Slash Ships Matter
If you have a Twitter account, you’ve probably noticed numerous slash related tags showing up in the US Trends list this week. Earlier in the week the Supernatural ship Destiel (Dean and Castiel) declared themselves a pirate ship and set sail on the open waters with the #USSDestiel tag. Then late Friday night the multi fandom tag #SlashShipsMatter (begun by the Swan Queen fandom) began and received over 10,000 tweets in just under 3 hours. Slash shipping has always been a phenomenon in fandom, but this recent uptick in activity came on the heals of a morale blow to Destiel shipper after the Jus in Bello convention in Rome. The show’s two main actors made some comments that many took as a fatal blow to any chance of their ship becoming canon and, beyond that, came off as belittling to those who even ship it casually. Not everyone has taken their comments to be the death knell of the ship, but enough have interpreted it as such that morale across all of many social media communities has hit an all time low. These trending events have brought people together, boosted morale, and opened up the discussion about slash’s place in media across numerous fandoms.
While the #USSDestiel tag was mostly a party zone and a place to celebrate one pairing, the #SlashShipsMatter tag has become a haven for serious discussion about slash pairings in general. Many people in the tag expressed their appreciation that slash fandom exists because it’s allowed them a place to explore their own sexuality and find characters to identify with. In a world where most characters are straight until proven gay, queer readings of characters have become extraordinarily important for those trying to find an outlet to express themselves. For bisexuals, bi readings of characters have also become important as our sexuality is often defined by the outside world by who we are currently dating or expressing interest in at any given moment. Seeing characters as gay or bisexual makes them relatable on a different level and fills the representation void left by mass media.
Representation matters a great deal to marginalized groups. The vast majority of people that scoff at the idea of needing representation in the media often belong to groups that are already largely represented. When Whoopi Goldberg was a child, seeing a black woman on TV inspired her profoundly. At the moment, queer representation on TV usually comes in the form of rarely seen secondary characters or members of large ensemble casts. Even then, the numbers are quite low compared with the actual queer community. Shows that do have queer protagonists are largely produced outside of the US and are somewhat difficult to find on American TV. Queer representation on TV just isn’t where it should be and slash fiction has provided an important safe space for many people.
The tags haven’t been an outlet used by only members of the LGB+ community, but by everyone who feels that these ships have a place alongside heterosexual pairings in public spaces. Many have brought up the point that opposite-sex ships are not given the same scrutiny has same-sex ships. If you see a man and a woman in a show and feel that they should be in a relationship, it’s a lot easier to express that idea and still have respect, whereas expressing and interest in two men or two women often has a heavy stigma attached. Slash shippers are told that a character “isn’t gay,” while completely ignoring the possibility of bisexuality or repressed homosexuality. Fans are told that that shipping should “stay in fandom” when heterosexual pairings are discussed openly at conventions, with creators, and in other public forums with hardly any repercussions. Worst of all is the extreme amount of homophobic and biphobic commentary that comes with defending that a slash ship or queer reading of a character is wrong. I’ve seen people state that a character is “too manly” or has “only dated chicks,” therefore they could not possibly interested in being with another man. These type of double standards and queerphobic defenses hurt those who find acceptance in the slash community. It makes us feel like we’re still outsiders and should be kept quiet.
Not all has been negative on the slash shipper front, though. The season finale of Hannibal essentially made Hannigram (Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter) canon. Hannibal planned on running away with Will and their defacto adopted daughter. He began intimately touching Will’s face as he outlined their plans in a scene that could very easily be read as romantic. Of course, this romantic moment was cut short when Hannibal essentially gutted Will, but he did cradle him sweetly as he began to bleed out all over the floor. On the surface that doesn’t sound very romantic, and indeed Hannigram is an extremely dark ship, but fans were given their ship in canon for a few good seconds before the extraordinarily dark narrative tore them apart. It’s sad, yes, but that ship sailed for a few good seconds. That’s more than what most slash ships get.
The creators and cast of Hannibal have always been extremely accepting of slash shippers, even politely answering questions at last year’s Comic Con. They’ve always treated queer readings of their characters as a valid way to interpret things, culminating in a relationship that was just a kiss shy of being explicitly canon. Will and Hannibal’s strong feelings for one another has been stated overtly both outside the narrative and within it, and now we have a scene that was so intimate that most people expected them to kiss on screen. They may have if Hannibal hadn’t jammed a knife into Will’s abdomen, but the point still stands that it’s one of the most canon-without-kissing slash ships sailing on the open waters of the Internet at the moment. The creators, actors, and social media team all encourage shippers and talk to us with the same respect that heterosexual pairings receive on other shows. It’s refreshing and incredibly unique.
While Hannibal has treated their slash shippers with a lot of respect, most other shows have failed to show an accepting attitude towards those who choose to pursue queer readings of their shows. The #SlashShipsMatter tag has been filled by mostly Destiel shippers and Swan Queen shippers (Regina and Emma from Once Upon a Time), who had a similar incident last December, but many other ships joined the discussion as well. Shippers from many fandoms began to realize it’s the same thing happening all across the board and began to unite with the message that all ships should be treated equally in public discussions. Not everyone in the tag was hoping for their ships to go canon, but almost everyone hoped for at least respect and equal treatment from fellow fans, show creators, and actors. It’s clear that most slash shippers aren’t happy with being forced to treat their ships as something “weird” and would like to participate in discussions regardless of the orientation of their chosen ship. Will these trending events make a difference in the long run? It’s hard to say, but it’s certainly united people and given slash shippers a much needed morale boost. While I do hope these movements are noticed by show runners, I’m at least grateful that spirits have been lifted and serious discussion has been started on the topic.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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38 thoughts on “Slash Ships Matter”
Great article. First of all, I love how you write about Hannigram with such dry, dark humor. 🙂 It seems to fit the ship perfectly as far as I can tell, not being in that fandom myself. Thank you for taking it seriously what a blow the Destiel fandom received, while also seeing the bigger perspective about where slash shipping is going in general. The Twitter trending events seem to indicate that slash shippers are truly coming out of the closet and will no longer stand for being silenced and shamed. No one owes it to us to make our ships canon, but they do owe it to us to be able to discuss it in a civil way.
