How the media takes advantage of a gay audience


Photo by Teddy Österblom on Unsplash

As our society becomes more progressive and accepting of the LGBT community, audiences have grown more accepting as well. Many viewers want diverse characters with experiences that reflect the world around them.

However, many are still close-minded and against LGBT characters in the media. This has left filmmakers to walk a tightrope as they try to find a way to gain the LGBT viewership, while trying not to lose more conservative viewers.

The compromise many have come to is to leave their “LGBT characters” stuck in a subtext limbo, never confirming to the identities of those characters.

Before, this was the only way a filmmaker could represent a gay character on screen.

In the ’50s and ‘60s, having a gay character in media was heavily discouraged. Filmmakers who wanted to portray a character as gay had to use subtext to get what they were looking for. Characters would have certain qualities and characteristics often associated with LGBT people while not outright saying that the character was gay.

This act has been defined as queer coding. While queer coding was originally used to have gay characters in old media, it is still something that filmmakers do consistently.

The most common example of traditional queer coding used today, is found in Disney characters, most often Disney villains.

Disney’s characters usually fall into the formula of a strong, brave male hero posed against an effeminate male villain. A great example of this use is found in Pocahontas, where we see both the brave and adventurous John Smith, the obvious good guy, against the frilly and flashy Radcliffe, the villain.

Radcliffe is a queer coded character filled with harmful and negative characteristics. He is more of a walking stereotype of a gay man: a flamboyant man who likes ornate things and keeps his dog pampered on a pillow. While those things are not inherently bad, Radcliffe’s gay characteristics all tie in with his immense greed, which ultimately makes him the villain.

While the message may not be intentional, the gay subtext of queer-coded villains can lead one to the conclusion that extravagance is bad, flamboyance is bad, effeminate men are bad, and, ultimately, that these characteristics commonly associated with gay men — are bad.

Queerbaiting is another tactic many use in media. Queerbaiting is when the media hints at a same-sex relationship without actually confirming this relationship.

There are many examples of queerbaiting in television that mostly target male characters. This can be sen through famous roles such as Cas and Dean from “Supernatural” and Sherlock and Watson in the BBC show “Sherlock.” Their obvious queerbaiting relationships have been in discussion for years.

Recently, the CW show “Riverdale” faced a lot of criticism for queerbaiting in season one with two female characters, Betty and Veronica.

In the show’s first season, these two characters kissed during their cheerleading tryouts in order to show “the sizzle.” The head cheerleader, Cheryl, was instantly not impressed and brushed off the kiss, and the scene continued on.

Their kiss did not fit into the scene at all, making the argument that they only had a kissing scene to appeal to the gay audience.

Beyond that, the showmakers used a clip of the two characters kissing in their trailers for the show, creating a buzz among fans of the possibility of a Betty and Veronica relationship that they never intended to make a reality.

Ultimately, the makers of “Riverdale” used cheap queerbaiting tactics in order to ignite discussion about their show and to gain a broader audience.

Filmmakers believe that queer coding and queerbaiting are ways they can have their cake and eat it too, when in reality they are just taking advantage of a community to grow their audience.

Jessie Imhoff can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @JessieReports