Is Good Omens Queerbaiting?

Queerbaiting is a lesser known practice to the main-stream viewer since it is used to attract a queer crowd without ever going through with the promise of any valid representation. They use subtle hints, fan-service and dialogue that hint at a queer identity for someone familiar with the LGBTQIA community but might be passed off as a joke, or totally missed by a casual and heterosexual viewer. Popular examples are BBC’s Sherlock (2010 – 2017) – which took a gruesome twist in regards of fandom culture – as well as the still ongoing Supernatural (2005 – 2020) 

Judith Fathallah’s definition for queerbaiting is most widely used and is the following: 

“a strategy by which writers and networks attempt to gain the attention of queer viewers via hints, jokes, gestures, and symbolism suggesting queer relationship between two characters, and then emphatically denying and laughing off the possibility.”

Meanwhile, amazon’s Good Omens (2019) has a fandom that consists mainly of queer identities. It has also been called “At heart, Amazon’s Good Omens is a gay cosmic rom-com” by Samantha Nelson at theverge, in fact even I called it “A Bubbly Rom-Com Set During The Apocalypse” and praised it for its portray of queer love referring to the subtext. 

Even “Good Omens” suffered from accusations of queerbaiting because neither Crowley nor Aziraphale are kissing. Twitter users are accusing Neil Gaiman of not doing enough and baiting the audience. 

This article doesn’t set out to prove or disapprove those arguments. Instead I am looking at the different ways that Good Omens (TV) can be read and seen. As well as where those accusations may come from. In fact, I am curious myself what the result of such is going to be.


The Author Is Dead Long Live the Reader?


Neil Gaiman is quite fond of the concept of “the author is dead” meaning that the author’s voice does not stand above the reader’s voice. Thus, any interpretation a reader might deem correct, is as a valid and correct as the one the author had in mind when writing. Thus, there are no right or wrong ones. 
However, when it comes to queerbaiting, does this play into the concept or does it lessen the tension between reader – or in this case, viewer – and the author? 

An integral part of queerbaiting is the producers and authors intention of adding queer hints without following through. As well as shooting or laughing off the idea off-screen and sometimes even in the text. 

Before the series became available for streaming, Gaiman made it clear that it is not going to be a sexual or romantic story. While actors, most notably Michael Sheen, are fond of stating how gay these characters are individually as well as together, Gaiman stands his ground to leave the interpretations open for all, while it remains open if Sheen is baiting fans or it is simply his interpretation of a long-time fan of the source material. 

However, as “only” an actor and fan, and with the author dead, his choice of “gay” and making jokes that Aziraphale is the bottom of the relationship are as valid as my choice to see them as aromantic and asexual. 

The series itself is never explicit about what the exact nature of their relationship is. They are not shown kissing or even holding hands. There is allegedly a scene on the bus where they hold hands, which is a wide-angle shot and you’d need a microscope.

At the same time, Aziraphale and Crowley show an uncanny devotion to not only the same goal but also to each other. Episode three is famous for what has been dubbed the “longest cold opening in history” which explores their past six-thousand years on Earth. It shows how two enemies do not only get used to each other, later become friends and then even start to depend on each other. It is not smooth sailing, and there are moments in which they struggle with those feelings, as well as misunderstandings. There is an added bar scene that is divergent from the source material. In the series Crowley is not motivated by his realisation that hell treats him the same way he treats his houseplants. Instead, Aziraphale finds him again and explains that there is still hope, seemingly Aziraphale still being alive becomes the motivating factor. 

“Aziraphale. The Enemy, of course. But an enemy for six thousand years now, which made him a sort of friend.”

Alongside other moments that are littered across the show, one can follow the thought that Good Omens is going to put a fixed definition on their relationship. Instead, Crowley and Aziraphale are shown going for dinner at the Ritz while “A Nightingale at Barkley Square” plays in the background. While the lyrics of the song is suggestive of romance and has, in fact, been used to high-light a gay romance in Torchwood (2006 - 2011) before, it can easily pass by anyone who doesn’t want to see it. It does little to define their relationship either. 

