Hello friends. Today, I don’t have a new review for you. I automatically let WordPress post links to my new blog posts onto my Tumblr account, and occasionally, I get questions mostly for recommendations. Two weeks ago, I got asked about my opinion on queerbaiting in BL, around the same time, by two different people. What are the odds? So I wanted to repost my answer here because I’d like it to be on my blog as well. Hope you enjoy, and as always, I’d like to hear your opinions on the matter!
So. Okay. Queerbait. First of all, definitions because for the love of BL gods, people have been throwing words around without knowing what they mean.
According to this interesting book that’s been sitting on my TBR pile, Queerbating and Fandom: Teasing Fans Through Homoerotic Possibilities, the definition of queerbaiting is as follows:
Queerbaiting describes an industry tactic where “those officially associated with a media text court viewers interested in LGBT narratives… without the text ever definitely confirming the nonheterosexuality of the relevant characters.” For this reason, the term is seen as exploitative, and when fans use it to describe a series, its marketing, or the actions of producers, they are engaging in a “form of queer activism.”
There are other terms coined by the scholars such as “covert courting” (i.e. targeting gay consumers using subtle elements not intended to be picked up by heterosexual audiences) etc. but in my opinion, these terms are built upon the presupposition that there is a queer audience to bait into consuming your media. And I’m not sure whether there’s a group of audience that is acknowledged as queer in the minds of producers and/or creators in Japan.
What they want to tap into according to yours truly, however, is FujoMoney. No, it’s not a new currency, although now I kind of wish it was. There’s an interesting video (that I would correct here and there but still) on it that delves deeper into the topic but in short, they are after the buying and creating potential of shippers. Creating fan content is, in itself, a grey area legally but it’s overlooked because the franchise profits from it immensely. A similar practice, if you’re or have been into K-pop at some point, is the fansites who photograph their favorite idols and make merch. Normally, they shouldn’t be allowed to make merchandise off of the artists and gain profit from it. However, they attend concerts out of their own pockets, take these photographs using their own cameras, and contribute greatly to the group or the individual artist’s popularity. Tl;dr: it’s free real estate for the companies.
So I guess the term we’re looking for is fujobait, rather than queerbait. What the higher-ups want to attract are shippers who are buyers and/or fancreators. Look at any sports anime and you’ll understand what I mean. There have been multiple times when I got into a series because I’ve seen a shippy fanart or a video edit of a character. And to be honest, if I was more fortunate economically, they’d be making that kind of monetary profit through merch off of me as well. xD
While queerbait and fujobait might seem like they mean the same thing, they eventually are not because the former capitalizes on real-life stigmatized identity while the latter relies on a consumer’s practice of queering the content at hand. I’m personally not as interested in putting the label of “right” or “wrong” on these terms, so I’ll leave it at this for now.
Moving on to the series you mentioned (Free!, Sk8, Jeweler Richard and Yuri!!! on ICE), they can’t all be put into the same box, but can be divided into two groups where Free! and Sk8 rely more on fanservice and the intricacies of the relationships are left to the shippers’ imaginations while Jeweler Richard and Yuri!!! on ICE are entirely different. Especially, Yuuri!!! on ICE because there’s no room left for discussion or different readings that Yuuri and Victor are a couple. They literally get married, and the only reason some people still to this day question whether they are canon or not is because of eurocentrism/racism. I come across reels of real-life women taking a ring out and putting it on the ring finger of another woman with people cheering in the background and no one is asking to see their marriage registration in the comments. On the contrary, they congratulate them! The exact same scene is there in animated form, so why do we even question its validity?
In the case of Jeweler Richard, sadly light novels aren’t my thing. I have only seen the anime and have read the first volume of the manga. However, I’ve read an extensive blog post on the light novels comparing them to the anime adaptation. From the blog post, their relationship is evident even though to an anime-only it might come off as implied. I personally didn’t think it was implied even in the anime, but if anyone else did, we have our answers in the source material.
All of this then begs the question: does having things spelled out on screen matter? If yes, to what extent it matters? I mentioned in the previous meta post that the consumers of Asian media are already lucky when it comes to the existence and variety of such content. I’m personally someone who’s in favor of having media to consume at hand instead of waiting for the Perfect Representation. I don’t even want representation, because what is representation anyway for a non-monolithic community with a deep, rich history? I want portrayal, and while having things openly said is cathartic and something I want to have, I won’t discredit the works I enjoy and find meaning in just for the sake of it. Especially content that come from countries with heavy censorship or a high possibility of GP backlash.
Plus, while I’m not in any Chinese BL or BL-adjacent work fandoms, I watched dramas here or there and have a lot of mutuals who are actively in the fandoms of certain series, so through osmosis, I learn a couple of things as well. I’ve seen people talking about the cultural significance of certain choices in these works that someone who’s not well-versed in the codes of the Chinese culture won’t be able to pick up, i.e. characters wearing red can be an insinuation on marriage because red is a color worn in weddings. Or there’s no way I would pick up that Chinese BL dramas are dubbed over just so they can pass censorship. Would it be better if China were to be supportive of LGBTQA+? 100%. Should people there push for the content they’d like to see or portrayals that they see themselves in? Without a doubt. Should it mean that they should get nothing until they get exactly what they want? A hard no. There must be still works that portray such relationships even if they are implied because I see this attempt as getting a foot in the door.
