Blogging for HONS 201: Feminism, New Media, and Health at Hunter College.
A few months ago, my wonderful colleague Sarah blogged about genderswapping and platonic relationships, specifically related to two contemporary adaptations of Sherlock Holmes: BBC’s Sherlock and CBS’s Elementary. As Sarah outlines in her post, much of the Internet outcry related to Elementary was regarding the casting of Lucy Liu, an Asian-American woman, as Watson – Joan Watson. Much of the Internet backlash came from fans of the the BBC adaptation, and went from the racist to the sexist, to the straight-up ridiculous.
But what some Sherlock fans tried to do was argue that the depth of the relationship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson depends entirely on both characters being cis, white, straight males, because of, you see, “homoerotic/queer subtext.” Now, the nature of Holmes and Watson’s relationship (in the novels) has been under debate for years upon years; whether or not they were simply platonic friends or gay lovers is open to the reader’s interpretation. But the insistance that CBS and Elementary are somehow homophobic for casting a woman as Watson and therefore destroying homoerotic queer subtext is ridiculous.
“Queerbaiting is what most shows with (predominantly white) male leads do. Put a little gay subtext in there to stir up interest, and then every so often go to the press, shout NO HOMO NO HOMO NO HOMO at the interviewer, and everything is fine.”
BBC’s Sherlock – and showrunner Steven Moffat – are guilty time and time again of queerbaiting; pretending to rep queer characters, while keeping any possibility of open queerness from moving beyond mere subtext. While many members of the Sherlock fandom continue pretend that “#Johnlock” is real, Irene Adler is only the openly queer character on the program. Idolizing John and Sherlock in the BBC series as queer characters isn’t progressive – it’s the fetishiztion of queer people while contributing absolutely nothing to actual queer representation in mainstream media. Queerbaiting completely comes from a place of privilege; it is privilege that allows fandom (and writers and producers) to serve up nudge-nudge-wink-wink queer subtext with nary a though about actual LBGTQIA invisibility in television.
The confirmed platonic relationship between Holmes and Watson on Elementary goes on to further complicate the “argument” that Joan Watson represents queer erasure. Liu’s casting can’t be homophobic or erasure because there was no homosexual/queer relationship to erase. And not only is Watson a woman, but she is a woman of color. She is an Asian-American woman who is not defined by her gender or her ethnicity, and does not exist for the erotic/romantic desires of the men around her. That’s pretty damn progressive (and impressive) in my opinion, and the trivialization of what Liu’s casting represents – that somehow the show would be better/perfect if she were a straight, white man who had a queer subtext – also comes from a perch of privilege.
Have a nice day.
(And for the record, it’s not just the Sherlock fandom that is guilty of queerbaiting; the Doctor Who, Merlin, and Supernatural fandoms are others come to mind for me.)