Enid and Wednesday are standing next to one another, looking interested in something

How Marketed Queerbaiting and Shipping Culture Work Together

Blond haired Enid stands next to the dark pigtail wearing Wednesday. Both girls are looking at something. Enid smiles. Wednesday's face is flat and expressionless.
Image via Netflix Emma Myers as Enid, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday

After a show comes out we all go to our friends and social media to talk about it. And if you’re on queer twitter a lot of that conversation will often be about shipping. There’s nothing wrong with shipping…but sometimes we can go too far. Shipping two characters together as queer is all fun and games until we value it over actual representation which I worry we have. A great example of how we’ve done that is Wednesday. Wednesday received social and critical acclaim. However, something that bothered many fans was the “Happy Wednesgay” party Netflix hosted prior to the show’s release.

Many excited soon-to-be fans of the show were thrilled thinking that this had to confirm that Wednesday was going to be canonically queer in the show. Those of us who had seen it in advance however, shared a collective groan because, as everyone else would soon discover, Wednesday has next to no canon queerness. In fact, in the show, Wednesday is in the middle of a love triangle with two men. Netflix continued to queerbait even after the show premiered tweeting “the opposites attract storyline we needed” about Wednesday and her roommate Enid, who many fans shipped together. Ever since then, Netflix has been hiding tweets about Wednesday being gay. This is wild considering they are the ones who promoted the show as gay.

Enid and Wednesday are standing in front of a split stained glass window. The stain glass is colored on the left side where Enid stands. The glass is clear on the right side where Wednesday stands. Both girls are in school uniforms consisting of blazers, collared shirts, and knee length skirts.
Image via Netflix Emma Myers as Enid, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday

This is something I’ve wanted to talk about for a while By the time that Netflix used queerbaiting to promote Wednesday, I had already finished watching the show. I thought it was fantastic and I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I also honestly didn’t think the show was that queer.

To be real, the genre, Addams family themselves, and outcast storyline are queer coded as hell. So I wouldn’t be surprised nor upset if, in later seasons, Wednesday became queer.

However, I’m a little upset about this trend of bashing a show because of how queer it could have been. And I don’t blame queer people for that. I fully blame Netflix, other streaming services, and the entertainment industry‌. But it’s time we stop playing into their hands.

Netflix title of "Wednesday," but the word day is crossed out in red and the word "Gay" is written in red above it.
Image via Variety

Netflix isn’t stupid. They know exactly what they are doing. Netflix and all the other streaming giants like them market their most popular shows, that were never queer from the start, as queer. They build up some hype by dropping hints and phrases that never actually confirm anything. Then when the shows, that they never intended to be queer, drop, they feed off the discourse that they know is going to come because the internet loves discourse. They queerbait a little more, waiting for us to follow and latch onto the hook and then they publicly gaslight us for the rest of the series.

This hurts us, hurts the show, and it hurts everyone who works on the show. The internet goes around poking and prodding at the actors because if the actors are gay, then we couldn’t have fallen for Netflix’s trap again… right? Wrong. We fell for the trap but instead of being honest about that chronically online trolls said Jenna Ortega was queerbaiting because of a tweet from years ago that says “Lesbian Rights”. If these actors aren’t queer, we blame them instead of Netflix for fooling us. If actors are queer, trolls harass them until they are forced to come out, even when they never took a queer role to begin with. Even if they did, while asking someone why they took a queer role is going to happen, harrassing them about it is violent and hurts queer people more than anyone else.

This is one way Netflix uses marketing to disappoint us. Netflix makes us pick and prod at the once again not queer, never was gonna be queer, likely never will be queer media. We add it to our gay shows of the month listacles. Then, we make fancams and we find nonexistent couples to ship. We do unpaid promotion for Netflix all because they made one queerbait-y tweet. This isn’t to say shipping is bad, but let’s remember why we started shipping in the first place. 

A group of five tvs in rainbow colors showing scenes from different tv shows with queer coded characters.
Image via Insider/Rachel Menselson, NBC; Lucasfilm; Anchor Bay Entertainment; The CW; The WB Television Network; Rachel Mendelson/Insider

We started shipping couples who were not canon mostly because we received very little actual gay representation. Shipping is fun, I love to do it myself. But it has also made it very easy to sell something as queer when it is nothing of the sort.

We often lose focus of what the show tries to accomplish when shipping becomes the main focus for a show that isn’t a romance. When you mix in the marketed queerbaiting that Netflix has done, a lot of the conversation around the show has become who we ship Wednesday with instead of who this new Wednesday is and what she’s teaching us.

Shipping started off as something fun queer people did to get some of the representation we wanted. It helped us learn how to queer code media. But the entertainment industry figured that out, and that’s why the media disappoints us now.

We shipped Cas and Dean from Supernatural, Cara and Lena Luthor from Supergirl, Steve and Bucky from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and more recently Shuri and Riri from Wakanda Forever.