To sum everything up: what I want is to enjoy what I read/watch and share it with others while trying to keep a critical eye on as much as I can. My background is in STEM and I’m not formally educated in humanities anyway. What I try to do is to read and discuss questions I have in mind, and writing helps me order and expand my thoughts. I find value in trying to keep an open mind instead of gatekeeping and micro-analyzing every little thing, or at least, I try not to let them take the fun out of it. To quote the great Maggie Nelson‘s The Argonauts:
I am not interested in hermeneutics, or erotics, or metaphorics, of my anus. I am interested in ass-fucking.
Easily one of the best books I’ve read in 2022. Pure brilliance.
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7 Replies to “FRIDAY BL — QUEERBAITING AND BOYS LOVE”
the part about representation and portrayal is so on point!! i’ve seen tons of discourse where they say one but meant the other. and while both are important on their own, knowing the distinction between the two i feel would make media discourse like re: queerbaiting be a lot more concrete and productive (for lack of better words). so thank you for bringing that up!
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Glad that the post resonated with you Kate! And you’re right to point out how convoluted (and sometimes misinformed) the online discourse around BL and Asian queer media overall is. We have to keep talking about it over and over again to reach a mutual understanding, I guess. 🙂
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Oo, this is a tough topic. As a viewer you always have to wonder if a couple in an anime is just naturally fun to ship or did the studio put them in the series just for shippers to ship and to get attention for their series? And sometimes it feels like it doesn’t even matter that the couple was obviously put in the series solely for the purpose of shipping. Sometimes just thinking about the “what if’s” is half the fun!
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You’re so right! It’s good to keep a critical eye, but in the end as you said, the fun is in the act of shipping and bonding with others that have a similar taste to yours and less about “Are they an item or not,” : D
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This was a really interesting topic, especially since it prompted me to go back to my own review of Jeweler Richard and the following observation I made therein: “That both (main characters) at different times assert their heterosexuality only adds to the mystery; but whether viewers consider this a nice bit of frisson in the narrative or just a cynical exercise in queer-baiting by the producers will no doubt be in the eye of the beholder.” (parenthesis added)
And I guess that sums it up for me: how one defines and understands and identifies “queerbaiting” will often be in accordance with individual perceptions of what this is as a phenomenon and when/where/how it occurs. For myself, I don’t consume a lot of BL/LGBTQIA+ material, but I have always appreciated those series (such as “Blue Period”, “Adachi & Shimamura”, “Given”, etc) where no-cis (or potentially non-cis) relationships are portrayed in a non-fetishistic and human manner (ie: they’re as complex and as fraught and as rewarding as any other type of relationship).
Which makes me wonder: is “queerbaiting” directed toward a potentially queer audience to try and “hook” them into a product – or is it, in fact, directed toward a hetero audience as a kind of fetishistic “hook” that exoticizes non-cis relationships for titillation purposes? And if so, what then is the relationship between “queerbaiting” and “fanservice”?
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First of all, thank you for the comment! If I misunderstood you in any way, please do correct me.
I have to reiterate that what anime does, in my opinion, is not queerbaiting but include fanservice to entice shippers. Shippers, or in this case, fujin (a gender-neutral term to describe BL fans) know that what they do is a product of their fantasy, and it will stay that way, compared to queerbait which makes a profit off of an identity stigmatized and underrepresented. So the profit made here isn’t at the expense of queer identities. In that sense, baiting fujin people into, let’s say, watching sports anime is no different than producing an isekai chunk full of female characters with huge boobs or releasing figures of a female shonen character in, let’s say, a bikini is no different a practice, in my opinion. Is it bad? I don’t necessarily think so. It’s an industry that HAS to make a profit and they obviously use whatever means work.
I get the impression from your comment that you assume shippers=heterosexual cis women and that makes the act of shipping a fetishistic act. This cannot be further from the truth, actually. It’s a very common misconception that’s been circulating online fandom spaces for the past couple of years. It’s an extensive topic and I’ll link below a talk between four scholars who work in fields that are linked to BL on why and how it’s a transformative genre. Especially at 1:34:00, the speakers touch on the fetishization debates, authenticity, and reader engagement, but the whole talk is very eye-opening.
As for Jeweler Richard, I just noticed that I forgot to link the blog post I mentioned, I’ll add that as well but it’s worth mentioning that while the anime has left out a lot, Richard and Seigi are indeed in a state where they are more than friends:
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Thanks for your detailed reply and links – I will certainly take a look! Your argument that a lot of what gets called “queerbaiting” is, in fact, a species of fanservice aimed at furthering marketing objectives based on shippers’ fantasies makes a lot of sense to me, especially, as you note, this exists in other anime genres. On that basis, therefore, let me clarify: I wasn’t assuming that shippers=heterosexual cis women. Rather, I was wondering if the term “queerbaiting” was a misnomer in terms of who was being “baited” – ie: was it not so much queer fans as hetero fans on the basis of the fetishization/exoticization of non-hetero relationships. But both your post and reply have helped nuance my thinking on this matter. 🙂