Is it “queerbaiting” if queer people are doing the baiting?
I’ve seen a lot of talk on my dash about this in the last few days, but I’d genuinely like to get your opinions on it.
Obviously, the catalyst is the most recent episode of “Sherlock,” where quite a few lines and actions could be considered by some as queerbaiting, which is where media makes you think something romantic or sexual might happen between two same-gendered characters (usually attractive white males), but then in the next instant, it is solidified that nothing would ever happen. In other words, the show or movie gives you a big “no homo lol” and moves on.
Now, I strongly dislike that tendency, since I really really want ACTUAL representation in media. But with that said, this problem isn’t as black and white as I think a lot of us would hope. That episode of Sherlock was written by Mark Gatiss, who is openly gay. One of the biggest scenes features Andrew Scott, an openly gay actor. These things may be irrelevant to some, but I, as a queer person, find it difficult to accuse queer people of queerbaiting. If I was in Gatiss’ position, I would inject queerness into my work, too, as much as I could. What if Gatiss was simply taking it as far as he could without getting in trouble with Moffat or the producers or whoever?
I don’t know for sure, but I think it’s worth considering.
Another example would be Bryan Fuller, the creator of the TV version of “Hannibal.” Fuller is also gay, and while the show does not go nearly as far as Sherlock does, there is a clear and obvious attempt at cultivating sexual tension between Hannibal and Will, which Fuller has confirmed, along with Mads Mikkelsen, a straight actor who plays Hannibal Lecter. Is it queerbaiting to dangle this unresolved sexual tension in front of us, knowing that the person behind it is gay?
And moreover, if we, as queer people, buy into it or allow ourselves to like it, are we subject to the accusations of “queer fetishism” that I see flying around? Of course not, right? We can’t fetishize ourselves, can we? But isn’t it the exact same content and a very similar reaction to it? (The intended reaction, I might add, of excitement at the possibility.)
I ask these questions genuinely, without defending what we’ve seen and what’s been produced. Queerbaiting has largely been perpetrated by straight writers and creators. But as opportunities open up for queer voices, I wonder if we shouldn’t think a little deeper about this issue. Is it still queerbaiting—a sort of internalized torch-carrying for the straight forefathers of the medium—or is it a subtle way to bring in queer voices in a time where plotlines featuring queer characters still almost unilaterally focus on their sexual orientations and not on good storytelling?
I think it’s worth discussing. Thoughts?
This is an interesting concept.
On the one hand, it’s 2014, high-profile celebs are out, married, and raising kids, and still having healthy careers right along with it. The number of queer characters in mainstream entertainment is steadily rising. Overall public opinion is finally majority queer-positive.
On the other hand, homophobic audiences still make up a very large portion of potential viewers, and even people who aren’t necessarily anti-gay may still not be interested in watching something with queer protagonists, or so conventional studio wisdom goes. Audiences are conditioned to see straight, white males as default protagonists, and when someone else steps into that role, it can theoretically be seen as “niche” and not something intended for general audiences. So if you’re making something, especially something expensive, that you need to get a broad audience for, you can’t afford to gamble on a non-SWM protagonist. Studios just don’t go there as a business decision.
Some of this conventional wisdom is being proven wrong, as movies and shows with PoC and/or female leads are doing considerably better these days, across all demographics. I think queer protagonists aren’t far behind. But something common to most of the successful properties with non SWM leads is that these other leads just “happen” to be other. There’s very little that defines them as something besides the straight, white male mold. They’re like ethnic Barbies: same mold, different color plastic. They have to put on the SWM costume in order to pass as a believable protagonist, or people start assuming that the story in question is intended only for audiences comprised of those that share the lead’s non-SWM-ness. There are definitely some exceptions cropping up. I think Katniss is recognizably female, for instance, even with the usually SWM action-hero thing, and also without being a tiresome female stereotype. Likewise for many of the prominent female characters in Game of Thrones: they are definitely female, and definitely not just accessories for the male characters. We also have a few PoC leads here and there who are recognizably so and yet still getting broad audiences.
