First, let’s define these terms and how they will be used in this article before entering the discourse.
Fanservice – The Urban Dictionary has a different definition than I will use. It was once used to describe the use of scantily clad persons, characters, or sexual scenes inserted into anime or live-action shows that don’t advance the plot and appear to titillate the audience. For example, Lucy from the anime FairyTale is often seen in short shorts and tight shirts, showing off cleavage even though she’s learning to use magic. They dress her provocatively or have her eat suggestively to sexualize her for male audiences.
Currently, a widely used definition agreed to by fans and by the Y-Industry & K-Pop – Celebrities & Idols, usually, but not always of the same sex, who flirt, touch, & otherwise intimate they are in a relationship related to their current working partner. (My definition) examples would be flirtatious bandmates or series Y (YAOI)-series partners’ provocative & flirtatious behavior outside of the series’ filming.
Queerbaiting: queerbaiting (from Google uses Oxford Languages)
noun: queerbaiting; noun: queer-baiting
- The incorporation of (apparently) gay characters or same-sex relationships into a film, television show, etc., as a means of appealing to gay and bisexual audiences while maintaining ambiguity about the characters’ sexuality.” The movie allowed the audience to imagine a romantic relationship between Holmes and Watson, and the fans decided it was guilty of queerbaiting”
- Harassment, abuse, or targeted provocation of gay people.
People or fans, if you will, who fantasize that characters, actors, or idols are actually in a homosexual (also, in this example-heterosexual shippers exist) relationship. For example, a shipper might enjoy the interactions between two characters in a show, like Dean and Castiel from Supernatural; the “ship” (as a noun generically ascribed to the relationship) is called Destiel…. combining their names. The effect can also spill over into K-Pop, where you “ship” (as a verb) bandmates. In series Y, the show’s success is built on the chemistry of a pair of lead actors. Not only on-screen as the characters, but in the interactions during fan meetings, in TV spots, and selling products, the fans get a kick out of teasing the pair and watching them flirt with each other.
Shippers, like any other type of fan, can be anywhere on the fandom spectrum. Some shippers know it’s all a fantasy cooked up to entertain the audience and engage with the fans of a show. While other shippers believe that their “ship” is a couple in real-life, living as romantic partners. Some of the latter types can attack the actors/artists or others who state their ship is just a ship or that the actors have a relationship with someone other than their on-screen partner. I believe most fans, as shippers, fall somewhere between these two extremes.
When discussing queerbaiting this is where things get a bit dicey and dodgy, in my opinion. It’s a fact that queerbaiting exists in Western media. We see examples of it frequently in shows, especially in the US and sometimes in the UK, meant to draw the Shipper’s view and to entice but never commit to showing a homosexual relationship depicted between the two main characters -with it being more depicted as homocentric, but never with confirmation. Using methodology such as this proves that the producers wish to cash in and lure in LGBTQ+ revenue dollars without offending or upsetting mainstream audiences. They also attempt to play the relationship ambiguously by refusing to confirm or deny the “gay” status of the characters.
Whereas Asian BL (Boys Love) content is derived primarily from Japanese media known as YAOI, which has spread throughout Southeast Asia over the past two decades. The contents of YAOI began in fiction and Manga written by women and aimed primarily at an audience of women.
I won’t limit that audience target to women nearer the ‘straight’ side of the spectrum either because, in the beginning, I am sure some of the authors were queer themselves. In addition, I know that some are non-binary, gender fluid, and identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Also, current consumers of YAOI media are not only “straight” women but include people who identify within the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
I will use the terms celeb, idol, and artist interchangeably throughout this piece.
It seems to be a double-edged sword in the BL and GL industry, which is my primary focus. In Southeastern Asian cultures, it’s different from Hollywood or Western Media, where there is no BL genre, but films or shows marketed as gay, lesbian, trans, or queer content thrive, given the size of their audience. In Western Media, there is a disconnect between an actor, their role, and their personal life. So while an actor may be gay or straight playing a gay character, it’s not assumed or asked if they are gay or in a relationship with their costars. In fact, it could be considered unacceptable even to ask them about their sexual orientation or gender identity. Fans have theories, of course. But it’s not asked of the actors, nor are they encouraged to pretend to be in a relationship with their costar.
Where does the money come from, and how do they get paid?
Many Thai/Japanese/Korean BL/GL actors get paid for their work, acting, and performance. However, it’s not a tremendous amount of money. They receive money from other sources like fan meetings and top-spender events for products marketed to fans. They can also receive money directly from their fan clubs as well.
