The REAL Queerbaiting

Something that every queer person, and most other people who are on twitter, has heard about is the concept of ‘queerbaiting’. There’s a lot of debate about the term and what it means, but for the most part, it ends up meaning media (film, tv, books, ect) that tries to entice the queer viewers by hinting at a queer relationship but never carrying through.

For the most part, I as an avid lover of film and TV ignore this entire concept. Most of the things I see labeled ‘queerbaiting’ are just fan interpretation and the cast embracing fans having fun. Often things that are labeled as being ‘queerbaiting’ are either things where we just perceive something platonic as romantic or something that IS romantic is perceived to be slighted up against the heterosexual romantic couples. (I’m not saying this never happens, but I am saying it happens far less than people claim it does.)

I generally feel that you can’t decide something is queerbaiting when it’s viewers/readers who are making that decision based on their own expectations, not the intentions of the creators (there are exceptions, but very few). However, there is a form of queerbaiting that I think most people don’t identify as such that is the real problem, and that is when people identify something as positive queer representation when it isn’t.

Whether it’s people who work for the marketing team of a thing or just people who are writing about a thing for their own publications, there are so many cases in which people really do make queerbaiting an issue when it really wasn’t by the way they advertise or talk about something.

A good example recently would be how everybody started talking about how the new Power Rangers movie had a queer character just because someone asks a girl if she has boy problems and when she doesn’t reply, they change it to ‘girl problems?’ in a scene where that wasn’t even relevant. That entire movie was narrowed down to the discussion of the queer girl representation when honestly it wasn’t even a thing. Hell, that movie had far more diversity in race representation than most movies that come out these days, but nobody talked about it because all they cared about was the SLIGHT mention of potential queerness. And then, when the movie came out and there was no queer content, people were angry because they were promised something by the people talking about it before it was released.

The same happened with Beauty and the Beast, with Le Fou dancing with a guy at the end. That film got boycotted because of a slight hint that Le Fou and Happy In A Dress guy might have a thing for one another. (In a movie where a human girl falls in love with a monster dude. Seriously.) The point is, people try their best to go, “OH LOOK! WE HAVE QUEER PEOPLE!” to draw in viewers, or if it’s said by those not related to the marking team, then it’s done by writers who want hits on their website.

This is what to me the vast majority of queerbaiting actually is.

If not that, then it’s some bullshit where they claim something is positive queer representation when it’s really something very, very negative. A good example of this would be one of my favorite TV shows in the history of TV, a GREAT show, with a shitty promotions department. Yes, my friends, we’re talking about Kingdom.

Since it’s not the most well known show (it’s on a DirecTV only channel), I’ll give you the basics that are important for this discussion: The show is about a father and his sons who are MMA fighters and the youngest son we find out is a deeply closeted gay man to the point of driving him to breakdown. In the lead up to season two, Kingdom was promoted by talking about how Nate’s sexuality was going to be explored further and was going to become a bigger part of the story. They talked a LOT about how he was even going to have a sex scene in season 2. The actor, when interviewed, talked about how he filmed a sex scene where, “It’s really my body, it wasn’t a double in the sex scene.” The key words here are that it was marketed all season with those words: sex scene.

It was a rape scene. He was raped. Nate was drugged by a client he was a personal trainer for at a party and a man and woman had sex with him while his client sat in the corner and watched the ‘show’. The problem isn’t that there was a rape scene. It was horrific but tied into the plot really well. I generally DO NOT watch stuff with rape scenes, but this was very relevant to the plot, and the fact that Nate got raped was fine. Th problem is that they marketed it as “Nate’s going to have sex with a guy”, like it was a pro-queer moment in the season that was coming. It was made out to be something positive in the way of queer representation, when it was a rape scene. Nate didn’t have sex with a man, Nate was raped.

That is also REAL queerbaiting.

Marketing something as a queer sex scene and it ending up being someone being drugged and raped is absolutely queerbaiting. Marketing something as queer representation when it’s a slight moment of ambiguity is queerbaiting. Making a single line consisting of two words in the dialogue into something to be touted as queer representation is queerbaiting.

