It got very long for what was originally a four part list, so I split it into two posts (sorry!). As always, I don’t intend to speak for or over other people about groups I can’t claim. Please notify me if I overstep. This post may contain spoilers for people who haven’t been keeping up with, or haven’t yet watched, the following programmes: Teen Wolf, and Supernatural. I think everyone has at least one programme that they used to like or wanted to like, but it just kept disappointing you for whatever reason. Here are two of mine.
Teen Wolf – Now, I absolutely love Teen Wolf. It was a little clunky at first, but it eventually developed and found its feet, and was charming and interesting to a teenage girl raised with multitudes of supernatural novels. However, the writing team kept making mistakes. Not mistakes as in continuity (because I mostly ignore its terrible track record), or mistakes as in one of them is suddenly a vampire instead of a werewolf, but mistakes as in that they were doing things that we, the audience, just couldn’t ignore.
They play off some of the character relationships (e.g. Stiles and Scott, Stiles and his dad, Scott and his mum….) really well, and the way they focus on the characters’ fears and realities is wonderful. I’m especially drawn to the parallels throughout the series, as well as some of the camera work – not really counting the Extremely Dramatic Zooooom though. It’s just such a shame that this appears to come at a cost.
Something I can’t quite forgive is the production team shoehorning Malia into a relationship. Listen, if it was me only just living as a human again after being a lone coyote since I was eight, I don’t think my first goal would be a sexual relationship. While it’s important to note she is independent, fiercely loyal and brave, she’s also only a traumatised child, trying to adjust to human life that has moved on without her. She is the same age as the others, but is in no way at the same emotional level. She hasn’t had a chance to grow up. She’s been living on animal instincts for years. I don’t think Eichen House is really good enough as an adjustment, even if they do understand the supernatural aspect of her life. She may not be an eight year old girl anymore, and she did grow up (just as an animal instead of a human), but she is not the same as a human sixteen year old. Yes, yes, this is fiction, blah blah, but really?! It kind of seems as though she was only introduced to become a sexual object, because that’s all women are good for: being sexual objects and/or parents and/or occasionally villains. Not only that, I think she would be incapable of fully comprehending and even properly consenting to a relationship (not saying anything iffy about Stiles here, but also consider that he was possessed at the time of their, um, encounter, sooooo…..that was a very uncomfortable episode on multiple levels. The relationship is inequal on both sides and I don’t think it should have happened to be totally honest). And of course, there’s the fact that she can’t really control the animal nature and is incredibly violent towards Stiles, who is not very invested in their relationship and doesn’t even want a lot of the aspects of the relationship. Not to mention, Malia deserves more. The relationship is incredibly problematic and the only believable (and kind of cute) thing about it for me was the colour coding system thing.
I don’t recall there ever being an explanation for Malia being in the same school year as Stiles and Scott. I gather she’s meant to have compressed years of schooling into a few months, and she’s obviously intelligent, hardworking and talented, but it all seems more than a little improbable. Another point I have is that she’s so brilliant and she doesn’t deserve how they have treated her as a character. She’s more than a “savage” love interest only present to provide punchlines and nice hair. You can’t treat her like a child one minute and sexualise her the next. You cannot have it both ways.
Now, Stiles is one of my favourite characters, and he did develop, but you can’t deny that his fixation with Lydia was bordering on the creepy. He bought a TV for her!! At no point did anyone say, okay Stiles, back off. Although there are plenty of Nice Guys and Dudebros and obsessive boys around with no boundaries, I have to say I have never come across anything quite at that level. I was so relieved when he realised his “dream” was unattainable and they just became friends instead.
You can’t forget Teen Wolf‘s definition of sexuality, either – gay or not-gay. It’s no secret that the writers refuse to even consider using the word bisexual, despite two canon bi characters and also Stiles’ non-confirmed sexuality (which can be read as bi or pansexual). They’re all so adamant Stiles is straight, which wouldn’t really be a problem if they didn’t spend so much time coding him as bi. There are so many examples in many episodes so for the sake of brevity (who am I kidding, this post has become a monster) I’ll just say this: constantly no homo-ing your fans after creating a character you constantly make gay references to and place in situations with male characters that, if one of them had been female, would have gone in a completely different direction? That’s a bad idea. The writers are in control of the story. Don’t tell me they have no idea what they’re doing. It’s completely okay to have ambiguous sexuality, but don’t then use that character as part of your queerbaiting.
