Queerbaiting in media: What it is, why it’s harmful to the LGBTQI+ community, and more
Will they, or won’t they?
Things have been relatively quiet on the Marvel front since 2019. As it turns out, even a mammoth media franchise isn't exempt from the cataclysmic effects of a global pandemic — big-budget films were stalled midway through production; highly-anticipated releases delayed to ensure broader viewership; while cinemas languished in the absence of fresh content. With each passing month bringing about spikes in mutations and infections, tiding things through was no longer a viable solution. And so, Marvel pivoted, dropping two new series' based upon fan-favourite characters who stories were left (largely) unexplored: the genre-defying Wandavision and, more recently, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Both shows habour the typical trappings of a Marvel production. That is, an amalgamation of slickly well-choreographed fight scenes punctuated with moments of levity and wit. The key difference lies, strangely enough, in its rating: while Wandavision was marketed as PG, The Falcon and The Winter Soldier earned a R-rating — supposedly, it seems, for "coarse language" and "violence." Fans were mystified by the development; an oddity considering Marvel's family-friendly label has always been regarded as, well, largely debatable. Theories ran rampant, ranging from logical to ludicrous. The most popular notion, by far: "Maybe Sam and Bucky kiss."
It's not an unreasonable assumption to make. Or to hope for, it seems. Interactions between the two characters first garnered attention in Captain America: Civil War, where fans claimed that the jibes and animosity between the two served as thinly-disguised sexual tension. Far-fetched as it sounds, there was little movement on Marvel's part to dissuade from this narrative — rather, it is encouraged, with the duo put into increasingly romantic situations in the series. Beyond undergoing (literal) couples therapy, both Barnes and Wilson had various heart-to-heart talks; met their respective loved ones; and even rolled into a field clutching each other.
Under more, well, heteronormative circumstances, this would most likely be the set-up to a Netflix-original rom-com. As it is, this is referred to as queerbaiting: where personalities, production companies, or writers tease the possibility of a character or relationship of being queer without actually going through with it. This is done in an effort to appeal to audiences — specifically, the LGBTQI+ folk desperate for any form of representation in media — without alienating the more conservative crowd.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is far from the first series to attempt this. Supernatural and BBC's Sherlock serve as pioneers to this phenomenon, where viewers are misled into thinking that certain characters would enter a same-sex relationship. This is done through deliberate misdirection; coy dialogue, body language, and even musical choices that leave motives up to interpretation. Riverdale's Veronica and Betty, for instance, are constantly depicted holding hands, flirting, and — on one notable occasion — kissing, with the moment quickly being dismissed as an attempt to manipulate their acceptances into a high-school sports team (yeah, seriously).
Naturally, this is an issue that goes beyond hurts feelings. To folks from the LGBTQI+ community, the crux of it doesn't lie in being duped and dissatisfied — it stems from the fact that they are being exploited for views, clicks, and buzz; a tawdry attempt at representing "diversity" without actually committing to it. All of it is worsened by the sexual connotation attached to same-sex relationships, where they are painted as "hot" thanks to their supposed "forbidden" nature.
In short: all of this suggests that LGBTQI+ folk are less deserving of full, developed love stories as compared to their heterosexual counterparts. Some would argue that the fact that this even happening signifies that there has been a step-up with regard to LGBTQI+ representation — that people are actually clamouring to feature such relationships in any capacity is a sign of progression. But is settling for scraps really better than having nothing at all? Let's just say we'd prefer to wait this one out.
Buro 24/7 Selection