so i realise that this is one of the most stupidly thorny subjects of the entire show. i come in peace! really! i also kinda hate writing about destiel at this point bc there’s always someone who charges onto the thread & rages at everyone but what the hell, right.
there’s been a lot of accusations of queerbaiting leveled at the show & the writers et al since, what, 2010? i’ve been giving it some thought. obviously everyone knew exactly what they were doing when they wrote the cas-dean-subtext-that-isn’t-really-‘subtext’-per-se into the show, because they aren’t stupid & the show is pretty open about it anyway. i imagine, however, that they had no idea how much it would blow up & that destiel would become a ridiculous mothership on a similar level to johnlock. faced w/ shippers en masse, there were several options open to them-
a) make it canon. then kill cas very soon after. this would have been the artistically sensible option- not that we need to see more of the Dead Gays trope, but in that it closes out the destiel arc without having to change the fundamentals of the show. the obvious downside is that cas is dead & a fan-favourite character is gone, so it would have been a huge risk (aside from the obvious leap of bravery it would have taken them to make dean, masculine western hero, explicitly bisexual). wow, this whole paragraph sounded cold.
b) make it canon. cas takes on a tricky role that straddles elements of jess, lisa, & wash from firefly. he is the only winchester love interest who does not die in the immediate future. there are domestic scenes.
this was the popular vision of a lot of destiel shippers, of course (i say ‘was’; i have no idea what’s happening over on spn-tumblr these days). the issue & difficulty with this is that what the show is About would have had to shift; fundamentally it’s sam & dean’s love story, & about grief, & about men without women (in the western-archetype sense better elaborated on by people who actually know shit about westerns). it could have been done, but that kind of axis shift would have been really, really hard to handle in a way that satisfied the majority of fans, not to mention the creepy guys in suits who do the shadowy business of television networks. also, the sam-&-dean stans would have been up in arms.
c) just sort of let it boil away for six or seven seasons, never really making it canon canon, vaguely yet obviously implying lots of stuff until somehow bucklemming get landed with the arc & it completely disintegrates. in short, never actually making a decision about it. this is, obviously, the option they ended up going for. pros being that it keeps the presumed shadowy execs happy & stops the fans from killing & eating each other; cons being that this is pretty much the definition of queerbaiting. it’s not the brave option, & it’s not the particularly clever option either, but i understand the temptation. for writers, this was safe, until it wasn’t because the show had gone on longer than everyone thought it would & the cas-dean arc was suddenly a hairy, flabby mess that no-one wanted to so much as poke with a straw.
i get the love for destiel, but it’s not great queer rep. or, rather, as part of the show’s portrayal of dean’s sexual ambiguity it is arguably good rep of sexual complexity, if not queerness exactly, but the arc taken alone? nah. there is certainly better elsewhere in the show. charlie, who is possibly one of the best-treated & least-sexualised lesbian characters i’ve ever seen in the media; ‘the chitters’; also the whole of ‘sex & violence’, i think, though maybe that comes under the ‘sexual ambiguity’ heading & is also a meta for another time. because it seems i’m back to writing meta now. i did not see that coming.
anyway, that’s my two cents. a well-written arc is not quite the same thing as a well-structured arc, & an arc that is excellent for four seasons or so before collapsing like a nightmare souffle is not the same thing as decent representation. it wasn’t an easy situation for the writers’ room, & it was poorly handled in many respects; they essentially wrote themselves into a corner & never really managed to write themselves out. i like the ship; in itself it’s deep & funny & moving. but it seriously makes me cringe when people act like it’s the holy grail of gay pride. come on, guys, the writers didn’t know what to do so they didn’t do anything. it’s hardly the price of salt.