By request of By Hook Or By Book – Book Reviews, News, And Other Stuff.
Obviously, whether you ship Destiel or not is purely down to personal interpretation. I’m sure that most of you have come across piles of meta explaining why Destiel is logical, and even canonical. If you want that sort of thing, google it. This meta is to explain, among other things, why I don’t think the writers are queerbaiting, and why I personally would prefer Destiel to stay as subtext.
Please note that while I’m happy to discuss things if any of you have different opinions, I’m certainly not trying to invalidate anyone else’s take on these issues.
Firstly- what, precisely, is queerbaiting? Wikipedia says ‘the term refers to what happens when people in the media add homoerotic tension between two characters to attract more liberal and queer viewers with the indication of them not ever getting together for real in the show’.
I think there are problems associated with identifying what’s referred to as queerbaiting, just like there are problems with defining sexism using the Bechdel test. Because there’s an unspoken sexual level to a same-gender relationship does not necessarily mean the show is queerbaiting- the assumption is that the two things are mutually inclusive.
As an example, look at the 1960 film The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. Billy Wilder fully intended there to be homoerotic subtext to Holmes and Watson. He also fully intended it to be unspoken, and indeed it is possible to watch the film without even registering it. It’s up for interpretation, and that’s the beauty of it- because it’s easy to form opinions when everything is canonical and out in the open, but the different ways people choose to interpret something are endlessly revealing.
One of the great beauties of Supernatural is its subtlety. Character arcs play out over long seasons, and sometimes go for episodes without being mentioned. When John whispered into Dean’s ear in In My Time Of Dying, we did not find out until Hunted- nine episodes later- what he said. And yet over those nine episodes Ackles was playing that whisper- you can see it in the way he looks at Sam.
Similarly, when the Soulless Sam arc began, it took seven episodes to find out what was wrong with Sam. But right from the end of Swan Song, Padalecki plays that wrongness. It’s all over him- the look on his face when Dean hugs him, his casual laugh when Dean tries to get him to discuss Hell in Exile On Main St- and yet his speech, his gestures, are still profoundly Sam.
All these things are fully visible and acknowledged without a word being said. Just like the relationship and subtext between Cas and Dean.
I think an issue here is that many fans assume these actors do not know what they are doing, what effect they’re producing. This is bullshit- acting is about making choices about how to respond to everything, and both Ackles and Collins are excellent actors. They know exactly how it looks. They’re aware of their subtext. And they play it. They don’t play it with huge amounts of angst- it’s sometimes awkward, sometimes exasperated, sometimes affectionate- but it’s there. And it feels real because of the awkwardness and exasperation and affection that that subtext contains.
Of course, you could argue that in all those other character arcs- John’s whisper, Sam’s Soullessness, etc- these were all eventually made text, acknowledged. But Destiel has been acknowledged. Balthazar saying ‘the one in the dirty trenchcoat who’s in love with you’ is pretty much as ‘acknowledged’ as something gets. Not to mention-
And then of course we have the total acknowledgement of Destiel in Fan Fiction- J.A breaking the fourth wall to give a look to the camera afterwards-
Make of that what you will.
And in fact, if the writers are queerbaiting with Destiel, what makes the Wincest situation any different? Because there’s clear subtext there, as well, however you want to interpret it- Barnes and Demian in The Real Ghostbusters, the famous face-grab in Playthings, and pretty much the entirety of Sex And Violence, to begin with. Not to mention Sam and Dean constantly being compared to married couples. But, hey, the CW never throws the brothers into bed, therefore it must be queerbaiting, right?
But somehow, no-one ever seems to think so. Possibly because non-Wincest shippers, which compose most of the fandom, don’t actually want Sam and Dean to get it on. Apparently it’s only queerbaiting if you want the ship to happen.
Honestly? I think accusations of queerbaiting can be damaging to shows like this. It’s as if suddenly two men are not allowed to look longingly at each other without consummating the love that must therefore exist. Accusations like this are what leads to closed-mindedness- like, because this couple are not canonically together, this show is automatically terrible. Somewhere along the line, it has become not okay for subtext to be unconsummated. We’re being given a checklist of things that art must contain. When accusations get out of hand, it leads to the neutering of art.
Another issue that I have with the queerbaiting problem is that people seem to subsequently assume that gay people will only watch shows that contain gay couples. As a person whose entire friendship group seem to have turned out to be gay, I can verify, for those of you who were previously unware, that this is not in fact the case. What a surprise.
Most of the frustrated Destiel shippers I know are straight. By definition, queerbaiting is to get gay people to watch the show. Apparently it works on all sexualities. Who knew, huh?
Of course, I’m biased. Because I like the unspokenness of it. I like being able to look at a Cas and Dean scene and unpick it for myself, without the text whacking me over the head with a canon relationship . They leave it to the performances, mostly.
SPN has always been about the grey areas of morality, masculinity- and, it seems, sexuality. Dean in particular flirts with both men and women to get information, is constantly sexualised by monsters, and in Everybody Hates Hitler is visibly disappointed when Aaron’s ‘gay thing’ turns out to be a coverup for Aaron tailing him.
So much about the characters’ choices and behaviour can be interpreted, re-interpreted, examined and yet nobody is wrong and nobody is right, because it’s all subtext. If Destiel was text, would there be such piles of meta- some terrible, some excellent, all art- arguing back and forth about it? Of course not. It’s the unspoken things that inspire creativity in fans. It’s the unspoken things that attract fans, especially the perverse teenagers like me who actually prefer the whole desperately unspoken aspect just because it’s fascinating.
Perhaps this is where the queerbaiting accusations stem from. Destiel, as a ship, is obsessed over because it has such give to it. Unspokenness breeds fanfiction, meta, discussion. It allows their relationship to keep going, to not become stale. People become invested, involved. Maybe that is queerbaiting- but is it such a bad thing that people should care so much about their relationship? It’s only the same as with Sam and Dean themselves- their pain, all those glances back and forth at each other, basically fuel SPN.
To bottom-line it: if anyone thinks that without unspoken subtext we would still have a show, kindly raise your hand.