Instead, it leaves the door open to the suggestion of queerbaiting. Similar to BBC’s Sherlock there are ambiguous scenes, lines, songs etc. littered across the story without it ever following through. Gaiman sees Good Omens as a love story but doesn’t explain which type – platonic? Queerplatonic? Romantic? Even sexual? That’s anybody’s guess. 

However, this ambiguous seems to stem from a place of keeping the doors open for everyone. He has been shy of calling it a gay relationship because he stated that aromantic and asexual relationships are possible as well. He even states that bi and pan are a possibility. So it seems that with the intention of keeping the door open for everyone, another group who insist on explicit representation felt cheated. 

Queer Isn’t Just Gay


When it comes to accusing Good Omens of queerbaiting, fans are quick to point at the Aziraphale and Crowley relationship, seeing two men who are all heart eyes for each other, fulfill certain tropes and then never actually show romantic or sexual interactions. 

This is typical when it comes to queerbaiting as it often concerns MLM ships, meaning gay men and if someone feels like it bisexuality. People tend to throw the rest of the TQIA and the plus under the bus. Especially the T seems to be commonly ignored when it comes to Good Omens because Crowley and Aziraphale are both canonically and explicitly non-binary. 

This is stated several times in book and is shown the series as well. While it is less obvious in regard to Aziraphale, Crowley is shown multiple times as presenting as female (as the Nanny, as well as in the flashback through the centuries).


Furthermore, while the actual love story between Crowley and Aziraphale never shows an explicit romantic and/or sexual side on screen, Aziraphale states proudly that he is not interested in those interactions with women.


“Seducing women?”
“Oh I think you’ve got the wrong shop.” 

As well as, proudly declaring himself as not only “a” Southern Pansy but THE Southern Pansy. A pansy being “a slang term for an effeminate, homosexual male.” While Shadwell uses it as a halfhearted insult for a man he still sees as straight – see the interaction above – Aziraphale uses it as a self-identifier and proudly so. So, while angels (and as such demons) are canonically agender, Aziraphale presents as male and not being interested in women. In the beginning of the 21st Century “gay” or in slang terms “pansy” is the closest one comes to an accurate descriptor. After all, there is no standaised word for a non-binary person who is only attracted to one gender – it often depends on the individual.

So while the romantic and sexual side of Aziraphale and Crowley’s relationship remains in the subtext, their actual identities are written well into the text and plain for everyone to see. Thus, there is valid queer representation in the show and the word queer needs to be seen in all that it entitles, not just for gay relationships between two men. 

Comparing Love Stories


Not only caring but even worse loving someone from the “enemy” camp is an on-going theme in Good Omens. It stretches from Crowley and Aziraphale, to Anathema and Newt and even touches on Shadwell and Madam Tracey. 

Crowley and Aziraphale are a demon and an angel. While Anathema is a witch and Newt a new witchfinder – who only joined because he was looking for an opportunity to get out of the house. Meanwhile, Madam Tracey regularly hosts fake seances (as well as adult pleasures), while Mr. Shadwell runs the witchfinder army and thus condemns her business – real or not. 

Out of this combination, Aziraphale and Crowley are the only queer characters to feature in the story. TV-shows and films are often critised of not treating queer relationships the same way as straight relationships. As such straight couples enjoy much more freedom, and story lines. Meanwhile, queer relationships are kept to the subtext. The reasons for this can vary, from actual queerbaiting to the production company forbidding an explicit portray of a queer relationship until the very end because they fear that they might upset certain viewers. 

This raises the question how Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship is portrayed in comparison to the other two heterosexual ones.