They are my dark, dry, guilt ship. And I love them dearly. I’ll ship them guiltily to the end of the earth. 😉
Thanks for your comments.
At the same time, it’s worth noting that slash interpretations aren’t the ONLY interpretations that exists in a show. People should absolutely not be belittled for interpreting a relationship as romance just because it’s between two men – but casual accusations of homophobia towards the actors and other fans for having different interpretations of the characters is also rather unfair, and not conducive to the conversation. This unfortunately happens a lot in fandom discussions, and takes away from the argument significantly.
This feels exactly like when you’re trying to talk about rape culture and you get the tired response “But not all men…”. It feels like an attempt at derailing. The article isn’t saying that slash interpretations are the only interpretations, nor mentioning or implying anything about homophobia. You’re setting up straw men and attacking those, instead of discussing the actual article.
Absolutely, which is why nowhere did I state that slash interpretations are the only interpretations of these characters. I don’t think anyone I know has actually made that argument. Not interpreting a character as queer does not make one homophobic, however your reasoning for not interpreting a character as queer certainly can. “He’s slept with women” is a biphobic argument against a queer reading. I’ve slept with men. Does that mean that I’m straight? Absolutely not. “He’s too manly.” That’s homophobic and sexist. I’m feminine, but I’ve been with women. Stating “I just don’t read this character as queer” is not in and of itself homophobic or biphobic. It’s your personal opinion. However backing it up with biphobic, homophobic, or sexist arguments is extremely problematic.
Oh, absolutely. I didn’t mean to imply that you are calling alternative interpretations homophobic in your article, which you most certainly did not. I was referring to what is currently happening in fandom. This issue often gets so heated that a lot of the accusations flying around detracts from valid points being made. There are definitely people calling J2 homophobic for their interpretation of Dean and Cas’ relationship (even though it is also a valid interpretation), and people calling other fans homophobic for “not seeing what is obviously onscreen in front of their eyes”, and so on. I think this is contributing to a lot of the animosity towards shippers in fandom right now, which is unfortunate. It’s a topic that needs to be approached with more sensitivity on both sides.
It was profoundly comforting seeing such a wonderful response all over Twitter and Tumblr. While I feel that it is not always needed to force a character into a particular sexuality due to the need for equal representation (mostly I feel it comes off as insincere), it is incredibly important for viewers too see that they are not being taken advantage of or demonized for their viewpoints. As a deticated shipper of Slash pairings (not because of simple desire to see them as such, but because chemistry and plot made me ridiculously hard to ignore) I would love to see more writers and channels embrace their characters and the paths they could go down, instead of attaching further stigma to an already challenged fandom. As for the Destiel ship going down, J2 have a right to their opinions and are not subject to our ridicule as they are entitled to the same ideas as Shippers are. I’m sure it has been incredibly frustrating for them as well and we would all do more good respecting them for their beliefs and they do ours. In this way, all of us can share a truly more Profound Bond 🙂
Hopefully this hasn’t been overly hard to read (go iPhone!).
Disagreeing specifically about Dean/Cas as a romantic pairing is not necessarily the same as being dismissive of all slash ships in general though. I personally think it would be wildly out of character for both characters – especially Dean. I’m well aware that others disagree, and I think both are valid interpretations, and NEITHER side should be demonized. The actors are in a difficult position, and I do feel kind of bad for them too. When Misha made pro-Destiel comments in the past, he was accused of queerbaiting. When Jensen/Jared said anti-Destiel things, they get accused of homophobia. How are they supposed to discuss this topic? I’m sure someone in the comment section will be able to come up with a good, diplomatic response – but I know that if I was put on the spot like that, I wouldn’t be able to come up with one. I absolutely agree it should be discussed with more sensitivity by the actors, but I find it hard to blame them too much when I know I myself wouldn’t be able to do it better. I don’t envy them their jobs.
I don’t think bringing up alternative viewpoints/context is “derailing” as some suggest, but mileage varies.
You are perfectly entitled to disagree about certain ships, but it’s the mass dismissal of slash shipping in general that’s the problem. It’s the idea that it’s something gross that should be kept quiet and not discussed that is hugely problematic.
As far as what actors and creators say on the topic, the Hannibal actors and creators reacted perfectly to the questions. Hugh Dancy said that he “didn’t see it as romantic, but I’m not going to take that away from you.” That is beautifully stated, truthful, and not hurtful to anyone. Perhaps they rehearsed their responses ahead of time, which is interesting because Hannibal was only around for one season at that point whereas Supernatural has been around for ten. I feel like they should have had a diplomatic response prepared. If Hannibal’s cast and crew could respond diplomatically, why couldn’t Supernatural’s cast do the same? It’s really unfortunate.
“If Hannibal’s cast and crew could respond diplomatically, why couldn’t Supernatural’s cast do the same? It’s really unfortunate.”
Exactly. Where the hell is the PR department for SPN? Do they even have one? They lack cohesion and it shows. People think I walked away because of my ship? Naw. I walked away because they’ve got no idea what they’re doing. How can I trust a show like that? I used to work for the most screwed up corporation possible but at least they could handle pr and customer service. jesus this is just goddamn sad.
Supernatural has so many PR blunders it’s really concerning. Especially on Twitter. I don’t blame the network publicist, Suzanne Gomez, because she’s always really responsive and kind to people, but someone on dropping the ball on PR.
I’ve got to disagree that Hannigram was made canon.
