Queerbaiting is a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then not actually depict, same-sex romance. They do so to attract ("bait") a queer audience with the suggestion of relationships that appeal to them, while at the same time attempting to avoid alienating other consumers.
Queerbaiting has been observed in popular fiction such as films and television series, as well as in celebrities who convey an ambiguous sexual identity through their works and statements. It arose in and has been popularized through discussions in Internet fandom since the early 2010s.
Queer audience concerns
Queer fans have reacted with concern and anger to an identity they consider defining being used as a mere marketing ploy, a plaything for creatives, a mark of "edginess", or a commodity.
Fans have derided, for instance, queer characters being used as plot devices rather than as characters for their own sake. For instance, Glee, a series with many queer series regulars, was criticized by fans for presenting "superficial stereotypes of queerness for dramatic effect".
Queer fans consider queerbaiting as "a way to throw us a bone when we normally wouldn't have anything, to acknowledge that we're there in the audience when the powers that be would prefer to ignore us". Emmet Scout wrote that "queerbaiting works on its audience because it offers the suggestion that queer people do have a vital place in these stories, that they might even be the defining figures, the heroes. The suggestion—but not the reality." Rose Bridges summarized the practice's effect on queer fans as receiving "just enough [representation] to keep us interested, but not enough to satisfy us and make us truly represented."
According to media scholars, the perceived increase in queerbaiting reflects a shift towards a more positive perception of queer relationships in modern societies – and therefore, in a sense, societal progress. But the same societal shift has also increased expectations by queer fans as to the quality and authenticity of queer representation – they demand not just any representation at all, but rather "respectful and meaningful depictions" of their relationships. That is why, according to media researcher Eve Ng, the ambiguous sexuality projected by 20th century entertainers such as David Bowie, Elton John and Madonna was not scrutinized to the same degree as that of their successors.
In fiction, the following relationships between characters of the same sex have been interpreted as queerbaiting:
- Rachel Berry and Quinn Fabray in Glee.
- Eve and Villanelle in Killing Eve.
- Arthur Pendragon and Merlin in Merlin.
- Regina Mills and Emma Swan in Once Upon a Time.
- Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge, and Archie Andrews and Joaquin DeSantos in Riverdale.
- Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles in Rizzoli & Isles.
- Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in Sherlock. Cast and crew of Sherlock have consistently denied that the relationship is intended to be seen as romantic, to the dismay of many fans.
- Castiel and Dean Winchester in Supernatural.
- Kara Danvers and Lena Luthor in Supergirl.
- Shiro and Adam in Voltron: Legendary Defender.
The singers Ariana Grande (in 2019) and Rita Ora (in 2018) were criticized by fans for queerbaiting after their lyrics contained references to bisexual love. In response to these concerns, Ora came out as bisexual to her fans.
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- Brennan, Joseph (2018-06-01). "Slashbaiting, an alternative to queerbaiting". The Journal of Fandom Studies. 6 (2): 187–204. doi:10.1386/jfs.6.2.187_1. ISSN 2046-6692.
- Bridges, Elizabeth (2018-06-01). "A genealogy of queerbaiting: Legal codes, production codes, 'bury your gays' and ' The 100 mess'". The Journal of Fandom Studies. 6 (2): 115–132. doi:10.1386/jfs.6.2.115_1. ISSN 2046-6692.
- McDermott, Michael (2018-06-01). "The contest of queerbaiting: Negotiating authenticity in fan–creator interactions". The Journal of Fandom Studies. 6 (2): 133–144. doi:10.1386/jfs.6.2.133_1. ISSN 2046-6692.
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