Friday, August 3, 2012

Teen Wolf: Bromance is easier than Inclusion

On Fangs for the Fantasy we’ve covered some of the many ways to dodge around actual inclusion of minorities in TV shows and books - usually the writers just throw tokens at us, or erase us entirely. But when it comes to GBLT inclusion there is a new crafty tactic on the horizon - the suggestive Bromance. And no show has mastered this more than Teen Wolf. Teen Wolf has already set itself apart because it is one of the few shows on television wherein the male characters are overtly sexualised and the women are not. This, in addition to being an excellent twist on the gender roles we see, unfortunately also gives perfect fodder for these Bromances and faux inclusion seen through “slash goggles.”

What is slash? Slash is fiction, usually fanfiction, which places two male characters into romantic/sexual relationships usually for the purposes of fetishization. “Slash goggles” is a term developed to refer to watching a show and looking for hints of anything (a touch, a gesture, a look, anything) that would back up these characters being a couple.

So, what is the problem with this? Well, aside from the problem of fetishisation, appropriation and homophobia that are unfortunate issues within slash, there’s a huge problem with ambiguity encouraging erasure.

For too long, writers have been using character ambiguity as an excuse to avoid including GBLT chaarcters. Rather than overtly say a character is GBLT, they can imply it - and get praise for inclusion from people desperate for inclusion (or desperate to see hot guys get it on) when they haven’t actually included anyone, or only made the slightest gestures of inclusion.

Teen Wolf doesn’t just subtly cater to this - but is probably the most blatant in pandering to it. Don’t believe me? Look at this little video made by Dylan O’Brien and Tyler Hoechlin.

You can google an image search of “stiles and derek” if you want to see more. I’m not responsible for the fanart you will see.

Watch that and tell me all those scenes in Teen Wolf are coincidence? Stiles and Derek in the pool in Abomination? Derek being paralysed, followed by Stiles who collapses on top of him (and then lays next to him) in Raving? Or the time when Stiles acted as a go-between for Scott and Allison and ended up describing how much he loved Scott, also in Abomination? Stiles joking with Scott about being attracted to his heroism and wanting to make out with him in Ice Pick? Stiles asking Scott if he’s attractive to gay men in Pack Mentality? Something he later asks Danny as well. Or Stiles declaring his love to Scott when forced to relay Allison’s words in Abomination? How much more blatant does it have to be?

Now, would I jump up and down and sing so loudly most nations would scramble their air-forces assuming they’re under attack if Stiles and Derek became a couple on the show? Yes, yes I would.

But the only gay character on the show is Danny. For the longest time we heard the main characters talking about him without him ever appearing on screen, causing us to wonder if the role had even been cast. When Danny does appear he immediately becomes a servant for the straight characters on the show. Stiles wants Danny to do some work on the computer, so he has Derek repeatedly change his shirt for the purposes of eye candy to distract Danny. I guess that Stiles hadn’t determined whether or not he was attractive at that point, but not to worry, he made sure to ask Danny outright.

In episode 11 of the first season, Danny is sitting down at the dance, and he is grabbed and forced onto the dance floor by Scott because he is trying to hide from the coach.  When the coach does interrupt Scott suggests that this is a moment of homophobia to force the coach to allow him to stay. This is outright appropriation and extremely troubling considering the continuing fight by GLBT teens to bring their partners to school functions.  If that were not enough, Danny’s actual boyfriend only appears on the screen for a scant 6 seconds, which means the real representation gets short changed in order to play up on the bromance.  

The crew are at a gay bar hunting down the weregeko and Danny is in attendance because he broke up with his boyfriend. For his trouble, Danny gets paralysed and to explain to his father what they are doing there, Stiles implies that he is gay to his father. Coming out can be a painful process, but hey, why not appropriate that experience if you need a throw-away joke?

This was so successful it seems that the gay bar quickly became the gift that keeps on giving. Though Stiles wasn’t able to get a drink with his fake I.D., he was able to make a few new friends, and by friends I mean female illusionists. His new friends aren’t in the same vein as his relationship with Scott, but they do however serve a purpose - more throw-away gay jokes. When Lydia’s birthday is a complete bust, Stiles picks up the phone, calls his new drag queen buddies (who of course have nothing better to do than come running) to be the life of Lydia’s party.  

In short, while we have an enormous amount of pandering to the Bromance, the actual portrayal of the gay character is much shallower, far less touching (and involves far less touching for that matter), and much more fraught. The Bromance overwhelms the actual crumbs of inclusion.

Of course, this is not a phenomenon that is limited to Teen Wolf, or even the Urban Fantasy genre (Sherlock, anyone?). Bill and Eric in True Blood, have actually touched each other (and piggy backed) more than Lafayette and Jesus ever did. Monroe and Nick on Grimm seemed more of a couple sometimes than Nick and Juliette ever did - and even Vampire Diaries had Damon and Alaric as much beloved fanfiction fodder. And don’t even get me started on Supernatural.

The actual GLBT character (when there is one) does not appear unless he can serve some sort of purpose for the straight protagonist but in the meantime we get lots and lots of suggestive commentary and appropriation of actual GLBT experiences. We deserve actual inclusion, we need actual, realistic, fully formed portrayals - and implicit suggestions and ambiguous hints do not cut it. I wish I could say that no-one would fall for that, but a simple tour around a search engine will show you how much this bromance-fodder is accepted  and praised as a replacement for actual gay characters.