But it’s still slow going, and queer folk still have yet to really establish themselves as mainstream at the level women and PoCs have (which is still, to be clear, pretty darn low.) I think we’re therefore still some time off from non-queer audiences being interested in a recognizably queer protagonist, much less something with a same-sex couple as its core romantic story. Obviously, interest in this is already fairly high and growing, and I also think audiences are actually ahead of where studio bosses think they are on this path. But it’s just not a gamble that the bean counters want to take, yet.
All that to say: No, we’re not going to get canon Johnlock, or canon same-sex romance from protagonists in much of anything mainstream just yet. Queer and queer-interested folks are still a large part of potential audiences, however, and when the noise from this corner becomes too loud to ignore, then creators are kind of stuck having to address it somehow. Hence, queerbaiting, which is damned annoying because we know we’re not going to get a payoff from it.
But then, there’s the issue you bring up about whether queer creators are themselves doing this not to throw a bone so we’ll shut up, but as Easter eggs for those in the know. I think you’re probably right that queer writers and showrunners like Gatiss, Fuller, Jack Kenny, Drew Greenberg, etc. have tried to slip in some subtext (or even plain text) in a way that lets us out here know what they’re “really” thinking about, while still paying the obligatory lip service to the suits and non-queer-friendly audiences.
But is that more frustrating than satisfying? Personally, I think so, yes. I think these queer creators are well-intentioned, and likely trying to soothe their own frustrations, but I think it would actually be more useful to cut the subtext entirely, and let people ship as they will without it. What’s happened with Warehouse 13 and Bering/Wells, for instance, is absolutely ridiculous. They’ve basically established that relationship as canon in all but the exact words, and that’s becoming preposterous. I think that’s a show that really could get away with turning that relationship canon, without alienating audiences (especially since they’ve been cancelled and now have nothing to lose in their last few episodes.)
I’m realistic enough—and have enough experience in the entertainment industry—to know that the queer-protagonist thing simply isn’t going to happen for the near future in mainstream entertainment. We’re at least another 5-10 years off from that. But I don’t think slashbaiting is the way to push the envelope to make that happen. I’d much rather have canon queer characters/romances as well-realized sidekicks and B stories than an endless protagonist tease that’s never, ever going to get paid off.
And in the meantime, I’m going to write my own damn books with queer protagonists and same-sex romance because fuck subtext. ;)
Life from both sides
Sometimes, it really sucks to be stuck in this gray area between fan and creator; to have a foot in both worlds, and understand where each side is coming from. Because when there’s a conflict of interest between them, I feel forced to choose sides, and I always feel like I’ve chosen wrong.
I always want people to behave ethically no matter what side they’re on, and I often find myself disappointed by how cynically people sink their fangs into the other. Fans and creators need each other. There should never be any push for one to exploit the other just because they can.
The entertainment industry is a soul-sucking pit filled with many beautiful people who just want to make something amazing for people who will love it, and make a living in the process. But because that pit is so toxic, they’re often forced to do that in a way that hurts the very people they’re trying to serve. Conversely, fandom is a festering horde of vermin speckled with amazingly loyal and respectful hearts who find connecting with creators one of the ultimate forms of communication. But because of the actions of the vermin, they rarely get a chance to truly experience that communication in a mutually satisfying way, and instead end up having to go through the paths the vermin have created to make that connection.
I wish I could somehow strip the industry of the cold-blooded cretins who insist on making 40% profit margins from everything, thereby forcing everyone else in the picture to exploit and degrade themselves and each other in order to make it happen. But, as I found with journalism, that’s easier said than done. And it’s harder still when you’re doing things to that end that both sides of the equation have been brainwashed into believing are suspect. Sometimes it seems like both sides of the river would rather burn the bridge than admit there’s filthy water between them.
All I want is for people to make wonderful things for other people who want them, and who are happy to give those creators enough money to make a living making their wonderful things. It shouldn’t be this hard.