All of these things are for bigger deals than ‘these two characters flirted that one time so if they don’t end up together it’s queerbaiting’ or ‘the straight people kissed 4 times but the queer couple only kissed 2, this is queerbaiting!’ and all of these are a serious problem we really need to end when it comes to promoting movies and TV. Stop claiming there is queer representation where it isn’t. If you want to attract queer audiences then put actual queer content in your product, don’t claim it’s there when it isn’t.

 

Difficult Question About Queer Diversity In Fiction

I am going to ask a question that I find difficult to answer, not because I am trying to challenge anyone, but because I genuinely want to hear what some people think. This is not a rhetorical question, this is a real question I think needs to be discussed in both the book world and in the film and television world. While this isn’t aimed at Book Twitter, I got into thinking about this because of reading discourse on queer diversity in the Book Twitter world.

The first and most important question I’ve really struggled with is related to the idea that we need more explicitly queer characters that state their identity or orientation. There’s this idea in both books and in other media that this implied queerness is just a cop-out and we want characters to verbally state their sexuality at some point. My actual question here is, “Does this risk lowering the standards of writing?”

Let me explain: In books, film, TV, ect, one of the most important rules of writing fiction is to not treat your audience like they’re stupid, and to ‘show it, don’t tell it’. I’m one of those people that really wants to KNOW what the sexual orientation of characters are because it’s just so rare still to have queer characters. However, I’m also a big fan of GOOD writing practices, and often when writers find a way to get their character to explicitly say, “I’m bisexual” or whatever, they end up having something so terribly contrived that it drags the audience out of the story. Nobody likes writing where it feels like the author is explaining something to the audience because they’re too stupid to pick up on the context clues, and there’s a serious risk of that happening in many cases.

Yes, there are definitely cases where it fits into the story to explicitly state a character’s sexuality, but more often than not, it doesn’t fit in good writing. A good example of this would be something I wrote once that won’t ever get published where this character, in a conversation, just ‘casually’ gives the other person their Tragic Past when it really did not fit the situation at all. It was so contrived and terrible, but it managed to inform the audience of the whole bisexual backstory of the character.

My biggest worry is that, with this new “SAY IT OUT LOUD!” representation demand in fiction, it’s going to make so many more situations like this. We’ve all read some story where there was a token queer character who explains their queerness just for the sake of having someone queer in the story, and it’s so cringe-worthy, isn’t it? I once read a book where there was a non-binary character that was a fucking SIDE CHARACTER and they had like two whole pages of explaining their ‘Xie’ pronouns to the protagonist and basically giving a lesson on being non-binary and then THEY WERE NEVER IN THE STORY AGAIN! It was so pointless and clearly token queer character, and I have this really frustrated feeling that with the demands for diversity, more and more people are going to start sticking token queer characters who have several pages of preaching on their gender or sexuality just so people can be sure to check that box. That sort of thing is something terrible for QUALITY writing.

I want queer characters more than you could probably understand, but I’m entirely against sacrificing quality for diversity. It’s the same reason a lot of people get on my case for giving queer films bad ratings on Chelsea Loves Movies (even though I DO give Queer Films a leg up by only comparing them to each other). I want quality diversity, and I won’t sacrifice my standards just to see more people like me on the screen or on a page.

My other difficult question is related to my own issue there, because I have to ask, “Is enjoyment of non-explicit relationships that are expressed the same as heterosexual couples (ie, their relationship can be implied, not explicit) a bad thing, because it allows people to get away with never making good on queer character relationships?”

I’m a big fan, in every medium, of normalizing queerness and not making it something that needs to be pointed out. It’s the only way I WANT to watch/read/consume queerness in fiction. However, I’m also aware that we might not be to the point yet where that’s enough, because I’m sure that there are people who use this as an excuse for ‘subtext’ and never delivering on the implication. Other times, people get really upset over some writer not delivering when I feel like they did deliver absolutely adequate confirmation of the relationship that I felt they were always working towards portraying.