There have been a lot of mixed messages from the cast and crew of the series and the finale didn’t really clear anything up except to make it look like fans have been repeatedly queerbaited.
Creatives telling fans it’s okay to interpret their work any way they like is good, but hinting the potential for a slash pairing that will never actually happen (and not merely because one butchered the other) isn’t.
In an April interview, Bryan Fuller stated: “I’m not sure about Hannibal. I think Hannibal is a very broadly spectrumed human being/fallen angel, who probably is capable and interested in everything humanity has to offer. Whereas Will Graham is very definitely heterosexual, but that does not necessarily prevent us from a homoerotic subtext. It’s practically text in a couple of episodes just because we really want to explore the intimacy of these two men in an unexpected way without sexualizing them, but including a perception of sexuality that the cinema is actually portraying to the audience more than the characters are.” – http://www.thebacklot.com/bryan-fuller-breaks-down-the-homoerotic-charge-of-hannibal/04/2014/
Essentially, in that interview Mr Fuller covered up queerbaiting tactics by saying that it’s okay to show two heterosexual men having homoerotic tension to explore their unique friendship and that at least Hannibal isn’t restricted to heterosexuality.
He made those statements on April 22.
As fans increased their questions about queerbaiting and/or Will and Hannibal being more, he backtracked on May 2nd and said he thought of both men as “clearly heterosexual.” He said made that statement confusing by saying that he didn’t want them to be gay “necessarily” and “they do terrible, terrible things to each other and I don’t think that’s a healthy role model for gay culture!”
He then went on: “But it’s hard to deny the intimacy between these two men, and as the season progresses that gets really… not explicit, but clearer and clearer. We do things that are so suggestive of physical intimacy, but yet only suggestive. Because I think that’s part of the draw, and part of my fascination with heterosexual male friendships – they have this element of brotherhood that is so intimate and so close, and yet it doesn’t cross physical boundaries in terms of… I guess penetration! But there are a lot of brotherly hugs and acknowledgement of the closeness of this relationship, without necessarily crossing that line. – http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/s225/hannibal/interviews/a568139/bryan-fuller-qa-will-hannibal-subtext-is-like-cinematic-fellatio.html#~oFSp1GzC0xWBiy
As someone another person commented after the AV Club review of the finale: “All my best friendships have a heavy homoerotic subtext. That’s how friendship works, right?”
After Mr. Fuller’s statements in the Digital Spy article, he then discussed Alana, called the Will and Hannibal relationship a bromance and said that she is the woman between them.
He added right after: “We’ve had dinner scenes where we shoot things so intimately then I’m like, ‘OK, we are delivering the equivalent of cinematic fellatio, but they’ve got their clothes on, and they’re sitting at a dinner table.’ We definitely don’t shy away from it, because I think it’s fascinating and it’s titillating, but we stop just short of kissing and penetration!”
A lot of people, myself included, have argued that this is queerbaiting at its finest.
It’s masked in vague, contradictory and confusing statements and claims that any “homoerotic subtext” is reflective of art exploring human behavior and ideas of implied sexual intimacy without there being a sexual attraction.
The fact that he went on record to say he thinks of both men as heterosexual means that Hannigram isn’t canon no matter how it looked in the end unless he goes back on record and says otherwise. And really, as it stands, even though both men had sex with women, there’s still confusion caused by the “homoerotic subtext.” There’s no indication of Will’s preferences beyond his attraction to Alana (i.e. whether he might be open to bisexuality). He has sex with a lesbian while imagining?? both Hannibal and Alana. We have Hannibal who has sex with Alana and apparently appreciates her beauty along with that of Bedelia. Yet, viewers are also subjected to him clearly expressing onscreen an affection for Will that goes beyond a bromance and seems to go beyond his affection for either of the women he’s shown interest in. Additionally, there is the comparison to Achilles and Patroclus who historically were thought of as lovers by many.
So, I don’t want to dash the Hannigram hopes or the belief that the Hannibal creative team has been more understanding then the creative teams for Supernatural and Sherlock, BUT it could be argued that they’ve merely had plenty examples from SPN and Sherlock of how not to act and are better at playing the queerbaiting game so far beyond a few missteps as pointed out.
I completely respect that disagreement. It’s why I don’t categorize it as 100% canon, but essentially canon or the closest canon we have without a kiss. I have not read the interview where he refers to then as heterosexual. I have bad coverage at the moment but I will read it when I get into a better coverage zone. Discounting that particular interview I do stand by my careful phrasing, but I do see your viewpoint and respect that, especially given the interview I have not read.
Hi, and first off, excellent article! Everything about this is spot on in what I feel about slash ships in general. I was just wondering, is there any way to mention that the #slashshipsmatter idea was started in the swanqueen fandom? There’s only one mention of us in the article, and seems kind of weird and out of place without that context. (I don’t have access to the source on my phone, but can get it easily on my laptop if you want a link.)
A link would definitely be appreciated. As I’m not in the Swanqueen fandom and only follow Supernatural people, the people I saw first start tweeting it were Destiel shippers. When I began watching the tag, the vast majority of the tweets I saw were Destiel shippers and then it appeared as though Swanqueen joined in later, but I could very well be mistaken. My view on events could be skewed simply by who I follow and the volume of tweets from my fandom when I began watching the tag.
Sorry to make you dig out your laptop, but I do appreciate accuracy and would love to be able to correct this oversight with a source. Thank you so much for being willing to provide it for me!
This would be one of the links that started it.
Great article! 🙂 I would have loved to read more about the femslash part of “SlashShipsMetter” though (after all, femslashers started it!)…about the Swan Queen fandom, were people get bullied and threatend by the rest of their fandom on a daily basis… about Rizzoli and Isles with its blatant, unabashed queer baiting ….about Warehouse 13, where show runner Jack “this show is not about relationships” Kenny rather shoves the two het main characters together in the series’ last couple of episodes than let the beautifully grown friendship/relationship of Bering and Wells evolve into something more.
