When it comes to exploring the dynamic universe of Boys Love (BL) in mainstream media, it's impossible not to touch on the whirlwind journey of Dean Winchester and Castiel in 'Supernatural.' This pair, lovingly dubbed as 'Destiel' by fans, has seen an explosive popularity surge, mainly due to the exceptional on-screen chemistry between Jensen Ackles (Dean) and Misha Collins (Castiel). Yet, despite the fans' fervent pleas and years of teasing from the show's writers, the trajectory of their relationship ended in a climax that left many fans unsatisfied and downright heartbroken.
Let's delve into the controversial yet enthralling saga of Destiel, how the writers queerbaited fans for years, and the current landscape of BL representation in American media. The BL fandom, ready your hearts (again)!
From their first meeting in season 4, Dean and Castiel's relationship evolved from mutual suspicion to deep camaraderie, full of love, sacrifice, and profound connection. The subtext of their interactions, marked by intense gazes, close proximity, and subtle touches, stoked the fires of a potential romantic relationship. Yet, this potential was never fulfilled on-screen, leading to allegations of queerbaiting.
The culmination of this came in the 15th season, where Castiel confessed his love for Dean, only to meet an untimely demise right after. The one-sided confession, coupled with Dean's non-response, and Castiel's immediate death, left a bitter taste for many fans. This moment, instead of serving as the much-awaited confirmation of their romantic feelings, seemed to be yet another case of the 'Bury Your Gays' trope. For many, fanfictions seemed to offer a better narrative than what was seen on-screen. Works like 'Twist and Shout,' with over a million reads, paint a nuanced portrayal of Dean and Castiel's relationship, something that was sorely missed in the actual series.
Unfortunately, Supernatural is not an isolated case. Today's media, particularly in America, struggles with representation in BL narratives. More often than not, we see either forced representation, where characters are unnecessarily or in-authentically outed as gay, or characters who are gay as part of a significant plot point or for shock value. This approach reduces the characters' sexual orientation to a mere storytelling device, neglecting to portray the characters as simply gay because that's who they are.
In contrast, the BL industry in countries like Japan, South Korea, and Thailand is flourishing. Producers in these countries have been creating high-quality BL content in both manga and live-action, demonstrating a more authentic portrayal of gay characters and relationships.
Take, for instance, the Thai BL series 'Love By Chance,' which features a compelling love story between two male characters, without making their sexual orientation the primary plot device. Their relationship develops naturally, just as any heterosexual romance would.
Similarly, Japan's 'Given' has been lauded for its authentic portrayal of a gay relationship, devoid of stereotypes, and focusing on the characters' emotional journey instead of their sexual orientation.
This contrast highlights a crucial gap in the representation of BL narratives in American media. There is a need for writers and producers to move away from queerbaiting and forced representation and instead embrace more authentic portrayals of gay characters and relationships. They could stand to learn from global BL producers, who often excel in crafting narratives that seamlessly integrate BL relationships into the larger story without making their sexual orientation the centerpiece or a plot device.
Despite the pitfalls in Dean and Castiel's narrative, there is no denying the significance of their relationship within the BL community. It's a testament to their complex, profound bond that fans continue to create fanfictions and art, filling the void left by the show's narrative and providing a much-desired exploration of their romantic connection. The enthusiasm and commitment of the Destiel fandom are a strong indication of the demand and appreciation for well-written BL narratives, a fact that the media industry should take to heart.
While the heartache remains for many 'Supernatural' fans, there are lessons to be learned from the handling of Dean and Castiel's relationship. Queerbaiting, coupled with poor representation, does a disservice to the characters, the fandom, and the broader effort towards LGBTQ+ representation in media.
On the other hand, the global BL industry, particularly in countries like Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, demonstrates how BL relationships can be portrayed effectively and authentically. In these narratives, the characters are not gay for shock value or plot development; they are simply gay because they are. Their relationships evolve naturally, bringing a refreshing sense of authenticity and depth to the story.
For instance, 'TharnType: The Series' from Thailand has been commended for its complex, nuanced portrayal of a gay relationship. Unlike many Western shows, it does not shy away from depicting the characters' struggles and victories related to their sexual orientation.
These global BL narratives are not without their flaws, but they demonstrate an approach to BL storytelling that can be instructive for the American media industry. As the demand for more authentic BL narratives grows, it is essential for writers and producers to evolve their approach and learn from successful examples.
The saga of Dean and Castiel in 'Supernatural' was a missed opportunity for an authentic, profound BL narrative. It demonstrated the pitfalls of queerbaiting. But it also sparked a dialogue about the need for better BL narratives in American media, pushing the industry towards a more inclusive and authentic approach to portraying gay characters and relationships.
Today, we can look forward to a future where BL narratives are not an exception but an integral part of mainstream storytelling, a future where characters are not gay because of a plot device, but simply because they are. As we move towards this future, let's continue to celebrate and support the BL community's creativity and resilience, both in America and around the world. Let's create a world where Dean x Castiel can exist and be celebrated, without the need for queerbaiting. And protect Cas, he's a cinnamon roll.