In terms of sexuality Danny wasn’t treated as any less by other characters because of it, and neither were Ethan and Mason, which, yes, brilliant, but there were many undeniable episodes of queerbaiting and homophobia (no matter how unconscious) on Teen Wolf that should be addressed. Danny is an awesome character, with so much possibility and intrigue (*cough* “dude, it’s Beacon Hills”) yet he eventually got sidelined into a secondary relationship (which has enough issues itself) with little to no screen time. Gabrielle Taub talks about the inadequacy of the LGBT+ representation, and how the list of queer characters include “Ethan (one half of the alpha twins of season 3A villainy, who was actually in a relationship with Danny); the couple Caitlin and Emily from season 3 (Emily gets killed off literally before the title card appears, ahem); and now fresh face [sic] Mason, who is presumably there to replace Danny as the show’s token gay person of color.” I’ve got to say, it’s not exactly a glowing recommendation for queer fans looking for representation.
What time is it? Time for Teen Wolf to stop queerbaiting please and thank you. It’s understandable that some fans have so much dislike of the Sterek pairing when it’s not canon yet is constantly teased by the programme and used by the Teen Wolf team to drum up press and win awards. I don’t think they ever had any intention of going any further than some UST and poignant scenes. It’s a tactic used by many writers – to keep the fans on the edge of their seats, hoping for a queer romance but never actually getting it. It keeps people invested, ratings up, and the money coming in. In other words, Teen Wolf fans are no strangers to fan manipulation. Stiles and Derek were built up for as long as their “relationship” was useful, only for the writers to then turn around and dramatically reduce the two characters’ screen time together, as if they are card-carrying members of the No Homo Brigade. I just wonder how much more the fans can take before they give up on the programme altogether. As Stiles said “you don’t toy with a guy’s emotions like that“. They should really learn to stop disappointing their fans before they have none left.
When a Sterek relationship is discounted partly because of an (unknown) age difference, yet Lydia is shunted towards Parrish (who may be young for a deputy but is still way older than Lydia at 24!!) at every opportunity, there is clearly something fishy going on. There is arguably little chemistry between them, and it seems to just be a convenient “relationship” to manufacture chemistry with a single female character and an attractive, mysterious single man. How unique and unusual.
As usual with anything on television, the POC seem to fare the worst in terms of backstory, and even survival. We know almost nothing about the characters of Boyd, Deaton or even Morrell, for example, and it doesn’t seem likely we’ll ever know more. Braedan, I can forgive for not having much of a detailed background, given her profession, but Boyd on the other hand… He was one of the main supporting characters yet what do we actually know about him? And why did he have to be killed just to wring out more emotion? Nearly every non-white character dies, as if they were superfluous, or their lives worth less than white characters. And that’s just not on. Oh, in case you didn’t know, the main character is Latino! Yet that is barely (if ever) mentioned. You would think a programme with a non-white lead would be a beacon (hah, get it?) of representation without racism. Teen Wolf‘s racism may not be blatant, but it is there nonetheless.
Not only is that a massive issue, but the majority of all the characters killed were women. I’m sorry that Jeff Davis seems to see women as more disposable than his precious male characters. Someone should really enlighten him. It’s really tiresome and frustrating and as a female fan I am sick of it. Okay, we gained Cora, which should be great, except we barely know anything about her. Where’s her character development? And almost as soon as she arrived, she was gone. What a surprise. There is room for more than one female were-creature at a time. There is plenty of room for more than one or two female characters, full stop. I’m so mad at how they treated Erica (and also Boyd), because I loved her and they just decided “oh lol turns out she’s dead oh well” while simply writing out Jackson in one of the most cliche – and irritating – ways instead of killing his character. Stop killing all the women!!!! Please. It’s such a shame Allison died, because she was one of the better presented and developed female characters. And alright, Allison’s death is excusable since Crystal Reed actually wanted to leave, and it was handled shockingly well, but with the distinct lack of female characters it seems that those who are left are promoted and demoted according to their relationship potential. Davis treats these characters as interchangeable, when anyone with any sense can see they’re so much more than that.