I’m very happy this topic got covered by The Geekiary, but please don’t forget about the the femslash, okay? 😉
I hope you guys don’t think that was a slight against you guys. I was unaware of the movement until it showed up on my dashboard and I’m used to trending events being pretty spontaneous and difficult to source. It wasn’t an intentional oversight. I looked at the tag, saw that it was mostly Destiel shippers, which is the ship that I have ties with, and went from there. So I do apologize for leaving you guys out. I hope you understand it wasn’t an intentional snub on my part.
I’m sure it was unintentional :)(Swan Queen fans will chuckle though when they hear this word, because the show runners call the chemistry between our pairing “unintentional”). As I said, I’m very happy and grateful about your article because it’s such an important matter in many fandoms!
The “don’t forget about the femslash” was a more general plea – just keep it in mind for the next article. 😉
Thanks again though for writing this one! 🙂
Haha, woops! I’ll avoid the word “unintentional” when discussing Swan Queen in the future ha. I’m very glad you enjoyed it and I’m happy your event was such a success.
Just found this on tumblr… I love statistics 🙂
Warning: This is VERY long, probably not well-writen, and has spoilers for Hannibal s2x13 finale Mizumono
I want to thank you for the Hannibal portion of this article! While I disagree with the people who have called what Bryan has said “queerbaiting at it’s finest”, I suppose I can understand *why* they would see it, but I don’t see it like that at all. I went into watching this show trying my hardest not to ship them (I should’ve known that would fail), because cannibalism has always squeaked me out more than anything else.
So I watched the show and I failed *spectacularly*. By this time, I had already heard how the series (book series, obviously) ended and even just *knowing* what the show was about, I didn’t expect Hannigram to *actually* happen. And I’m okay with that. I really and truly am. It does not take away anything from their relationship in the slightest.
Also, while I’m on this point, I think what Hannigram is, while they are both supposedly completely “heterosexual” (though I imagine Hannibal less so, tbh), sexuality is a spectrum. We all *know* this. And by all the actors and Bryan, Hannibal and Will’s relationship has been described as “love”. Crazy, messed up, sick, and twisted love, but a love of sort nonetheless.
In fact, Bryan said it was almost as if Hannibal was “falling in love for the first time” with Will Graham and that’s part of why Hannibal reacted so badly to Will’s betrayal. Hugh has said he doesn’t see their relationship as sexual, although I’m sure all three of them–Bryan, Mads, and Hugh–have called their relationship very “romantic” in some way. Hannibal and Will will always be obsessed with each other.
I do not feel like Bryan was queerbaiting us (and let’s not even get started on the ridiculous notion that if lesbians have sex with a man, it somehow negates them being a lesbian), and I don’t feel queerbaited in the least. I do not expect Hannibal and Will to ever be together like *that*. And I don’t care. I don’t need it. Hannigram is already canon.
And before someone says “they’re not canon”–let me explain. No, they are not canon in the traditional sense. They are not canon that Blaine and Kurt of Glee, for instance, are canon. But at the same time, the two of them love each other. We can sit around and debate how they love each other, but is anyone really going to deny that they *do*? Is anyone going to try and deny that Hannibal was searching for someone who could understand him, really understand him, and not run away screaming, or try and kill him or get him arrested?
Will didn’t run away screaming from him. He did try to kill him, but I think… the fantasies of killing Hannibal are one thing. The act of killing is so passionate, but I don’t think he wanted Hannibal dead, at least not towards the end of season 2. (“You would take my life.” “No…not your life,” “My freedom then! You would take that from me.”)
At the end, he still wasn’t sure what he was going to do. He warned Hannibal and as Bryan said that could be for multiple reasons, but I firmly believe that at least a part of it was that he wanted Hannibal to run. As suggested by “You were supposed to *leave*…” “We couldn’t leave without you,”
When Will said that, you can *feel* the pain in his voice. He wanted Hannibal gone at that moment, at least. He couldn’t stand the idea of him being locked up in prison, but he couldn’t go with him. He couldn’t let himself fall even further than he already had.
Will had his gun. He could have shot Hannibal. After what he’d done to Jack, Alana, to Abigail, to *him*…he could have, and he’d be perfectly entitled to it. But he didn’t. Because a part of him *loves* Hannibal and Hannibal loves him (again, the sort of “love” can be up for debate but it is *there*, no denying. I don’t think its possible to deny that).
I feel like Hannigram is canon, even if not in the traditional sense. And I feel like Bryan, Mads, Hugh, *everyone* has handled the questions of Hannigram amazingly well. Hell, I don’t think anyone ships Hannigram harder than Bryan, except perhaps Mads (have you read his interviews about Hannibal?).
This got quite long-winded and I’m sorry about that. No show, no fandom, has ever made me so passionate about something as the Hannibal fandom. We have the best people ever working on a show I love everything about. <3
I absolutely adore when people write respectful long winded novel length comments on my articles. Especially about topics I feel equally passionate about. I agree with you very much. Thanks for reading and dropping this lovely note <3
Hi Angel: Please note that I was referring to Megan as “you” in the beginning and not you.
No problem. Respectful disagreement is absolutely fine. I’m just happy people are talking openly about the issue. While I may not agree with all of your points, I’m happy that you can discuss them here. 🙂
Let me say that I respect everyone’s right to their opinions, but since you repeatedly made references to my comment and made several assumptions about what I meant, I feel I have to respond — if only so I’m not thought of as some sort of entitled fan, or worse yet, someone who has this “ridiculous notion” that lesbians can’t have sex with men (btw, that’s not what I meant. I was pointing out the mixed messages in relation to what many have seen as queerbaiting).
