homoerotic nature of Kara and Lena’s interactions. These underlying pseudo-romantic tensions spiked to an all-time max during last week’s episode “Luthors.” Throughout the episode, Kara became increasingly frustrated that no one would believe that Lena was framed for being evil. At the end, Lena overflows Kara’s office with flowers and says in a flirtatious manner, “Supergirl may have saved me, but Kara Danvers, you are my hero.”
It could be argued that the queer community that ships Supercorp is being delusional and making explicitly platonic interactions into romantic ones through their own Queer Goggles, however, you can’t deny that there is a spark between them. There is a certain amount of chemistry that the two share that doesn’t exist between her and her current love interest, Mon-El. The writers make it blatantly obvious to the viewers that Kara is, indeed, straight, and going to be involved with Mon-El.
A lot of viewers against Supercorp have a common argument along the lines of “You already have one lesbian relationship. Isn’t that enough?”
This argument isn’t unique to only Supergirl. It’s used whenever viewers of other shows with one queer couple start to ship another set of characters. There are a number of things that are explicitly wrong with this, though.
Using this argument suggests that there should only ever be one LGBT couple on any show, just to appease the queer community. Anything more than that is overbearing and unrealistic. It suggests that we are being selfish in asking for more representation, as if we do not need anymore.
The queer community should never be reduced to just one queer couple per show. Queer couples are not items to be rationed. They are people and, in real life, the number of queer-identifying people (especially youth) is increasing.
So, how does Supercorp versus Sanvers relate to queerbaiting? How can a show with a queer couple be queerbaiting? The popularity of Supercorp is overwhelming. In polls, I have never seen Kara’s relationship with Mon-El win over her relationship with Lena. The writers are aware of their popularity and, since episodes are written as the season passes with the viewers in mind, it could definitely be argued that Supercorp’s interactions are becoming increasingly more homoerotic to reel in even more queer viewers.
But, most of all, I want to focus on one of the biggest offenders of queerbaiting today: Riverdale’s Betty and Veronica (Beronica).
I have only watched one episode myself, but, even from that, along with the prevalence of how much buzz Beronica get on social media, it is blatantly obvious that the two girls are queerbait.
The way that these girls are being marketed to viewers is a form of queerbaiting that is highly more potent than any other instances because there is absolutely no question about the homoerotic nature of the pair’s interactions. In every single episode, their interactions suggest something deeper than friendship – in just the first episode, the two kiss for absolutely no reason at all.
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That is what sets Beronica apart from other queerbait pairs. Dean and Castiel never kissed. Not every single one of Quinn and Rachel’s interactions screamed: “We’re more than just friends!” With every other queerbait couple, there has been at least a little room for the possibility that their queerness is being misinterpreted. There is absolutely no room for that with Beronica.
Many supporters of the show claim that Beronica is not queerbait because the writers and actors themselves explicitly stated that the relationship would never transcend beyond the platonic level.
But that does not mean it isn’t queerbait. Let me ask the people who believe that Beronica isn’t queerbait a few questions.
Do you believe that Betty and Veronica’s interactions are purely platonic?
Do you believe that Betty and Veronica have better chemistry with each other than they would with any male character?
Do you think that Betty and Veronica would be a cute couple? Do you ship it above any other heterosexual couple on the show?
Judging solely from my glimpse into people’s views on the show, I can already guess what people’s answers are. Every Thursday at 9:00 PM, I see people on my timeline on Twitter screaming about Betty and Veronica. They scream about how the two would be a perfect couple, how they should kiss, and how they should be canon.
I also see queer people inquiring about the show, simply because of this relationship. People are starting to watch this show for Beronica, even though writers have declared that it will never happen.
So, yes, it’s clear that they won’t ever actually be together, but that doesn’t stop the masses from being attracted to the show solely because of their presence. That doesn’t stop the fact that they are continuing to share pseudo-romantic interactions every single episode. Thus, I would, in fact, consider Beronica queerbaiting and an extremely ugly form of it.
Queerbaiting exploits the queer community’s views. Writers know how popular queer couples are and how they draw massive amounts of viewers to the show, but, at the same time, they are hesitant to ever make more than one couple queer. It is time for writers to realize that we are more than just numbers – we are actual people who deserve real, authentic, representation.
Either write characters as explicitly queer with the intentions of them being queer or write them explicitly straight with the intentions of them being straight. No more blurred lines.