Time for a repost about how ratings work …
Given the tooth-gnashing following PNW’s cancellation, I can see it’s time again for me to haul out the “how TV shows get funded" post.
Read it. Know it. Live it.
[Image: Verified twitter post from actor Jim Sturgess, who is white and appears in yellowface in the upcoming film Cloud Atlas. Sturgess writes: “Yellowface? Blackface? Pinkface? Pinkberry? Blackberry? Crackberry? Blueberry? Strawberry? Bananas? Frozen Yogurt? All the toppings?.Lovely!”]
On Racebending.com, Mike Le explains why Jim Sturgess is a “tool”
After some thought, I came to the following conclusion: Jim Sturgess is a tool.
Shocking revelation, right?
But I mean it in a slightly different sense than you might initially think.
Jim could be a perfectly nice guy. He could be kind to his friends, he probably loves his family. He probably makes other jokes that people think are funny and don’t hurt anyone at all.
But he’s a tool in a direct sense, because through some combination of talent, hard work, and luck, he has become the go-to Hollywood guy to play Asian men. Before someone thinks to call John Cho, Dante Basco, Kunal Nayyar, or Archie Kao, Jim gets the first speed dial. Whether it’s replacing a real-life Asian American with a white guy or showing that Asian folks are really just reincarnated white dudes with awful prosthetic slant-eyes, Sturgess is your man.
He is the perfect tool for Hollywood to tell stories about fascinating, exotic Asian cultures without the inconvenience of having to actually cast an Asian man in any but the most demeaning of roles. He’s the perfect tool to cement the notion that American culture is perfectly complete sans anything resembling a real, flesh-and-blood Asian male.
But if a role comes up for an Asian man that’s not a gutless eunuch or an abusive patriarch, then Jim cracks out the makeup kit. And we go back to the Hollywood of 1937.entire article at Racebending.com]
For Jim, it’s a joke about froyo.
This is kind of an off shoot of the above argument, but I am adding my 3 cents anyways. I cannot even recount how many times I have been asked, by casting agents, directors, and peers alike, whether or not I can “do” a good Latina accent. Because in their eyes I can so easily “pass” for Latina. They don’t understand the disdain in my eyes, or the subtle frown on my face, or why I wouldn’t immediately take this as a compliment. “Passing” for a different ethnicity than the one you already are is supposed to be a great thing in actor world, because it means more opportunities for roles. But all I can ever think is, “AREN’T THERE LATINA AND HISPANIC ACTRESSES OUT THERE ALREADY WHO COULD DO THIS ROLE??” I know there are! When I lived in NYC I would see them at auditions all the time! I don’t want a white woman playing the role of an interracial woman (hello, Imitation of Life!) any more than I want to be the black/white interracial woman playing the role of a Latina. Ethnicity is not interchangeable! There is this idea in actor world that has existed for a long time that says that actors, good actors, should be able to embody ANY role they are given, no matter the race/class/gender/sexuality/ability/spirituality that the role requires. I understand the basics of this idea, that a good actor is prepared for any and everything and should always be able to effectively experience a world outside of themselves and their own history, but this idea certainly has it’s limits. I think this was an idea imposed on actors at a time when ALL OF THEM were white (by THEIR choosing, not the choosing of POC), so there was a necessity in having white men feel confident while portraying roles that were outside of their normal realm of understanding. However, we are no longer living in the goddamn Middle Ages!
The good news is, people don’t HAVE to substitute themselves for other ethnicities any more. The bad news is, no one but actors of color recognize this.
I can’t speak from exact personal experience on this, being a white chick who’s never had to face racism, but I have faced similar issues, and from an outsider’s perspective, I think this practice is wretched. Not just because it contributes to the lack of diversity in entertainment, and not just because it makes it harder for actors who don’t fit the A-list mold to get work, but also because it’s character assassination. While not all PoC, queer, etc. characters are written well, and many are just tokens or stereotypes, many more have the vital statistics they do for a reason: it’s part of who they are. As a writer, I’d be intensely offended if someone changed an essential part of who my characters are for no better reason than pandering to audience prejudice.
