Queerbaiting is the outcome of increased paratextual discourse about LGBT content at a specific moment of queer contextuality. We might be tempted to reserve the term, in the sense that I use it, for media texts that fail to have canonically queer characters despite textual and paratextual content that suggests the possibility. However, doing so would not explain why The 100, with a canonical F/F couple, has also been widely cited as an example of queerbaiting. The crucial element is not a lack of canonicity, but how satisfactorily queerness plays out in the canonical text relative to viewer expectations that emerge from the reading of multiple texts and paratexts and that take account of queer contextuality. That is, queerbaiting’s referents expand because the text–paratext–queer contextuality matrix changes over time, although its structure remains the same.
Ng, Eve. 2017. “Queerbaiting and the Contemporary Media Landscape in Rizzoli & Isles and The 100.” In “Queer Female Fandom,” edited by Julie Levin Russo and Eve Ng, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 24. http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.917.
Part of Transformative Works and Cultures’ new special issue on Queer Female Fandom", Eve Ng’s paper uses the case studies of The 100 and Rizzoli and Isles to ask the question: Why is queerbaiting a thing that we’re talking about now? Why, for instance, didn’t we accuse Xena of queerbaiting when it originally aired, and would we do so now?
Ng argues that our current discussions of queerbaiting come from the interaction of three key factors: the actual queer content of the show (subtextual or canonical); official materials around the show, such as trailers, producers’ comments, cast interviews, etc. (paratexts); and what Ng calls “queer contextuality”: viewers’ wider (including historical) experiences of queer representation in media.
At this moment in time, our queer contextuality is shaped by several things. On the one hand there have never been so many canonically queer characters on TV before. On the other hand, there are decades of history of a complete vacuum of representation (or a Bury Your Gays [CN for that link: image of lesbophobic violence] approach), combined with current queer representation still being mired in problems and stereotypes.
So, increased representation and producer comments aimed at attracting queer audiences generate much higher expectations of canonical, good-quality queer content than we had back when Xena was airing. But producers’ failure to deliver canonically queer characters and tendency to kill off those characters when they do deliver them ultimately doesn’t live up to those expectations. That’s when we accuse a show of queerbaiting. If Xena was airing today, queer audiences would not be happy with it either.