As for my experience with this topic and television:
I don’t go into viewing a show expecting a slash pairing. I certainly didn’t go into viewing Hannibal expecting a slash relationship between Will and Hannibal. I personally was looking forward to Mr. Fuller getting the rights to Clarice Starling and didn’t know anything about his interview statements about a Hannibal and Will love story, Hannibal’s sexual openness (later retracted), et cetera. I didn’t find out about these issues until I noticed a pattern of repeated and seemingly unnecessary homoerotic elements in Season 2 that matched the pattern of queerbaiting that I’ve seen in other shows. I then investigated and saw that other fans were frustrated, disappointed or confused by it as well and read mixed messages in interviews and social media.
During Season 1, I had actually disbelieved accusations of queerbaiting that were made by some fans and argued that it seemed like they were misinterpreting what they saw onscreen.
So, please don’t anyone think for a moment that I go into a show hoping that the male or female leads will become lovers.
All of that said…
A writer over at the Daily Dot tried to define queerbaiting with the statement that “characters behave or interact in ways that make it seem as if they are canonically gay or bisexual.”
The problem is that many people view homoerotic subtext with heterosexual characters (or characters we’re later told are heterosexual) as separate from the queerbaiting issue because viewers are told up front or down the line that the characters will never have sex. The writer of the Daily Dot article also made it seem like behavior and interaction between the two characters are the only tactics used in a pattern of queerbaiting.
First, the sexuality doesn’t have to be openly canon for queerbaiting to take place. Queerbaiting can take place even if a character’s sexuality is never openly dealt with onscreen. Additionally, queerbaiting often includes portrayals of secondary characters seriously or humorously implying that the two characters are or could become more.
Queerbaiting is a pattern that involves teasing fans with homoerotic or broad sexualized elements via dialogue, action, lighting, music and/or off screen in social media to create anticipation of more and evoke the sense of sexuality (without there being a sexual relationship) between characters that the PTB never had any intention of making bisexual or anything else. It’s a pattern of winks and nods followed often by mixed messages or statements of denial.
I personally didn’t want to believe queerbaiting was taking place in Hannibal Season 2, BUT when that pattern revealed itself onscreen and off screen it was very hard for me to ignore.
To reiterate: queerbaiting can take place whether a fan expects to see an implied slash relationship become canon on screen. That’s why it’s called “baiting.” Yes, certain types of fans are baited, but that doesn’t mean all of those fans actually expect anything to happen. After all, in the case of many LGBTQI viewers, there has been such poor representation of their experience onscreen, why would many of them who have become repeatedly disappointed expect it?
Of course, that brings up the question: Why is queerbaiting even something that should be discussed in relation to SlashShipsMatter?
If there is no other positive LGBTQI representation in a show, baiting fans with homoerotic elements between characters that will never “go there” or who are extremely damaged or in a harmful relationship can actually make some LGBTQI viewers feel as if their experiences are worthless and they are somehow less than or wrong. The mass confusion caused by queerbaiting tactics used with characters who are massively screwed up can imply, unintentionally, that anyone who isn’t heterosexual is somehow deviant.
Mr. Fuller stated that he couldn’t think of Hannibal and Will as gay because, again, he didn’t think that they would be a healthy role model for gay culture. By never completely clearing up the matter of each man’s sexuality on screen after they both slept with women (i.e. increased the homoerotic elements so much onscreen that they appeared, as some here have viewed it, as essentially canon Hannigram), and offering up mixed messages in interviews and social posts, Mr. Fuller implied a slash pairing. Worse yet, he created a subconscious connection between slash pairing and unhealthy relationships.
It doesn’t matter that he was merely portraying Hannibal Lecter as a crazy cannibal and serial killer or Will as a screwed up empath. He chose to associate homoerotic behavior to these two men. So, if his big concern was that he couldn’t think of them as gay because he didn’t want to make a negative comparison… well… here we are. If he was worried about poor LGBTQI representation… here we are.
So… queerbaiting is important to this topic because there is no reason to increasing use homoerotic elements to explore the love between two heterosexual men in a deep friendship or bromance unless to keep certain fans watching and draw interest.
I could just as easily have believed that Hannibal loved Will in a non-sexual yet deep devoted manner without ever seeing a comparison to Achilles and Patroklus, the teacup discussion that for those who read the books implies sexual interest on Hannibal’s part, the use of the word courtship, the romantic tropes (I’ll forgive everything if you run away with me right now… I’ll save you even though you’ve done horrible things), romantic music during sensual moments, dining actions that reflect certain sexual actions, et cetera.
Recently, I read an article in which Bryan Fuller proclaimed that Hannibal and Will were murder husbands in that moment in which they were watching Mason Verger cut off his face. How can anyone deny mixed messages with this show when one moment Mr. Fuller describes the two characters as “clearly” heterosexual and then the next talks about them being murder husbands, which is a fan term that implies not simply a deep friendship or bromance, but a sexual relationship (or the future possibility of one)? Now, I’m sure someone will then argue that you can be married and not have sex, but… seriously?
The beauty of queerbaiting tactics is that those who use them know that they can, if/when caught, fall back on very broad interpretations of their works. Queerbaiting takes advantage of the fact that many people see things differently. Those who do it can go ahead and take two heterosexual men or women and add homoerotic elements again and again and again… and then say, “I was exploring the very edge of a specific type of relationship” or “It wasn’t intentional” or “I said off screen that these characters aren’t gay.”
Mr. Fuller also mentioned in another interview that the show is doing very well in Asia. Well, queerbaiting is extremely popular in certain areas of Asia. In fact, the show has been somewhat marketed internationally with that in mind.
So, again, I understand that many people don’t see a pattern of queerbaiting. All I can say to them is that doesn’t mean that the many fans who do are only imagining it or blowing things out of proportion — especially when a similar pattern pops up across different shows.
I also find it interesting that so many people immediately have strong comments or misinterpret my statements about this topic when I use the word “queerbaiting.”
