The great thing about having a blog is that I can write about whatever I feel like, regardless of whether it’s important or relevant or, indeed, whether there’s any good reason at all to write about it. Such as, for instance, homosexual subtext.
Fandom calls this “ho yay” or “bromance,” and it’s everywhere. Movies, TV shows, cartoons, you name it–and, of course, famously throughout the Batman franchise. (It shows up less in print, a medium less conducive to reading a lot into meaningful glances, though it’s still far from absent.)
Of course this post was inspired by X-Men: First Class. If you haven’t seen it, you should; it’s a great movie, and I think it competes strongly for X2 as best in the franchise, mostly due to the strength of the acting and the cool 60s setting. And yes, Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy have a tremendous amount of, well, magnetism; their relationship overwhelms the bits of hetero romance, which is probably for the best, given the watered-down rendition of Mystique’s character.
In this case, it turns out, it’s totally intentional. The gay-rights allegory is a major theme in all the modern X-Men incarnations; in X2, Iceman tells his parents about his power in a coming-out scene that includes the line “Have you ever tried not being a mutant?” One of the film’s writers has confirmed this in relation to the new movie. The actors are completely aware, too; McAvoy states that he thinks it’s a tragedy that the two don’t actually hook up.
So sometimes it’s there and proud. Other times it’s a complete fan fabrication. But (this is the part where I pull Serious Cultural Issues out of this apparently pointless post) why are so many works affected by Ho Yay? And why is it essentially always a male/male phenomenon, with no real female/female counterpart?
If your response was “fangirls are female so they only notice it with guys” or, worse, “you’re female so you only notice it with guys,” you may come over to receive your obligatory smack on the head. True, Jordan didn’t notice any subtext in the Charles/Erik relationship, but take a moment and try to think of a movie, TV show, or even book where two strong female leads have a friendship that could be non-canonically construed to be romantic. I’ll wait.
If you named Fried Green Tomatoes, that’s canon and so it doesn’t count. If you named anything else, let me know, because I didn’t.
The primary factor at work here is quite simply the Bechdel Test. There are any number of works focused on the relationship between two male leads, but almost none about two female leads. Any stories that do have multiple female leads are probably chick flicks that have at least as much interest in the male love interests. They’re also more likely to have a group of female friends (usually one lead and a bunch of supporters), rather than just two who have a close relationship.
Additionally and more subtlely, Hollywood just treats male friendship with more respect than female friendship. There’s triviality to how female relationships are treated: It’s all shoes and boys and shopping and gossip; there’s not really anything there. According to filmmakers, only men are capable of forming the sort of deep, meaningful friendships that lead to fan speculation.
And the other thing that bothers me: When Erik is trying to stop the submarine, why doesn’t he just bend the propeller?
If you’re wondering why comic book franchises seem particularly affected by bromance, I think the principal reason is just that comic books often center around one male character and his interactions with everyone else, making all the male supporting cast members potential slash targets. Other factors are the silly costumes that make for easy accusations of gayness, the questionable young same-gendered sidekicks, and the general golden-age lack of self-awareness that allowed writers to create panels like the top one without, apparently, realizing the implications.