This (effectively a) sponsorship system would be unusual in Western culture. People don’t usually send presents or money to their favorite celebrity or idol. Fans in the West expect them to get paid well for their work, in addition to being well paid for appearances and endorsements. Your artist might even produce a product that you could buy to support their endeavors. For example, say you like Reece Witherspoon, so you will buy some of her retail clothing lines when she launches her brand of womenswear. The fan also would consider the money spent to attend concerts or conventions as a way to see and interact with their idol.
In Thai BL and BLs or Shows produced in other Southeastern Asian countries, we see a tightly woven parasocial relationship between the fan and the idol/celeb. I hesitate to call it that, but I will for now, for lack of a better term. Fans and their idols have a more intimate connection in these cultures. The artist frequently meets with their fans on break, at work, and at various venues. They not only talk with their fans, but they also engage in full-fledged and meaningful conversation. With this, these celebs get to know their fans as well. They recognize names and even remember stories discussed at an earlier time. This interaction is beneficial to both the fan and the idol. The fans develop a rapport with their favorite by getting to speak casually with them, which makes them feel more vested in their idol’s success.
The fans show up and take pictures, and keep in mind there are some very good photographers that exist in these circles. The celeb gets to know his/her fan base. They can gauge what makes them happy and keeps them coming around. They also get charged by their fans’ energy, feeling more encouraged to keep going when they hit a rough patch. The fans will send food support for work and functions feeding actors and crew. They send gifts, and they send money – more money than you’d believe. The fans buy their idol’s products to get top spender benefits and magazines with their idols featured in them.
However, don’t for a moment think is always a bed of roses for the celeb or idol. Many times there are expectations placed on them to continue the fantasy played by their characters. Most, if not all, are expected to remain “single” to give the fans the opportunity to imagine they can be a possible partner for these people. Or, to be in a ship, they must sell this ship and its special moments because their popularity and income rely on people buying into their chemistry and even imaginary relationships. Shipper fans spend a lot of money and engage with their ship. The ship is expected to tease and tantalize whether a real relationship exists between the pair making up the ship.
Are all shippers bad? I would say no. Many shippers engage in the mutual wink and nod with the artists being ship’d. They know it’s a tease meant not to be taken seriously but to entertain the audience or group of fans. However, there are also die-hard shippers, a lot of them foreign fans outside of Southeast Asia, who aggressively attack anyone who disagrees or thinks their ship isn’t real. Some of these fans can be a major problem to casual fans and even the artists themselves, especially if it leaks that the artists are in a real-life relationship with someone outside of their ship. There becomes this expectation of the fans that they have a right to dictate the terms of the Idol’s private life. When one of the BL/GL actors is found out to be heterosexual, then they are accused of queerbaiting their audience.
This is one of the negatives associated with doing fan service. It can generate belief in a couple so intense that some fans are furious if their ship isn’t real.
Do I think there are ships that are real? Sure. They exist. But their relationship is not in the public spotlight because what we see is meant to be seen by fans and the agency that represents them.
There are even those BL/GL actors who are actually homophobic and have been called out for speaking negatively about the LGBTQ+ community.
There are numerous straight actors playing BL/GL in a ship with a couple of the same sex. Is that wrong? I would say not really. People who are actors/idols/artists have the right to be just actors and to keep their private lives private. Should more roles be given to people who identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum in the realm of GL/BL? Absolutely if they are qualified actors and actresses who can fit the character in the script and are comfortable enough in their lives to be “Out” while also playing an LGBTQ+ character. I’m advocating for ability and equality.
However, there are those actors/idols/artists who are gay but closeted in BL/GL because ‘coming’ out could damage their ability to get roles and keep working. That is the sad truth of the BL/GL industry, and even in Hollywood.
For me, I think their real-life partners and their sexual orientation are not the fans’ business unless the artist chooses to step forward and speak openly about it. We, as fans, need to remember that these people have friends and lovers outside of their work. And yet they still maintain time and make the effort to connect with their fans. So please respect their privacy, just as you would anyone else. Don’t out someone’s relationship or status because it could hurt their career. Also, their partner may not want to be in the spotlight and under a microscope.
Choose who to follow, and if you see fan service, realize that some contracts also dictate the levels, and some are just natural chemistry. At the end of the day, they are working with their partner whom hopefully they have a good relationship built upon trust and understanding. That’s all we know.
Sorry for the long tirade, and thanks for listening. I’d love to get a conversation going about this, so drop me a comment, and let’s get talking.