Because I’m so torn on this topic, I want you guys to discuss this one with me. Comment, tweet me, and I would say DM me but I want this to be a public discussion, so try not to do that if you can help it. This is one of those places where I find myself really struggling because what I want in quality leaves gaps for chickening out on going there. What do you guys think?

Attitudes Towards Adaptation

In my lifetime, I’ve often found that book-lovers look at the word Adaptation as if it’s a bit of a controversial one.

Ever since I was a child, the big thing that people always complain about with adaptation is that it isn’t as good as the book, or it isn’t like the book, or it changes something, or it somehow doesn’t fit the reader’s expectations. People absolutely hate most adaptations because it, to them, doesn’t represent the story they love from the source material. In fact, there are so many articles regarding the reasons that books are better than movies (almost ALWAYS, as some claim). As a kid, the biggest offender of the bunch to most people was Harry Potter and almost any other film based on a long novel that had to cut a lot of stuff out for the plot. People became enraged at these changes and, I must admit, I joined in sometimes when I was a kid.

Now, I utterly hate the phrase, “The book was better than the movie”. Let me tell you why!

Let’s start with the definition of the word adaptation.

ad·ap·ta·tion
adapˈtāSH(ə)n/
noun

a movie, television drama, or stage play that has been adapted from a written work, typically a novel.

There we go, our product, the adaptation. Very good, now let’s further examine the word adapt.

a·dapt
əˈdapt/
verb
make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify.

You may ask, “What was the point of that, Chelsea?” to which I say that it’s important to pay attention to what exactly an adaptation is in order to understand why I hate the phrase “The book was better than the movie.” The simplest way of putting it is that an adaptation is an entirely new work that is inspired by the source material. The word ‘adapt’ here means that something is made suitable or modified for a new use. The new use is an entirely different work of fiction and, therefore, comparing it to the source material is pointless and just plain illogical.

“The book is always better than the movie.”
This presumption is widespread, but it is less a critical determination than a personal bias. A movie based on a literary source is often seen as a secondary work and, consequently, of secondary value. Literature, generally, still occupies a more privileged position in the cultural hierarchy than movies do; and readers often have a proprietary attitude towards the book, an attitude that influences their reception of a film based upon it. They often are disappointed when a movie does not match their concept of what they have read, not realizing that reading, itself, is an act of translation. Readers translate words into images and form strong, private, often vivid impressions of what the book’s fictional world looks like and what it means; words become translated into emotional experiences. When a film does not square with the reader’s ideas, images, interpretation – even simple recall – of the book, the movie is deemed de facto deficient and disappointing, spawning the general impression that the movie is never as good.
-Linda Costanzo Cahir, Literature Into Film: Theory and Practical Approaches

What Cahir is pointing out here is exactly why film and literature are entirely different things and, to use a common phrase, it’s like comparing apples to oranges. What she is saying in this is not that book readers are snobs, but rather that reading a book is a highly personal matter. Reading a book is a matter of forming your own adaptation of the authors intention in your mind, more or less, in that you, the reader, are the ‘director’ of your own mental movie of what is going on. In film-making, a director takes a script written, usually, by someone else and their interpretation if that source material becomes the film we see. In reading a book, you are essentially taking a script someone else wrote and interpreting it into your own final version the same way a director interprets their script.

Because of this personal nature in reading a book, it’s entirely unfair to then say a movie adaptation is or isn’t good based on whether or not it matches your interpretation of the source material.

There are different types of film adaptations and, I have noticed that people only seem to get angry at direct adaptations that aren’t carbon-copies of the book it is based on. It makes me think that perhaps people aren’t looking at adaptations as they should be, which is to say that a direct adaptation is no more or less ‘valid’ than a radical adaptation. We the viewers/readers should no more compare Harry Potter to its source material than we would compare Clueless to Emma or O Brother Where Art Thou to The Odyssey.

