destiel & the whole queerbaiting issue

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.

 

 

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6 thoughts on “destiel & the whole queerbaiting issue

  1. Brave post! I agree with it-however MY OPINION ONLY and I have nothing against anyone that disagrees with me: Jensen has said that he plays Dean straight. So no matter the subtext (which I see but not as much as Destiel shippers see!) Dean is straight. Which doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate another mans looks. My husband thinks Jensen is gorgeous 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • thank you! it’s territory gone over so many times but i wanted to clarify my opinions to myself and figured i might as well make it a meta 🙂

      fair enough! at the end of the day it’s fiction and what isn’t end-stop canon is subject to interpretation 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never quite seen the logic in the whole “Destiel is endgame” theory, either. You’ve just articulated the reasons why. Great post–the only part I don’t necessarily agree with is the assertion that the writers purposefully inserted Destiel subtext into the narrative. It’s really difficult to say what is and isn’t intentional with subtext, especially since it’s so dependent on audience interpretation. In my view, it tends to turn into a kind of chicken-and-egg problem where it becomes impossible to pin down the origins–did the writers intentionally create subtext that got people shipping Destiel, or did they just go with it when they realized that people were shipping Destiel?

    Which I why I find the issue of queerbaiting in general rather uncomfortable, tbh.

    Liked by 2 people

    • thank you!
      oh, yeah- i don’t think the writers set out intending to create subtext when they first wrote cas in- i was referring to exchanges like ‘last time someone looked at me like that, i got laid’ & etc.

      it’s a tough issue- & it really isn’t as simple as ‘if it isn’t canon it’s baiting’, so i’m sympathetic to a degree.

      Like

  3. Hey:)
    Great post about a topic I´ve been thinking about soo much for far too long. The main points I loved here and that were also part of my personal conclusion to this issue were that making Destiel canon would have changed what -at least for me- the show is about, namely Sam and Dean and their relationship and problems and the fact that Destiel is not the holy grail of gay ships. That not writing it into canon is automatically queerbaiting at best and homophobic at worst. And that´s just not how I see it and I loved to read that you share this point of view:))
    Oh and do continue writing meta, you are, in my humble opinion, one of the best meta writers out there:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • thank you! yes, i think making it canon would have definitely thrown the sam-dean relationship out of focus a little. it’s a show where everything important is v complex and largely unspoken – so it was always going to be difficult territory.

      & thank you so much :)) i completely intend to! my life is insane atm but i’m p sure i’ll never really be able to stop writing about spn 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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