I think there are rare cases in which an appropriate actor simply can’t be found for a given role, but those are few and far between. They’re usually things like a rare disability, or one that would limit the ability to perform, or a specific mix of race, gender, age, etc. that’s simply impossible to find in the wild.
For instance, one of my novels has a character who’s a short, 60something, Tibetan-American transwoman. If it were ever turned into a movie, I’m sure the casting director would have difficulty finding a trained, character-appropriate actor who hit all of those things, so she’d probably look further afield, and consider actors who are cisgendered and of other Asian ethnicities, while still holding out hope for a perfect match (a trans, Tibetan Linda Hunt, anyone?)
But another character in the same novel, a mid-30s Romanian/Brazilian-American woman who practices capoeira? That shouldn’t be hard to find at all. The Romanian part might be fudged, and Latinas with heritage outside of Brazil might be considered, but I’m sure there are plenty of actors out there who could fake the capoeira well enough for the screen. (Whether she’d be down with the role’s romantic elements—the character is in a m/m/f triad marriage—is a different story!)
Of course, the chances of any of my three novels getting published, much less being turned into a movie, are slim, but if that did ever happen, I’d insist that my PoC characters (20+ of them) remain as they are and be played by actors whose racial background is at least from the same general region of the world. Hell, I know many are out there to begin with: I already have some actors I keep in mind as mental avatars for the characters (Estella Daniels for an Eritrean-American computer genius; Amrita Acharya for a British-Indian ornithologist who’s also a transwoman; Avan Jogia for a bisexual, Scots/Egyptian-American college kid.) Finding actors whose orientation and gender identity match my GLBT characters might be more difficult—Avan is straight, and Amrita isn’t trans, as far as I’m aware—but I’d of course insist that the characters themselves remain so (hell, they’d have to, in many cases, because it’s important to the story.)
It’s true that most roles are written for white, traditionally attractive, etc., people, and that means most people who go into acting fit those requirements. Many people who don’t might well start acting, but then drop out when they can’t get work. (Hi! Stopped performing because there just ain’t many roles for a short, fat, butch chick.) But that’s not an excuse to fill roles meant for other people with inappropriate actors when there are, actually, plenty of available actors who are appropriate.
Likewise, I know that showbiz is more biz than show, and that market research does bear out the conventional wisdom that a majority of straight, white guys can’t relate to lead characters who aren’t like them (hence why my novels aren’t likely to hit the larger market.) But that’s absolutely not an excuse to change the race, orientation, body size, gender presentation, etc., of existing characters (especially real people!) to fit those prejudices. There’s absolutely no excuse for what they did to 21 and The Last Airbender because there are plenty of Asian actors who would’ve been perfectly good in those roles. Likewise, casting Zoe Saldana as Nina Simone was a mistake, because there are plenty of darker-skinned women who should’ve been considered. (Though I admit that some of the backlash I’ve seen aimed at Saldana for this is irritating—she hasn’t ceased being a woman of color just because she was given a role that’s not right for her.)
And don’t get me started on the grossness of Cloud Atlas. Ugh. Just … ugh.
The world is not made up solely of straight, white dudes, and thus the characters we see in our entertainment should reflect who we really are, not just who’s managed to claw their way to the top of the power structure. The patchwork quilt of who a character is DOES involve race, gender, language, ability, orientation, etc, because those things matter to us as people (especially if we face oppression for those things.) They do not define us in toto, because none of us are just one thing, but they do still matter, and that means that they matter for fictional characters, too.
Disregarding race and other vital statistics in casting as a way to create more opportunities for actors who otherwise aren’t getting a lot of work is a good thing, but it should never go the other way. Yes, acting is cutthroat, and getting any job at all is a challenge unless you’re an A-lister, but I’d hesitate to say that Jim Sturgess really needed that 21 gig more than, say, Archie Kao, who would’ve been brilliant in the role.
