Film Language: Queer Theory
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
In this blog post I will be talking about how two animated series that had LGBTQ+ representation in it. One was seen to have done the representation well while the other was seen as queer-baiting.
Here is the definition of queerbaiting I will be using from an article written by Eve Ng, Associate Professor at Ohio University:
"I use the term queerbaiting to refer to situations where those officially associated with a media text court viewers interested in LGBT narratives—or become aware of such viewers—and encourage their interest in the media text without the text ever definitively confirming the nonheterosexuality of the relevant characters."
This meaning, in simpler terms, a situation where a piece of media, so tv shows, books, animated shows etc. Use the fact that they have a audience who are interested in storylines that include the LGBTQ+ community and hinting at this appearing in the show. However, never confirming it once the show ends.
Voltron is a show about a group of teenagers who all travel to space after being chosen by one of the lions of Voltron and they fight against the Galra, an alien race trying to take over the universe. There was a lot of discourse in the community regarding the use of queerbaiting with the characters Lance and Keith since many videos hinted towards the two getting together. However I will not be focusing on them in this blog post but rather a confirmed couple.
This couple is Adam and Shiro, one of them is a main character in the show and their relationship was confirmed at the San Diego Comic Con in 2018. It was again confirmed on the official Voltron twitter account in this tweet. We also saw some posters with the two of them in it marketed. This gained a lot of attention and was seen as a great addition to the show. Although very sudden.
We were introduced to Adam in a flashback where they are arguing about Shiro going on a mission that could harm him due to having to wear a bracelet that uses electricity to stimulate his muscles. While it was great to see Adam for the first time, there was nothing to distinguish this interaction from two close friends and an intimate relationship. Of course, this is not immediately a warning sign since it was early on in the series and we were expecting to see more flashbacks further on in the show.
Unfortunately, we only have 2 more scenes with Adam in it. The next scene is his death scene and the last scene is Shiro reacting to Adam's death, which you can see below. In this scene we can obviously see Shiro being distressed about Adam's death, this obviously contrasting my first point. Here we can see that there is an intimate relationship between them due to the emotional reaction Shiro has to Adam's death. This emotional reaction can be seen as confirming an intimate relationship, even if it isn't said outright, hence it is not queerbaiting.
Despite that, I do believe this could be seen as bad representation. While they have been confirmed as a couple, we only had 3 scenes with Adam. The lack of screen time and any interaction with Shiro is quite disappointing, especially since it was mentioned multiple times by the people working with the show, trying to make it seem like it would be more than was shown. Especially when it is announced and confirmed during the release of the trailer of the newest season where they will be shown together and there being promotional images with the both of them in them. Not only that, while the last scene is very emotional, its short (less that 15 seconds), so we barely see Shiro's reaction.
In conclusion, even if this couple isn't an example of queerbaiting, I will say the way they portrayed can be seen as bad representation. We only see Adam and Shiro interact once in the whole show when Adam is alive. Not only that, the reaction to his death is lacklustre and despite being emotional, not long enough to draw a reaction from the audience.
A good example of representation in my opinion would be Shera. The obvious distinction being the amount of interaction we get. Not only that, we get to see their relationship develop throughout the show while them being a same-sex couple isn't the main plot point.
Voltron and Shera are similar in a few ways, the target audience, the battle between two sides, the main good guys trying to protect their home and that romance isn't the main plot point. I also understand that the two relationships are different, mainly Adam being a side character that was only introduced in the second to last season while Catra is the main villain at the start of the series and then has a whole redemption arc.
However we can also see the contrast between the two couples when we look at them thinking the other is dead. While the scenes don't last long, its not because the mourning is interrupted by a third character and then ignored. Its because the other party comes back to life. Looking at the reactions, the are tears, holding onto the other person and begging for them to stay. I understand, however, that this is due to the other party dying in front of them, which didn't happen with Shiro and Adam since Adam dies while Shiro is still in space and doesn't know of it until he comes back. Obviously, the reaction would be different if Shiro was present.
Also, I understand that Adora and Catra are the main characters and are therefore going to be seen more. However I don't believe this can be an excuse either. Adora and Catra are not the only LGBTQ+ couple in this series. There are two side characters, Bow's parents, that are also in a same-sex marriage. They are first seen in episode 7 of season two which was released in April 2019, within a year of season 7 of Voltron. This shows that the time the two series are released is not a reason for Voltron not to explicitly say that Shiro and Adam are together.
This relationship is not only obvious, but we are told their relationship in casual conversation since they are one of the supporting character's parents. They also interact in ways a couple would act: holding hands, hand kisses and being close in general. We are also shown many scenes where they interact with their son, Bow, which is great since this shows how this kind of family is normal. This being great representation for kids with same-sex parents.
In conclusion, while Voltron did not explicitly have a case of queerbaiting, the representation in Voltron is subpar compared to Shera. Despite having similar target audiences and the timing of the representation being close.
Haasch, Palmer. “Voltron: Legendary Defender Showrunners Talk Adam, Shiro and Season Seven.” Polygon, 10 Aug. 2018, www.polygon.com/tv/2018/8/10/17671974/voltron-adam-shiro-season-7-netflix-interview. Accessed 15 Feb. 2021.
Leonard, Kim. “Queer Theory — How TV and Film Challenges Social Norms.” StudioBinder, 24 Jan. 2020, www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-queer-theory-definition/.
Ng, Eve. “Between Text, Paratext, and Context: Queerbaiting and the Contemporary Media Landscape.” Transformative Works and Cultures, vol. 24, 25 Sept. 2017, p. 2, journal.transformativeworks.org/index.php/twc/article/view/917, https://doi.org/10.3983/twc.2017.0917.
Haasch, Palmer. “Voltron Crew Announces the End of the Series, Reveals Season 7 Trailer at Comic-Con.” Polygon, 20 July 2018, www.polygon.com/2018/7/20/17596154/voltron-legendary-defender-season-8-series-ending-sdcc-2018. Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.
adam. “Shiro’s Emotional Scene for Adam.” YouTube, 11 Aug. 2018, youtu.be/y4yJB0tx3dU. Accessed 21 Feb. 2021.