While we can all debate about the validity of these ships, the one thing they all have in common is that all of them disappointed us. The only one that actually became canon was Cas and Dean, and Cas died immediately after. We ship because we barely have anything else and none of the entertainment giants are brave enough to actually stand up for us. But at some point, it’s worth asking do we require them to? If we are going to give them the credit without actually doing anything of substance, why would they do it? We deserve to not have to analyze every bit of media, we deserve loud, proud, and canon queer content.

A shot from the show First Kill. Juliette Fairmont wears a lime green top and has Calliope Burns pinned to a tree. Calliope is dressed in all black. This is meant to convey sexual tension between the two women.
Image via Netflix. First Kill Sarah Catherine Hook and Imani Lewis

When Netflix actually makes a queer show, they either make it bad on purpose, cancel it, or both. Every now and then a show that is safe, usually two cisgay white guys falling in love, survives, but that’s almost it.

Netflix canceled First Kill after one season, they also canceled. I am Not Okay With This and Atypical despite these shows doing well. I didn’t like First Kill and I have my reasons, you can read about them here. But above all I could tell from watching the show that Netflix always wanted it to fail, just like it wants all of its gay girl centered shows (all 2 of them they haven’t canceled) to fail.

I believe Netflix made First Kill knowing that like its other gay girl counterparts; they had no intention of actually continuing the show. Honestly, at this point, Netflix has no excuse to not have done better. Don’t let them fool you, Netflix is no amateur. They have been writing gay shows for years.

In fact, Orange is the New Black was the first Netflix show many of us watched. It was not the first Netflix original, but it was the first one we paid attention to. Orange is the New Black completely changed Netflix and streaming entirely. It also completely changed the way we view prisoners’ rights and our justice system. It introduced us to the national treasure that is Laverne Cox, who was, for many people, the first transgender person we really saw on television. Orange is the New Black impacted our culture. And it did so with diverse characters, many of whom were queer, women, and/or of color. Netflix worked hard to make it phenomenal and has made many gay shows since.

So, you see, Netflix could have made First Kill really really good. They could have made it really good and also given it a season 2. They could do this with all their risky queer shows. But they won’t, they don’t have to. Their marketed queerbaiting works, and when they do make a queer show that they gave no budget, no marketing, no effort just to add it to their list of queer shows we don’t call them out on it. Netflix posted more pride content right around the time it laid off tons of minorities within its own company. Which felt very convenient to me.

A meme of the major streaming servies Netflix, Hulu, HBOMax, Prime, and Disney Plus dressed as the grim reaper. They go from door to door leaving trails of blood from each door. Above each door are promo photos from queer series that have killed off. The first door has The Owl House. The second door has Batwoman. The third door has First Kill. and the last door that the grim reaper knocks on is Summer Camp Island.
Meme via Me The Owl House via Disney, Batwoman via CW, First Kill via Netflix, Summer Camp Island via HBOMax

By only giving us the queer content they deem most acceptable and marketable, they hurt all queer people. By marketing their non-queer shows as possibly queer, they hurt all queer people.

It doesn’t matter how much we stream or like a show. We don’t watch the show that they barely gave any thought to and ha! Proof gay shows don’t work. We watch these crumbs they give us and at best they give us more crumbs, at worst they make us starve. We starve to the point where we fall prey to their queer bait and spend weeks shipping, debating, and creating discourse and free promotion online.

When we unsubscribe because they cancel all the shows we like, they lay off hundreds of minorities, and then blame us! It literally doesn’t matter. But how rude of me to only include Netflix! This is a problem with streaming services at large. The Owl House, Batwoman, Love Victor, Infinity Train, Summer Camp Island, and The Wilds are just a few of the queer shows cancelled/ended/permanently removed by streaming services recently, in order Disney+, The CW, Hulu, Max, and Amazon prime. It doesn’t help that all of these shows have people of color as main characters, once again showing that if it’s not white cis-gay men they don’t wanna hear it. Streaming services have a clear vendetta against queer people, but also against diverse media and creatives overall.

Enid and Wednesday are standing side by side to face the camera. Enid is glancing to Wednesday on her left. Enid wears a pink and orange multi striped sweater. Wednesday has a black jacket and a black and gray striped shirt on.
Image via Netflix Emma Myers as Enid, Jenna Ortega as Wednesday

I question the current state of queer media when the only shows that we see marketed as queer have no queer content and the actually queer ones are set up to fail. The relationship between queer people and queer representation on tv feels incredibly toxic right now.

We are gaslit and led astray constantly, then instead of blaming those who fooled us, we blame each other. As viewers, we blame the actors, writers, and directors for queerbaiting us when they often did nothing wrong. We blame other queer people for not liking poorly made shows because how dare someone dislike the one queer show we have. Then, we blame queer people for not streaming a show that literally no one ever heard about because it received little to no marketing. We blame everyone but the streaming giants who are playing us like a fiddle. We deserve more. Honestly, we deserve loud and proud queer representation. I believe until we stop playing into the hand of the entertainment industry and require this, we will only receive more crumbs and queerbaiting.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: