The Problems with using ‘Queerbaiting’ in the Media Industry

Emily Khor, Layout Editor

 Hollywood and the media industry are infamous for including a marketing technique known as ‘queerbaiting’. Creators hint at LGBTQIA+ representation in entertainment but do not explicitly depict it or officially confirm these hints as they are not required to do so. With the excuse, they can later on state that they never intended to write characters who align in a non-heterosexual way. 

   Society holds heteronormativity so strongly that in media where it can be interpreted that a character may be homosexual, it chooses not to give that representation. It is crucial that young people are able to consume content that they can relate to, whether it is an internal struggle or one relating to identities such as race and sexual orientation.

   Queerbaiting is effective in getting LGBTQIA+ audiences by adding this element of homoerotic subtext and the possibility for a same-sex relationship. Queercoding is part of the elaborate lie that an author or director creates, where they may paint a character as fitting the stereotypes of not being straight and using clever hints to this idea; but never too far as to lose support from its heterosexual audience who may dislike the inclusion of ‘controversial topics’. Queerbaiting allows for the industry to appeal to a larger audience without alienating another group while presenting themselves to the market as progressive and inclusive. ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is known for the opposite of queerbaiting, where the movie was promoted to have two leading couples that were straight but in a plot twist the two main characters end up together after finding their true selves. This story is something many older audiences can relate to, as knowing what one’s identity is will continue for many years.

   Finding representation for minority groups in media has been a struggle for many since the beginning of filmmaking and literature globally. The lack of well-developed stories where the main character is not a cis-white, hetero person is apparent. LGBTQIA+ stories and characters appear to be second-rate and less valuable to society. ‘Call Me by Your Name’ and ‘Stonewall’ are both popular LGBTQIA+ movies that mainstream audiences hold up on a platform for giving that much-needed and wanted representation, however, there are many problems with each film. The lack of diversity and the inclusion of a large age gap between the characters reduces the impact and true accuracy to the community by basically watering down the representation to be written for the main audience who want to be able to say they’re inclusive and not for the minorities themselves. Young teens who are mass consuming content need to see media that represents all groups of people and all labels, not just the ones that are ‘socially acceptable’. Those who may not be able to project themselves onto characters with real-life problems can affect their own growth, they may not know or understand that being different is okay. 

   TV shows and movies create and develop queer relationships throughout their runtime, and at the very end decided to throw that all away and make the hetero-couple the canon romance. The fact of the matter is that these people are aware of what they are doing, that it works, and that the worst they will face in repercussions are a few angry and disappointed fans. They continue to create and strengthen the idea that while there may be some elements, those queercoded characters will never have a happy ending and will never get with the person they love since that alone is a concept only available to the straight characters. It sets up the constant feeling of disappointment in expectations. Viewers may think that a certain celebrity, TV show, or film is an accurate representation of who they are and is a good depiction, however, the original intent is malicious and manipulative. 

  Ariana Grande, ‘Riverdale’, ‘Supernatural’, and ‘Harry Potter’ are all well-known titles and figures that have been accused and guilty of queerbaiting. Popular media in society that has these harmful elements leave little to no room for actual representation that is mass consumed. Queer representation cannot be found in most mainstream media, causing those who wish for it having to search for indie titles or less-known artists and creators to find it. This shouldn’t be something people have to do, people should be able to find a film or book that accurately and respectfully has a story about characters who are queer. 

   It is not enough for directors and writers to only hint at representation, and to stay in the safe middle where they receive less criticism. These adaptational platforms with so many innovative creators should be able to break the boundaries of today’s society and finally deliver what so many have been promised. More stories about LGBTQIA+ characters who are more than a stereotype and caricature, stories where said characters get a happy ending instead of suffering, stories where their identity isn’t just used as a plot point or a device to increase publicity. Stories in which people all around the world of any identity or orientation will be able to consume it, with the added on knowledge that it happens to have queer elements. 

   Queerbaiting is harmful and continues to hurt the community it wishes to gain the approval of. The media industry and other creators must put a stop to this tacky, offensive, and false device. Society should uplift the voices of minorities and give a vast selection of diversity and representation.