Some people have argued that the term should be “slashbaiting.”
Well, slashbaiting implies that only slash fiction writers and readers have seen this pattern of queerbaiting in Hannibal, Sherlock, Supernatural and other shows. It also diminishes just how harmful and harsh the practice is to certain viewers and to LGBTQI representation.
I can’t even begin to count the many times since I became aware of the term queerbaiting and the pattern of it that I’ve read stories by fans of different shows who witnessed the pattern and stated that it hurt them because they saw what they initially thought was positive representation (bisexual, transsexual, questioning, etc), or ANY representation, and were joyful only to then watch as creatives pulled back and said, “No. You’re misinterpreting our work. We never meant for our characters to be anything other than heterosexual” even as those same intelligent fans saw the same pattern popping up in other shows.
Then, of course, there’s the horror of seeing this pattern pop up in a work that involves creatives who are gay. For some fans, watching creatives from the LGBTQI community add homoerotic elements, imply that more will happen in future episodes and/or perform actions/make statements that suggest representation and then retract and deny all of it… has completely shattered their expectations of ever being represented equally or positively in the TV entertainment industry.
THAT is why SlashShipsMatter. THAT is why “queerbaiting” is the right term.
Note: Someone may ask also why I’m so passionate about this topic.
Beyond the fact that I simply don’t enjoy being teased this way, I was attacked repeatedly online recently for suggesting that queerbaiting happened in Hannibal and for using term “queerbaiting.” I have been cursed at and called names. I’ve had my words twisted to make it seem like I’m putting all the blame at the feet of one or two creatives or that I wouldn’t be this passionate if the issue involved baiting about a heterosexual relationship that goes nowhere (Of course, that too was wrong. I’ve actually dropped shows that repeatedly implied the possibility of a heterosexual relationship and then didn’t follow through).
That’s the other very important reason why #SlashShipsMatter and why #queerbaiting needs to be talked about instead of excused away with claims of “fan entitlement,” “misinterpretation” and “It’s just homoerotic subtext.”
Correction to the above:
“He chose to associate homoerotic ‘elements’ to these two men.”
I saw your comment and your remark of “queerbaiting at it’s finest” and did use that in my post, although I want you to know I wasn’t really meaning you in specificness, but when I saw you write that, I remembered seeing a couple of others saying it (though not many. I’m not sure, but every time I look through the Hannibal-related tags on anything, I find mostly only positive things to be said about Bryan and Hannibal. I’ve been lucky to not come across anything negative for the most part).
I see you mentioned being attacked for using that term and I think that’s purely *wrong*. Nobody should be attacked for something they believe, on either side of the debate. And I used “ridiculous notion” to describe the backlash of Margot having sex with Will, perhaps that was harsh wording, but watching through the episode, I understood automatically what Margot was trying to do. I can see why people would be upset about it, but this is first and foremost a television show. It’s a story meant for entertainment. If it was trying to be politically correct or tackle issues like Glee often does, then it would just be *awful*.
I like that it’s being written as it should be. As a story in which the plot comes first. It made perfect sense to me everything that Bryan and the other writers have done thus far.
I think “queerbaiting” is all perception. Because I’ve come across a few who think it and most who don’t. Either way, I don’t think Bryan is intentionally queerbaiting. I think he’s just telling the story as he sees it. He called Hannigram “Murder husbands” because that’s what the *fans* call Hannibal and dark!Will and we all realize just how very involved everyone on the Hannibal team is with the Hannibal fandom.
They interact with us on twitter, on tumblr, they follow our fanart. I love it. I suppose it just depends on the person. I don’t feel its queerbaiting because I’ve not ever once thought it could possibly happen and I’ve always been okay with that. I’m perfectly fine with the *wonderful* fanfiction people write (and I have to say this, the Hannibal fandom as far as fanworks go has got to be one of the fandoms that reign supreme. Everything is beautiful, the art, the writings, the videos, *everything*.
I don’t know. I just get a different feel from the Hannibal production team (especially Bryan) than I do for say, the Supernatural production team which is something I don’t want to get into (though I don’t feel nearly as queerbaited as most Destiel fans seem to. Probably because, again, I never actually believed Destiel even had the slightest chance of happening…although, those last two episodes made me believe it somewhat. I will say that I do think that if Cas or Dean were a girl…it probably most definitely would’ve happened by now).
I do see your points, although I still don’t believe it was ever Bryan’s intentions to queerbait in anyway. I think Bryan’s passion for the project he’s working on and Mads and Hugh’s *perfect chemistry* seep into all of this. I love Hannibal and I love Bryan Fuller for what he’s done with it, for Hannibal and Will’s relationship. Everything I read about what he says about them just makes me love them more.
Still, I think its all perspective. Everything is all perspective. To be honest, we have no idea what Bryan is thinking. That’s okay, I want to be surprised. But I respect your opinions and hope you can respect mine. =) And I’m glad this is a pleasant debate (I’m not sure what else I can call it). I’ve been in the middle of some wars before, though I try not to be, and its so stressful, I hate it.
It’d be so much simpler and better if people could just… respectful of everyone else. Fandom drama has got to be some of the worst drama ever. All I want to do is obsess over a brilliant show, read fanfiction (and perhaps write some–more–myself), and talk to people about how much we love this *thing*. I mean, is that really so much to ask?
I agree that there is a lot of fandom drama and that some of it is unnecessary.
Yet, in regards to queerbaiting, I’ve come to see it as more than merely a fan wish fulfillment issue or fandom drama. If only a small group of people saw this pattern, I might think it was actually because a group was so desperate for a pair to hook up that they went overboard. BUT, this pattern that I’ve mentioned… it’s being seen by people who didn’t expect, and in a lot of cases, didn’t even want it.