Sexism does play a part, to absolutely no one’s surprise. I don’t really have the energy to document every single instance – and that’s not what this post is about – so here’s a few highlights, featuring several other issues. Erica, a vulnerable teenage girl, being seduced into the pack by someone who was seduced by someone older in order to kill his family. The failed attempt at creating a matriarchal Argent family. The uneven ratios of male/female characters and death tolls. Derek’s “I have someone else in mind for you“. The underdeveloped female roles. The way the male characters talk over, about and around Lydia and Allison in the beginning and make decisions for them that are directly related to their safety without filling them in on what is actually going on really irritated me, especially because I think women have had enough of men deciding what is best for them.
As a further matter, I am so very very tired of the media demonising mental illness and also depicting wildly inaccurate versions of psychiatric hospitals to suit their ~horror aesthetic~. Like, thanks so much for stigmatising me and other mentally ill people even further, yay. I know Eichen House is meant to be kind of “off” because it’s “in the know” and there are horrible, evil creatures there and also the staff don’t particularly care about doing their jobs properly, but hey? guess what! You can do all that without reducing mentally ill people to scary caricatures and relying on how terrifying you have built mental illness up to be to make your story frightening or realistic. There’s something called good writing, I know, I know, you haven’t really heard of it.
Also I do not understand the twins. I get that they’re supposed to have a redemption arc but I just didn’t care for them at all. I didn’t really feel anything when Aiden died. They were murderers and were responsible for Boyd’s death IN DEREK’S HOUSE yet pretty much everyone just accepted them. Lydia gets it right when she says “And I look at you, and all I can think is that you helped kill Boyd. You’re not just a bad boy, Aiden. You’re a bad guy. And I don’t want to be with the bad guys.” Aiden and Ethan are not good people. They may be trying to redeem themselves, but I would not be able to forgive them for that, no matter how good you think Lydia/Aiden or Danny/Ethan are.
Another also – it’s like they all eventually forgot Erica and Boyd ever existed?? Scott writes Allison’s name at their “senior scribe” thing but nobody bothers about the other two. It’s not like they were part of the pack or anything, after all. Isaac doesn’t even mention them. Luckily fanfiction can fill the void they left, but it hurts all the more that they were just swept under the carpet so quickly in canon, even more so when you consider that they murdered the only female and the only black werewolf.
The programme’s track record with character growth is weak at best. The character with the best personal growth, in my opinion, is Derek, but whoops! Off he goes! Teen Wolf and its team seem to have a talent for self-sabotage. Much like the characters themselves, in fact, only just not as bad. Yes, teenagers are selfish. They can be cruel and self-centred and friendships can get confusing. That’s something Teen Wolf gets right. It proves its worth as a teen drama in that respect, especially with Theo in the mix, but often they seem to forget that supernatural or not, there are some things you just can’t get over.
There’s a reason that so many Teen Wolf fanfictions include disclaimers such as “not series 4 compliant” or “ignores post-s3”. When something that had such great prospects just continually lets you down, it’s easier to just rely on transformative works instead (and they’re usually better written too). It’s important to examine and be critical of the media you consume, and unfortunately Teen Wolf makes it all too easy. Ignoring the problematic cast, it has elements of racism, biphobia – and queerphobia more generally, sexism, ableism, lazy writing, almost no continuity and it is rife with fan exploitation. It makes it very difficult to see past to the great story underneath.
Supernatural – My brother and I once spent a summer marathoning the first eight series of this. Of course, there were several uncomfortable moments, but overall we enjoyed it. My major issues with the series come from much of its content, as well as the writers’ and actors’ attitudes towards the fans and being called out. Aside from this, many of the people surrounding the show are problematic in and of themselves, but I won’t be going into that here. Supernatural is, as Aja Romano said, a “relentlessly heterosexual” piece of television, one that leaves little room for women, people of colour, or the LGBT+ community. All combinations of which make up large parts of the fanbase. You have to ask, why do the creators of Supernatural hate their audience so much?
