I've been thinking about the representation of male sexuality in Supernatural for a while now (and I don't mean in a primarily slashy way), and especially the most recent season, which has had quite a lot to say about what's acceptable for men to desire and what is not.
There are two main issues I want to discuss: first, the way homophobia has been intentionally entwined into the season 6 story arc, and second, what that means for the characters.
But first, a disclaimer, just to get it out of the way. I haven't watched Supernatural season 6 yet, and won't until my alpha watcher has vetted and passed it for me. The following is based on spoilers, episode synopses, fan meta, watching scenes on YouTube, songvids, and reading fanfic. Given that, it's entirely likely that I'm about to be wrong on the internet. My thoughts aren't meant to be in any way definite, just, you know, my thoughts. :)
Intentional homophobia, or, why a joke about an angel's hard-on is only funny if you're straight
I've read a lot of fan reactions in which people say they don't understand Dean's motivation this season, or why he's acted like such a douche. My take from fairly early on in the season has been that Dean is in denial about his feelings for Castiel, and that explains pretty much everything. Yes, I mean gay feelings, and no, I didn't forget to take my slasher goggles off.
Usually my slash reading exists alongside a recognition of the probable hegemonic reading intended by the show-runners. At the moment, my slash reading of Supernatural has aligned with the hegemonic reading, and become the only reading I can really see, due to the homophobic jokes that have permeated this season (even more so than usual). In fact, queerness-in-denial seems the only consistent way you can read Dean's hot-and-cold weirdness around Castiel and have it make sense.
For example, take the look on Dean's face when Castiel admitted to the profound bond -- it was very like the expression he had during the Dr Sexy world, but much more subtle and toned down: hope, delight, terror at being called on it.
It's like he has a classic teenage crush on Castiel, and he's been see-sawing madly ever since Castiel admitted to feeling it too: wanting Castiel to be there, then acting like an ass when he is. This is about the emotional maturity I'd expect from Dean, especially given his obvious issues with gayness.
This reading of Dean's behaviour makes me feel sympathy as well as frustration with his asshattery. I mean, he really is an ass to Castiel on several occasions, yes, but it's not random. Very often it's sexualised. Take this scene for example, in which Castiel is watching porn: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=feK2pA8h
You don't end up with that kind of internalised homophobia and self-hatred without it being programmed in pretty ruthlessly by an authority figure. And it's not something you can just get over, especially not with Dean's meagre toolkit of emotional coping skills.
This kind of humour is hardly new to Supernatural; the show has joked around with homophobic/homophilic subtext since very early on, most notably with all those "Sam and Dean are mistaken as a couple" jokes. Usually the humour is an end in itself, but in season 6 it's not: there's another point to drawing attention to Castiel's potential hard-on, and it's not very funny.
The problem is that the attraction isn't just on Dean's side. All Cas has wanted since he rebelled is for Dean not to be "done" with him. In fact, it's why he rebelled. He flat out said he did it all for Dean in season 5. Castiel's totally obsessive love affair with Dean is not even subtext; it was recognised by the other angels, like Uriel and Anna, and he was punished for it too with "Bible Camp" (campest Bible camp ever).
Given all that, the season 6 finale was inevitable, really, as Castiel could never get a happy ending from Dean, not in this show and definitely not while wearing Jimmy Novak's body.
The text's position on gayness is quite clear, no matter how "jokey" it has been about it in the past. In season 6, this was rammed home with all the subtlety of a bulldozer:
- Castiel's reaction to porn, and Dean's open disgust at having to acknowledge Castiel as a sexual being;
- the sarcastic comment by Balthazar about Castiel being in love with Dean;
- the way Sam refused to hug Castiel;
- Dean's heterosexual desire for Lisa turning "vampiric";
- the only openly queer and happy character being Crowley;
- the comment about Castiel being in Dean's ass and Dean's reaction;
- the constant implication that Castiel is innocent, "a baby" who doesn't understand why his desire is wrong;
- Dean's increasingly mean jokes at the expense of Castiel's assumed manhood
I could go on. In short, gayness is evil and/or a joke.
And that's the context in which Castiel and Dean's desire for each other was pushed as far out of subtext and into text as it could be without outright stating it. So was Castiel's obvious desire for the "profound bond," and Dean's just as obviously terrified refusal to acknowledge it.
The thing that really enrages me about this, is that the emphasis on the sexual tension between Dean and Castiel was used to foreshadow Castiel's finale transformation into a Big Bad. Because obviously, if he's in love with Dean, he must be evil. And of course, the first thing he demands once he is evil is that Dean love him.
Why homophobia is bad for everyone
Once you read the queering of the text as totally intended and part of the plot, you can't avoid drawing the conclusion that both Castiel and Dean have been warped by their "aberrant" desires. It's why Dean is an asshat for most of the season, and why Castiel goes evil -- they are both poisoned by their inappropriate emotions.
I really hate that message, because I think it's quite clear that it's the denial and self-hatred caused by homophobia that actually warped everyone, not the desire itself. If Dean and Castiel could openly have said, "I love you," the whole season wouldn't have happened.
Really, the queer-denial theory explains pretty much everything about the weird tension this season. It explains everyone acting in ethically dubious ways and somewhat out of character.
Take Sam -- with Dean acting off, Sam would also be unbalanced, even without the newly re-souled thing, which just makes it worse. Added to that, Sam's pretty much had Dean all to himself forever, so it makes sense that there's a bit of jealousy there too, especially with the word "brother" being bandied about by Dean. Not that Sam would admit to being jealous of Castiel; he's better than Dean at emotions, but not that much better. It does explain his somewhat hostile reactions to Castiel throughout the season, though.
Bobby probably disapproves of the gay vibe too. Not necessarily due to homophobia, although I think you could read it that way given his age and location. More generously, you could read it as being due to a fear of Dean getting romantically involved with an ageless, obsessive and powerful supernatural creature. However, because Dean's never admitted anything, Bobby can't openly say anything either, which means he too acts like a jerk.
The queer-denial theory also explains why Sam and Bobby (and even Castiel) all left Dean to his heterosexual life for that year. It neatly put the lid on that can of worms, so no-one had to deal with it.
This is a horrible place the writers have brought us to, though. So toxic. Is this really the story we want to spend a whole season on? Just occasionally, I wish the characters in mainstream shows could be allowed to grow enough to admit what they want without being textually punished for it. :(
That said, if S7 actually resolves this plot by using their love to redeem Castiel (without immediately killing him off afterwards), I will be impressed and take back some of what I've said here.
I doubt that will happen though.
A/N: Mostly based on comments I posted in response to laceymcbain and jakwezst here.
This entry was originally posted at http://cupidsbow.dreamwidth.org/371