Overall, Good Omens is not very overt or explicit about sex, touching, or even kissing. The most explicit scene is between Newt and Anathama because they have to fulfill a prophecy and thus have sex during what they believe are their last moments. Despite the fact that they had only met a few hours prior. However, this scene is very much played for laughs and not for romance because at the same time, Shadwell believes that Newt is suffering a terrible fate in the hands of the witch when in reality the opposite appears to be true. Newt and Anathama are also the only characters seen kissing on screen. In fact, I felt like their relationship had been the one that felt least natural and most forced; especially because it only started because of a prophecy and Anathama hasn’t lived her life outside of those before. 

As written before, Crowley and Aziraphale’s relationship is less shown via touches and words but instead through devotion and their actions. The same can be said of Shadwell and Madam Tracey, these characters are automatically assumed as romantic by the end. Madam Tracey invites Shadwell to retire with her to the countryside. He agrees and asks if that is the moment to “pop the question”. After a nod the question turns out to be how many nipples she has. 

Before that scene, their love seems to be mostly one-sided by Madam Tracey showing some attraction towards Shadwell but Shadwell shunning her away. This is similar to Crowley who is often believed to be the one who pined for Aziraphale longest and has been rejected multiple times by the former. During the end-times, Shadwell is shown caring for Madam Tracey by threatening Aziraphale in an effort to get him out of her body – not like that. As well as a protective stance of her during the final showdown. 

Crowley and Aziraphale have been show much more devotion and story throughout the whole run, and yet when the credits roll, most people assume that Shadwell and Madam Tracey are a romantic union while Crowley and Aziraphale remain on the side-lines and alleged bait used by Gaiman. 
Gaiman has stated before on Twitter that Good Omens TV-Show is a love story and is saddened that some people can’t see it. This is understandable because it is portrayed similar to Madam Tracey and Shadwell’s story. In fact, the focus lies heavier on the angel and demon than on these two humans. In writing, their relationship is not treated differently than a relationship that is apparently easy to see as romantic. The fact that someone doesn’t see it the same, is depended solely on the person themselves and their expectation.  

Thus, if someone sees Madam Tracey and Shadwell as a romantic couple by the end. The same should apply to Crowley and Aziraphale as well. Both of those story lines are not part of the main plot but remain in subtext. 

Thus, one can conclude that Good Omens is not queerbaiting. It leaves the door open for people to see many different types of love stories – not just between two men. While this is inclusive for everyone, it also left the door open to accusations of queerbaiting who wanted to see this finalised and explicit. Despite overlooking the fact that Crowley and Aziraphale canonically state and show that they are queer – as seen by Crowley shifting from female presenting to male presenting during the show, and Aziraphale stating that he is a pansy as well as not interested in women.  

In the end, the show is not about romantic love but in agape love – a love that unconditional. This is reflected by the writing since other relationships that are automatically assumed as romantic due to the opposite sex coupling were written in the same manner as Crowley and Aziraphale’s. 

2 comments :

  1. I completely missed out on Sherlock's queerbaiting. But to be honest, I never watched full episodes...
    You raise some interesting questions and arguments here. Of course I don't know much about the whole issue and I'm not part of the LGBTQ+ community, but as an English major I get stuck on "the author is dead". Although I agree with the notion that readers have the agency to interpret a text diffrently than intended by the author, I do think that we should keep author intend in mind when discussing queerbaiting. I personally feel like its truly damaging when the author puts in ambiguous bits on purpose to reel a queer audience in. At other times, it might just be ambiguous without the author realizing their audience could have a different reading. The problem with all of this is that we have no way of knowing an author's true intentions... It's a complicated matter, I might raise the question in class some day to see what my professors think.

    x Envy
    Lost in Translation

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    1. Honestly, you dodged a bullet with not watching Sherlock as it turned out to be awful after two seasons.

      Anyway ,thank you for the lovely comment. I wrote it to try my hands on looking at some material in depth from this perspective, so I am glad it peak your interest :)
      I am also not sure about The Author is Dead, I'd say within fandom space yes - ie my headcanons. if it is a serious discussion the intension are important.

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