The world is a colorful place, though you’d never know it if all you ever saw of it was the stuff produced by the mainstream entertainment industry in the Western world, and speaking as a writer who’s trying to reflect the reality of humanity, I’d be absolutely furious if someone else tried to stop me from doing that.
The future without Primeval, that is!
Although a spin-off series has been announced and is underway in Canada, the series that spawned it is still in limbo. While many have lost hope of ever seeing a season six of Primeval UK, some of us believe now is the perfect time to let those with the power…
While I understand the impulse behind this, and if folks want to do this, they’re free to, I do feel it necessary to point out that this simply isn’t going to work.
The reality of the situation is that ITV doesn’t want to fund the production, and no other backers have stepped in to pick up their (considerable) share of the costs. From a business perspective, they simply didn’t make enough money on the show to justify how expensive it is. The only way they could’ve been convinced they could turn a good profit on it was to get stellar ratings for series 4 and 5. And they didn’t. There’s absolutely nothing fans can do at this point that will change their minds, because we can’t prove to them that it will be worth it to spend the money.
There are also other practical considerations to keep in mind. It’s been two years since production on 4/5 ended, and all of the cast and crew have moved on to other things. While some might be happy to come back for another shoot, getting the entirety of the existing team back together would be impossible at this point. Which means that series 6 would end up being more drastically different from 4/5 than 4/5 were from 3.
And even IF they could get a few castmembers back together for this, we’d still be ~18 months out from seeing any new episodes. The exact time would depend on how many epsiodes were commissioned, but they’d need several months for pre-production, several for the shoot, and several for post before they’d be ready to air.
Yes, the show did come back after it was cancelled before, but the gap was considerably smaller. It got cancelled in early 2009, just when series 3 was airing, and recommissioned only a few months later, when Impossible put together a new funding scheme. The gap between the end of filming 3 and the beginning of 4/5 was only about 16 months. The gap in this case would be twice that. Coming back after such a delay is basically unheard of, and the few cases in which that has happened have been reboots or revivals with entirely new casts.
This isn’t about “losing hope.” It’s about understanding the realities of how the TV industry works. Believe me, I’d love to see more of this show. I love these characters, and I want them back in some form or other. But our greatest likelihood of seeing any of them is as occasional guests on New World. Beyond that, the only real chance is maybe another book or graphic novel.
Like it or not, the UK version as we know it is dead, and it’s not coming back in TV form. Again, please feel free to knock yourselves out tilting at the ITV windmill if that’s what you want to do, but I can tell you right now it’s not going to help. The best thing we can do to support the show we love is to support New World, because that spinoff is our only real chance of ever seeing our beloved characters again.
How to pay artists for their work and stop being a jerkface pirate
There’s a lot of intarweebs traffic lately about piracy, but I’ve not seen a lot of practical advice for people who want to stop, but don’t know how.
Assuming you’re not a complete assbasket who simply thinks artists don’t deserve to get paid for their work (and if you are, fuck you) I imagine that you just don’t know how artists get paid, and thus don’t know how to pay them.
So, here are the three main ways creative folks make money from the stuff they create:
- Advertising (TV/radio commercials, print/web ads, etc.)
- Direct purchase (tickets, pay-per-download, etc.)
- Indirect purchase (subscriptions, bulk licensing, government fees, etc.)
If you’re not paying for the work and you’re not seeing ads with it, then guess what? You’re pirating it. Oh, noes! A fan who truly cares about the well-being of the people who keep her entertained should find a way not to do that.
But how? It’s easier than you think!
Merely learn this simple mantra: Pay, Link, Credit, Takedown.
Read on for how this works, in detail:
- Step One: Pay for the work if you’re given a way to do so.
It really is that simple. Buy a movie ticket. Buy a DVD. Buy a subscription. Pay for a legal download. Expose your eyeballs and earholes to ads.
Why is anyone surprised that ITV …
… is burying their airing of Primeval s5?
They’ve already decided not to fund series 6. They’re only burning off these episodes because they’re contractually obligated to air them. They’ve already charged the advertisers what they’re going to charge them for the airtime. Ratings therefore don’t matter in the slightest.