I usually comment after articles or tweet when I’m upset about this topic, but after the attacks I posted more about the pattern of queerbaiting and my thoughts in a followup (link in the OP notes) here: http://jherara.tumblr.com/post/86938561158/queerbaiting-denials-and-the-obvious-pattern-the#note-container
Although I would like creatives to always be able to present their stories as they see fit (and believe they can if they go the crowdfunding rather than traditional project route), I understand how the TV industry works and I know that no one creative who follows the traditional TV production path is in complete control of the final outcome on screen or in the marketing. At the same time, because creatives choose the traditional TV production route and some are responsible for their interview responses and social posts, I can’t just sit back and say that they’re not complicit when the pattern emerges.
I also sincerely don’t want to force political correctness down the throats of creatives. In fact, one of the people who attacked me kept saying that I was trying to do exactly that. Honestly, I was just stating my opinion about why I didn’t completely enjoy the Hannibal finale.
But since those attacks happened, I’ve really had to think about why all of this upsets me so much. I’m now very much of the opinion that it’s absolutely necessary in the entertainment industry for something to change in regards to using homoerotic elements to enhance heterosexual relationships for the purpose of teasing fans. Call it a political agenda or not. It’s my personal feeling about this topic.
Many of the rights we enjoy today resulted because of people dealing head on with social issues and representation on television.
I think about African American and women’s rights and how television was critical in changing how people treat both groups and continues to be very important when it comes to their rights. I think about the popular use of black face in entertainment years ago.
How many African Americans today would be fine if the practice of white men dressed in black face came back in entertainment? It’s happened a little, but nothing like the “black face” caricatures of the past.
If African Americans today complained would they be considered crazy or delusional? Would they be told to just get over it and enjoy the show?
Of course not.
Yet, here we are with a similar issue on television — an entire group of people being represented as either a joke, something to be mocked or so unimportant that their experience is portrayed by heterosexual actors or in part as homoerotic elements woven into the stories of heterosexual characters.
To me, the issue isn’t only about fans feeling lied to (ALTHOUGH that IS a big part of the issue), but about abusing or twisting the LGBTQI experience to generate buzz and $$$.
I can understand those who don’t see it. After all, it’s a matter of experiences, perspective and exposure.
On the other hand, as I explored this further I did begin to find more fans who were complaining than I initially thought existed.
I was also hit really in the gut by another pattern I noticed: Over time, I realized that people who upvoted my comments about this subject were almost always “Guests” on Disqus or elsewhere — especially if my comments were being attacked.
What does it say about the world in which we live if someone who agrees with you only feels they can do so by remaining anonymous? Is it because they’re scared of also being attacked? Is it because they’re worried about what people will think of them for agreeing?
You mentioned that if either Dean or Cas were a girl then it probably would have happened by now. That really is another aspect of this issue. Would the PTB tell fans who saw great chemistry between Dean and a girl Cas onscreen that they’re seeing things or delusional?
Yes. In SOME cases.
BUT, how many times did fans love onscreen chemistry between het male and female friends, voiced their opinion loudly and the PTB took it all the way? Isn’t that an example of “fan entitlement”??? Apparently not since that very situation has created some of the greatest, most-loved relationships on screen. For example: Booth and Bones and Castle and Kate…
How many times has someone voiced frustration about baiting involving a het m/f friendship and received overwhelming online support? Yet, when it’s this vague hetero uncertainty situation that queerbaiting tactics create… there’s almost immediately a backlash against those who feel frustrated.
I read a recap on BuddyTV abou the The Penny Dreadful kiss last night between Ethan and Dorian. Following it was a poll asking for viewer opinions about the two. 42 percent of responded “No, just no.” about them. I would love to know just how many of the respondents were people who feel the kiss/situation didn’t make sense for the plot and how many were against it because it was a gay kiss???
As I told someone else, I’m actually happy to a degree for those who don’t see any pattern of queerbaiting — it means they can enjoy these shows without cringing, without frustration and without feeling marginalized.
I’ve reached a point where I can’t anymore. I saw it with Supernatural. I saw it with Sherlock. Now, S2 of Hannibal.
So, as much as I don’t want to force some sort of political correctness down the throats of creatives, I also don’t feel that I or anyone else should accept living in a world where this particular form of discrimination in entertainment should be the status quo — especially if it means that I can’t even comment about the topic in one or two sentences in passing as an opinion (referring to what happened previously) without being attacked.
Anywho, I’m really hopeful that I won’t have to go through this with any future seasons of shows I still watch or new shows. Fingers crossed. As I mentioned elsewhere, the only solution for me might be to not read interviews or social posts at all and binge watch a season and judge it on it’s own merits.
Sadly, even doing that, I probably would have still dumped SPN after S8 and Sherlock after S2 because the queerbaiting was fairly obvious and distracting to me by then.
As much as I love Hannibal… I don’t know. I guess I can only hope that by this time next year I won’t still feel so tired and disgusted because of the whole the experience and I’ll be willing to give Mr. Fuller and his crew’s vision a second chance.
Also sorry, I feel like I explain myself so awfully! My thoughts are jumbled usually so I just type down whatever comes to mind. Thankfully my fics are much more coherent (I think).
It’s fine. You’re explanation is very clear.
“Many have brought up the point that opposite-sex ships are not given the same scrutiny has same-sex ships.”
When people ship straight characters that aren’t canon, it’s usually accepted by the fans/actors/writers/etc as just an alternative ship to canon. But make it two dudes or two chicks and suddenly you get comments about how it’s “ruining the show” or how it’s “making the show about something it’s not” or how it’s a “twisted” way of looking at things and we’re “watching [the show] for the wrong reasons” (cough Poseygate).
The worst part is, arguments against slash pairings are usually SO hypocritical!