Throughout the entire series all of the female characters are constantly killed, as if to say only the sainted Winchester brothers (who are not all perfect) are allowed to survive or be reincarnated. Female characters exist here only to extend the plot for a short while, to then be murdered (usually brutally) so a few more tears of man pain can be squeezed out. I’m sorry we’re all so expendable. You can’t dare like a woman on Supernatural, because soon enough, like Jo, Ellen, Meg, Jessica, Bella, Charlie, Anna and countless others, they will die. It’s hard to care as much when Sam or Dean “die”, because they will inevitably come back. Even in a world where girls are supposed to be satisfied with the token female of the group, how can we be expected to accept this? When the writers keep doing this, they’re sending the message that they hold male lives in higher regard than female ones.
Charlie was no threat to the Winchesters relationship with women/each other, because she was a lesbian. It’s great that a lesbian had such a prominent role in the few episodes she was in, but it has to be noted that it is possible to have a main female character with a platonic relationship to the male characters! You don’t have to make her “off limits” to allow her character development other than “falls in love with one of the brothers” (Thank goodness they didn’t go down the route of BBC Sherlock though). She was one of the best characters on Supernatural, but of course, they had to ruin it. Killing Charlie was one thing, to have her horribly executed in such a manner, by Nazis no less, makes it exponentially worse. Her death follows a disturbing trend of lesbians and bisexuals not being allowed to survive in film and TV. CW. Nae need.
Queerbaiting is a typical theme in an episode of Supernatural. Between deliberately hinting towards the “Wincest” of brothers Sam and Dean, which has many (illegal, and gross) issues of its own, and the allusions towards romantic interest between Castiel and Dean, there’s enough queerbaiting to fit in the boot of the Impala. If either of them were a woman, you can guarantee Dean would have “hit it and quit it” several years ago. The writers make Dean and Cas stare soulfully into each other’s eyes after following several romantic tropes only to have one immediately turn around and sleep with a woman, as if “no homo” is their motto. Hey, CW, I invite you to read the Bialogue definition of bisexual. There are many documented moments where Dean checks men out, or acts like a romantic partner to Cas. There is nothing stopping the writers from officially writing Dean as bi, except that would spoil their heterosexual man programme. And you wouldn’t want the straight, white men to lose one of the many overwhelmingly heterosexual, white TV programmes, would you.
It’s also riddled with continuity errors. I suppose that’s to be expected from something spanning as many years as Supernatural, but that doesn’t preclude a basic fact check. Also, although artistic license is permissible, why do they feel the need to rework aspects of mythology to suit themselves? But that’s not a very pressing issue, especially in light of all the other oversights.
There’s an overarching theme of “this isn’t for you” in Supernatural. For too long marginalised people have had to resign themselves to no positive representation, or seeing themselves represented briefly before the character dies. It started off well, but they seem to have lost the thread of the series and turned it into a complicated mess of storylines. I’m honestly not sure what’s even happening in it anymore. Personally, I think The Office did a better job with character development, storytelling and representation in 9 series than Supernatural has in 11. And that’s without the monsters and life-threatening experiences.
Overall, despite its interesting premise and “road trip” appeal, it appears to me to be simply a mass of male-orientated series just brimming with sexism, racism and queerphobia that has gone on too long.
**I do not intend to speak over the experiences of any of the groups mentioned that I’m not a part of, so please tell me if I inadvertently misspoke or offended anyone.**
Have you had any similar experiences with television programmes? Feel I missed anything? Can you point me to a rare, unproblematic show? Leave me a comment.
More In-Depth Reading:
Teen Wolf Round Table: Echo House
cupidsbower and ionaonie’s additions to this post about Sterek
Everything wrong with ‘Teen Wolf’ explained in 4 charts
Teen Wolf, Racial Representations – Development
(Trigger Warning: Rape Discussion) Supernatural And Consent: Why Season 9’s Writing Team Has No Excuse
‘Supernatural’ fandom gives the CW a lesson in Twitter PR
Supernatural – Season 9 – Review: Top 10 Biggest Issues
Why fans have high hopes (but low expectations) for ‘Supernatural’
Supernatural’s Ongoing Fridging Problem Isn’t a Laughing Matter
Supernatural Has a Queerbaiting Problem That Needs to Stop