Do you know there is an unspoken Universal Declaration of Fan Rights? Well, there is, and it helps run the fandom, giving us fans the right to ship whatever we want to whomever we want, irrespective of its strangeness and absurdity. For example, non-canonical on-screen couples.

Fans can build exciting theories and alternative storylines, often reflecting what we as individuals desire in relationships and our subjective views of what would be cute, sexy or funny to see in a romantic pairing – #JohnLock. But is it all that? Shipping theories simply based on viewers’ opinions and desires alone? Nope! There is more to this than it seems.

There’s a sinister side to this, though, and that’s what today’s Just One Thing is about – Queerbaiting. While the Oxford English Dictionary recognised the term in March 2021, it’s been actively used in the cultural glossary for decades. Many popular series and movies – such as Riverdale and Supergirl – have been accused of using the trope to get fan attention and popularity.

One of the latest examples is from the Wizard world’s Fantastic Beast franchise.

In 2007, after the release of the final Harry Potter book, Rowling told that Dumbledore is gay and called out readers for not realising it without ever mentioning the word in the book. But then, all references to a romance between the two most powerful wizards were unceremoniously removed from the latest Fantastic Beasts for Chinese audiences. Warner Bros called them “nuanced cuts” for certain markets.

In Supernatural, fans saw #Destiel as a real possibility after all the homoerotic cues between Dean and the angel Castiel. But soon as Cas confesses his love for Dean, he’s swallowed by the Empty, becoming a perfect example of the ‘bury your gays’ trope.

Not to forget the all-mighty Captain America and Bucky Barnes, aka Winter Soldier, #Stucky.

Creators and writers applied a similar technique called Queer Coding, which seemed to be the only way for queer characters to exist in film, especially between the 1930s and the 1960s when Hays Code censorship was prevalent. As a result, we saw queer-coded characters everywhere, from Mrs Danvers in Rebecca, Timon in Lion King, to Faith in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

It’s 2022, and everyone should be allowed all sorts of chemistry, no? Especially our favourite characters? But often, a plot is contrived with the explicit goal of getting the attention of a specific section of viewers without true intent of representation.

I’d like to think we exist in a time and place where queer representation is possible, and the people making our entertainment can all do better.

Yours,

If you know someone keen to decode the language of cinema, point them to Just One Thing?