One of the arguments I’ve seen with Sterek is the age factor, which is sort of valid because even though we don’t know Derek’s age, Stiles is technically underage in CA. Fine. And yet that issue rarely comes up in the Pretty Little Liars fandom, for example, despite one of the main characters – who is in high school – being in a CANON relationship with her TEACHER. Plus Allison who is linked to all sorts of older guys as a middle schooler. Likewise we have Dany/Jorah & Dany/Khal (she’s 15 y’all), Sailor Moon had several middle/high school girls with college or post-college boys…then you’ve got the “ancient” or immortal characters like in Twilight and Doctor Who (I mean are you kidding me)?
If you ship Cora/Stiles, Cora/Isaac, or Lydia/Isaac? No issues. But ship Sterek and suddenly you’re “delusional” – despite the fact that they have had significantly more interaction than the other three pairings. Stiles and Derek “barely know each other” and yet we’re expected to ship Stalia/Dennifer/Dethan/Skira by the creators? Oh, I see – it’s okay if it’s het. (No hate meant to those ships or shippers, just the hypocritical way they’re handled by the writers and some fans.) Stiles and Derek “hate each other” and yet Stydia and Stalia are widely accepted, despite Malia admitting she hated the gang and Lydia expressing quite clearly in seasons 1 and 2 (and presumably pre-s1) that she doesn’t not give a single hoot about Stiles at all.
Thank you Angel K and commenters for demonstrating that this topic can be discussed with respect. Sometimes the double-standard applied as regards het ships and slash ships depresses me.
I’m tired of hearing that fans of slash pairings are the reason certain shows have gone downhill. I’m tired of the fact that I’m not allowed to voice a legitimate criticism of any character without being accused of bias because of the pairing I ship, while shippers of het pairings are allowed to be vocal with no similar challenges. I’m tired of being made to feel as if I should apologize for shipping a slash pairing.
The occasional article like this one reminds me that there are people who can approach the subject without being offensive. I’m grateful for that.
“I’m tired of the fact that I’m not allowed to voice a legitimate criticism of any character without being accused of bias because of the pairing I ship, while shippers of het pairings are allowed to be vocal with no similar challenges.”
Your comment made me tear up a bit because that’s exactly what I was aiming for. I want this topic to be discussed openly and without shaming. I’m glad that I gave you a bit of hope on that front. 🙂
Enjoyed this post. I’ve been away from slash for few years (used to be very involved in Buffy fandom), since before the advent of Twitter, and was interested to see that slash fandom is “coming out”.
Will read the rest of the comments, but want to express my appreciation for your piece.
I was just catching up with June news for Hannibal and read this June 4th DigitalSpy article: http://www.digitalspy.com/tv/s225/hannibal/news/a575402/bryan-fuller-on-hannibal-homoeroticism-will-grahams-heterosexual.html#~oIoeoHto4YZALD
It’s official…until Bryan Fuller changes his mind again…
– Will Graham was never intended to be anything other than entirely heterosexual
– Hannibal was intended to be fluid and turned on by anything
– The sexual undertones were “absolutely intentional”
… as was the queerbaiting …
From the article:
“‘If you could’ve heard me cackling in the editing room, you would take it with the naughty wink with which it was intended for a certain portion of the audience,” he said.”
Now, some people who ship Hannibal and Will might be pleased with the “naughty wink” as some sort of insider joke or fan service.
Personally, I don’t find it funny — especially given the lack of LGBTQI representation on TV or the recent uptick of slash shipper mocking by entertainment creatives.
I find the fact that he has backtracked yet again more proof that he’s playing the same games as the creatives of Supernatural, Sherlock, Rizzoli and Isles, etc.
In the space of a little over a month, he went from:
1. Potentially fluid Hannibal and het Will
2. “clearly heterosexual” Hannibal and Will and interpretative art
3. Definitely fluid Hannibal who would be “turned on by anything alive” and het Will…
Of course, if any of you are Supernatural fans, this last one fits the pattern of queerbaiting tactics used by that show… in which Dean possessed by a heterosexual dog and attracted to a female poodle was considered better than being bisexual. The same excuse is used in Sherlock — his unique view transcends a sexual definition…which just so happens to leave his feelings about John open to interpretation.
BF says that he did it for a “certain portion of the audience.”
Well, we live in a time in which creatives can give us homosexual characters. Yet, the only openly homosexual character in Hannibal was a token lesbian abused by her brother who then had sex with a het character to get pregnant. Again, I’m not denying that it happens, but given that BF is himself gay, you think he would realize that many fans would be insulted by that act AND by his “naughty wink.”
After all, he essentially left it open enough so that fans who believe in heteronormativity can still stay strong in the belief that gay people are gay by choice and/or because of abuse (Margot) or mental illness (Hannibal).
This is yet another example of the PTB in the entertainment industry wanting to keep their cake and eat it too.
He knowingly edited to give the fans who believe in heteronormativity what they wanted (which is apparently the most important thing — I say sarcastically) while merely winking and nodding, poorly, at shippers and members of the LGBTQI community.
He should have been clear about what he was doing from the very start.
BUT… again, use of mixed messages IS a queerbaiting tactic.
As is toying with the editing to make scenes more sexualized when he had no intention to offer fans two-sided “Hannigram” or clearly one-sided Hannigram as canon. After all, if Hannibal is attracted to “anything” then he isn’t bisexual either.
Of course, bisexuality appears to be the most taboo of topics in mainstream TV today.
Thanks so much for all you’ve brought to the comments section and for educating me on interviews I hadn’t seen before. I still feel like Hannibal is “better” than Supernatural in this regard simply for how they talk and engage fans, but my opinion is a bit different than when I wrote the article. I definitely understand your perspective, though, and again thanks so much for all the discussion and links. I love when my readers are as passionate about a topic as I am!
On the topic of bisexual characters on TV, I’m hoping Constantine does’t disappoint. He’s canonically bisexual in the comics and I hope that they keep him that way on the show.
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