Sometimes it’s a bad idea to think too hard about the things you love. Last week, while we were looking for something to watch between the Tonys red carpet and the actual Tonys, my friend and I settled on a channel showing Toy Story.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore the Toy Story franchise. However, it’s one of many beloved childhood stories where, if you poke too closely at the seams of the worldbuilding, it starts to unravel into questions that only get more disturbing.
After having a discussion with some people, one question has been plaguing my mind: is RWBY queerbaiting? Usually this would be a cut and dry answer—it’s typically not hard to point out media implying and using queer romantic tension to pull in the views, but not actually acting on it in canon. With the precedent set by the show already, it’s honestly difficult to tell as all couples appear to be equally teased by the creators. In my exploration, however, I believe the complications arise beyond the scope of the show. This is to say that the canon of RWBY may not be queerbaiting, but the meta from the creators definitely is.
“But Rin,” you may say. “How are these things different from each other?” To which I’ll hem and haw because the difference between them is somewhat negligible—each of them is obviously going to have an impact on the other which is why this is so messy in the first place. In the end, though, I think it has to do with what has been shown on the show as opposed to what the creators imply from outside sources. In the case of LGBTQ+ representation, these are two very different things. So in the end, the question of whether or not the show is queerbaiting may be missing the larger issues at hand. I think the more pertinent question is “where are any queer people?” But we’ll start from the jumping-off point of potential queerbaiting.
Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the showthat are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.
A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama.)
In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.
TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.
It seems in recent years as though a dam has broken and the notion of what is “acceptable content” for a kids or YA show thankfully now has an ever-increasing flow of support. While themes of inclusivity and equality have been a staple of the genre since the early days of Children’s Television Workshop, recent examples like Steven Universe have dealt with gender identity and sexuality in ways that would likely have been vetoed by the networks even a decade ago. One show that, in many ways at least, was at the forefront of that charge is Adventure Time. While by no means perfect, it gives us numerous examples of gender equality and represents a fairly wide range of gender, sexual, and romantic identities that fall outside the heteronormative narratives that many of the genre’s examples, even the best ones, have traditionally retold ad nauseum.
Grab your friends, we’re going to very distant lands. (screengrab from Adventure Time)
While Adventure Time does this in numerous ways and through numerous characters, there is one example that is among the most direct and the most enduringly popular: Fionna and Cake. In looking not only at these characters specifically, but also more broadly at what they show us about the Ice King and toxic masculinity, we can see one of the best examples of these themes being presented in subtle and complex ways that are accessible to the target age group and, ultimately, further that tradition of inclusiveness.
Given that the world is already full of enough horror at the moment, I decided to forgo the bizarre thriller flick I found and talk about an upcoming animated feature instead. Most of us have a pretty good grasp on at least one or two Greek myths—even if you didn’t have a unit about them in school, they’re somewhat inescapable in popular media. With re-imaginings like Percy Jackson maintaining a modicum of popularity, it’s no surprise that studios continue digging down into the mythology wellspring. Today I present a new take of the story of Icarus that has as much potential to be enthralling and thought-provoking as it does to be boring and even offensive.
Rick and Morty is currently one of my favorite TV shows, and for that reason I have been avoiding analyzing its gender politics, especially in “Raising Gazorpazorp”, the episode that tries to address gender. In this episode, Rick and Summer go to a planet where the genders are separated. The males are dumb, violent, sex-crazed beasts, while the women are cultured and sophisticated, but openly sexist against men. Rick and Morty uses the Gazorpians to discuss humanity’s own gender issues, but fails, for the most part, to come to any kind of satisfying conclusion.
Trigger warning for rape and rape culture and spoiler warning for “Raising Gazorpazorp”, “Rick Potion #9”, “Meeseeks and Destroy,” and “Look Who’s Purging Now”.
In honor of Earth Day, which was just this past Saturday, let’s talk about Earth magic! Many fantasy stories are filled with the idea that the Earth is a magical thing, and it certainly seems that way in real life. After all, this beautiful planet is where we live and grow, and where we get to see gorgeous sights or amazing animals. After watching just one episode of Planet Earth, you can understand why so many fantasy authors see the Earth and magic as one and the same.
But despite the fact that our world is so beautiful and amazing, fantasy authors have also recognized that humans, for whatever reason, seem intent on destroying it. Because of this, fantasy authors tend to incorporate nature spirits that fight on behalf of nature and call us to take up the fight as well. Even when fantasy authors write about other worlds that are different from ours, they still address issues of environmentalism that are relevant to our society.