(Yes, if you weren’t aware, those are both adaptations of those works of literature)

Another very important point is that the structure of film-making is vastly different than the structure of book-writing. The very nature of novels is that you have a greater introspection even in the most unreliable narrator-style 3rd-Limited POV. The nature of reading is that you’re given insights that cannot be explored in film, thus limiting the way a film has to adapt (there’s that word again) the story to be told through a different narrative style. Film adaptations often have to express something thematically that may be expressed literally in literature just because you can’t show thoughts and feelings without Word of God voice-overs or some odd-ball film technique. At the same time, disjointed agitation is far more effectively portrayed in film than in literature because one cannot write such a thing unless their writing is some 1st POV stream-of-conscience, and even that might be difficult.

The point is that there are things that cannot be well translated from page to screen and vice versa, and there are limitations to both literature and film that the other doesn’t have. Time is a major factor. Tone is a big difference. Intention is established through a vastly different method in each medium. The two art forms are both limited by the nature of their own existence, they both have strengths, they both have weaknesses, and to consider one inferior just because it isn’t the same is like saying a fish is inferior to a monkey because the former cannot climb a tree. To say that a book is better than the adaptation simply because the adaptation is different is just a ridiculous statement to make.

You can say that the adaptation doesn’t accurately tell a coherent story (or as coherent of a story) limited to its own form (since I mentioned Harry Potter a few times, a good example of this would be the way that, in trying to show enough of the books to remain accurate, Goblet of Fire leaves a lot of plot holes and makes it so that the viewer HAD to read the book to fill in the gaps themselves), but that isn’t comparing the book and the movie to say the story isn’t told coherently enough in the film to merit its existence. The movie may not be good on the basis of film-making, such as the film adaptation of the novel Eragon, that was just a lousy film. It didn’t matter that was an adaptation, because it was just a bad movie. But again, there is a difference in ‘this film or television series isn’t good’ and ‘this film or television series isn’t as good as the book’.

There’s also the matter of times in which adaptations are able to be superior to the book because its changes make the basic story make more sense or fit better. We all know cases where a book just doesn’t tell a story as effectively as it could be told, and it’s not uncommon for adaptations to take a good story premise and adapt the story premise into a film that more effectively gives a good narrative from the premise that wasn’t well represented in the novel. Though it isn’t a novel, a good example of this would be how the film V for Vendetta was adapted into a very coherent and narratively compelling story from a comic book that, while decent, lacked the central coherency to make the story all that compelling.

You notice I don’t say “The movie is better than the source material” because the styles are vastly different. I say that the film was able to make the story have a better central coherency, which makes the storytelling more effective and efficient at getting the themes across. An INCREDIBLE example of this would be the mini-series North & South that is an adaptation of a novel of the same title by Elizabeth Gaskell. That novel was published in a series of pieces and they lack any central coherency. There is no real central plot even to the beginning, and the end is painfully abrupt and unfulfilling, but the story is there, and with that interesting story that the novel fails to deliver in a satisfactory way, the BBC mini-series consolidates the story that is interesting and focuses in on that in order to deliver that compelling story premise the novel fails to deliver. The novel is not good. The mini-series is good. I am not saying the mini-series is better than the novel, because the mini-series would be just as good had it been an original idea and not an adaptation, and the novel would have still not been that good even if it were the only version of the story available.

I have a very strong opinion on the phrase “The book is better than the movie” because, as someone who has studied both literature and film extensively, I feel that is an entirely unfair statement to both art forms. A book can be good. An adaption can be good. A book can be bad. An adaption can be bad. These things are not only not reliant upon each other, but they are not related to each other. So in the future think about this and ask your self, “If there was no book, would this movie be a good film?” or, “If there was no film, would this be a good book?” rather than asking, “Is this movie as good as the book?”

As always, I welcome discussion and comments in the comment section, and I welcome you to share this discussion outside of this post. You can always find me on My Twitter, and since this relates to film and television, you can always find my Movie Blog and my TV Blog as well.