Any money they’d spend on promo at this point would be money down the drain for a dead show they’re not remotely interested in supporting. There’s a reason they’re tagging it as “the beginning of the end.” They want to be done with the expensive albatross (pterosaur?)
Does it suck that they’re doing this? Absolutely. But given what they’ve already done to torpedo this thing for the last three years, it shouldn’t be a surprise.
I am glad that some people who couldn’t afford the DVD or didn’t know it was on are finally going to get to see it. Maybe some casual viewers will come on board, too. More fandom people is always awesome. But no-one should have expected ITV to support this airing. They’re done with the show, and have been for probably a year or more. Welcome to the reality of the TV industry. :(
I wanted to write a thing about that The Oatmeal comic about Game of Thrones, but someone beat me to it and they're smarter than I am.
Great piece at the link.
My own thoughts on this (echoing some of the Primeval discussion I had a couple of weeks ago.)
TV biz 101, and how it affects Primeval
Seeing a bit of confusion over what this all means, and who’s to blame, and what we can do about it. I wanted to help clear things up so all this (wonderful) passionate energy we have for our show will be put to good use.
While I do encourage y’all to express yourselves with letters and petitions and such if you’re so moved, please do aim such efforts in the right direction: ITV. The other production partners have already indicated they’ll go in—pestering them isn’t going to make a difference. ITV is the only holdout, because the show is too expensive v. the money they make on it. And because their share of funding is so large, it simply can’t be done without them. Talking ITV into recommissioning is going to involve convincing them that they’ll make money on the show, and to be completely honest: that ain’t gonna happen (see below as to why.)
Alternatively, if I may gently suggest, you may want to put that letter-writing energy into something that’s much more likely. For instance, you could contact Impossible, and suggest they do s6 in book or graphic-novel form. Or we could all redouble our efforts to get a special-edition DVD box set with a bunch of cool new extras on it. We can get new Primeval stuff if we ask for it. We just won’t be getting a new series of the original, live-action version because ITV isn’t making enough money from it.
Of course, this sucks. Truly. I don’t like it any more than anyone else does, and it breaks my heart that we’re losing this. But I just don’t want us to waste all this great effort on something that won’t pay off. If you don’t understand why this is, or just want a little explanation of how TV funding works (especially wrt Primeval), read on …
Primeval: Gone from TV, but not our hearts
I’m oddly not as devastated as I thought I’d be about the Primeval cancellation. Maybe it hasn’t sunk in, yet, or maybe it’s just that I’ve expected this for so long that it’s not a shock.
One of the difficulties of my profession is that I know a lot more about how entertainment gets produced than the average fan, which kind of gives me a bit of a sixth sense about things being greenlit, cancelled, etc. And I saw the signs of this happening as soon as series 4 had aired on ITV, and they hadn’t quite got the ratings they were hoping for. The last year, for me, has just been waiting for that axe to finally fall, and now that it has, there’s a sense of relief. Not that I’m not grieving, of course, but mostly, I’m just angry that the entertainment biz is the way it is, and that fans really do have so little control over what happens to the things we love.
(Read on for more about how TV ratings work, and why Primeval, specifically, has been doomed for a while. It’s long—sorry!—but I hope you find it a good read.)
Singer of classical stuffs.
Shameless fanthing.Queer/Genderqueer. Feminist. Progressive. Gen X. Northwest snob. Media-deconstruction nerd. Happily married and an adoptive parent of a most excellent baby boy. Endless pontificator on topics both sublime and ridiculous.
Main fandom is Primeval.Also into: Game of Thrones, Sinbad, Arrow, Vikings, Continuum, Leverage, Warehouse 13, Fringe, Criminal Minds, Sherlock, LOTR/The Hobbit, BSG, Lost, Sanctuary, Downton Abbey, The Hour, Being Human (UK), Eureka, Longmire, Merlin, The Borgias, Grimm, Sleepy Hollow, Strike Back, and the MCU. Among other nerdy entertainment delights.