Another San Diego Comic-Con has come and gone, leaving in its wake a bevy of new trailers and clips for us to dissect and transform, new candid moments from celebrities for our gawking and admiration, and, of course, a new iteration of a tired fandom trope: the cast of a show with a large slash fandom mocking shippers.
Those who ship the non-canonical femslash pairing of Kara Danvers with Lena Luthor, and even many who do not but felt the sting of the insult, were swift to let their grievances be known. Adding fuel to the fire, “apologies” from some of those involved have been both condescending and tone-deaf, demonstrating a fundamental lack of understanding of queer representation and slash fandom.
To add insult to injury, the showrunners also announced at SDCC that Floriana Lima, who plays lesbian Maggie Sawyer, will not be returning as a series regular in season three. They promised that she and Alex will not be breaking up and that the couple will have a meaningful goodbye, but Sanvers fans seem to be taking little solace, upset that the one queer canon relationship will, for the foreseeable future, be off-screen.
What Does This Mean For Supergirl Fans?
Until SDCC 2017, Supergirl had been a haven for queer female fans, thanks to its canonical lesbian relationship between Alex and Maggie. Many fans joined the show and the Sanvers fandom after abandoning The 100 following the unforgivable killing of Lexa, and many also began to ship the non-canon Kara and Lena relationship, strengthening the already thriving SuperCorp fandom.
But the solution to Supergirl’s SDCC fiasco isn’t as simple as WLW-fans migrating en masse to another show. While it’s nice to have someplace else to go to find the representation we crave, it’s pretty insulting, and a bit homophobic, to imply that slash ships – queer couples, queer characters – are easily interchangeable and replaceable.
Supercorp fans want a meaningful representation of women-loving-women, but they want Kara and Lena to be those women. They have connected and committed to these particular characters and their unique relationship, both on-screen, and in fic and art. The depth of these connections is significant, and so is the pain and offense when the ship and fans are so blatantly disrespected.
Full disclosure: I’m not in the Supercorp fandom – I’ve never even seen an entire episode of Supergirl. But I am a long-time Sterek fan and former Teen Wolf enthusiast, so I know what it feels like when a show’s creators attack your ship and your fandom.
It’s a frustrating and confusing mix of anger, disappointment, and sadness. It can ruin one’s fandom experience; in the case of Sterek, it completely redefined the fandom’s relationship to the show. Sterek broke away from Teen Wolf and asserted itself as a creative community and social force by and largely independent of and openly hostile toward the show.
One of the most interesting conclusions I came to in my doctoral dissertation about writing slash fandom is the increasing importance of the dynamics between a slash fandom and a show’s creators, rather than simply the canon text. We’re in an age of fandom and media convergence where one thoughtless tweet from an actor or showrunner, or one misguided interview, can fundamentally alter a fandom’s feelings towards a show more than the canon itself might.
For many Sterek fans, it was Tyler Posey’s Sterek is a “bizarre, weird, twisted” insult; will SDCC ’17 be that turning point for Supercorp? It’s too soon to tell – certainly, the ratings of the upcoming third season will indeed offer some insight, as will the continued conversations within the fandom and between the creators and fans.
But what this unfortunate situation does reveal, once again, is that too many creators lack crucial knowledge about and understanding of fandom, especially slash fandom. Even though fans and creators have the ability to communicate with each other more than ever, there are significant gaps in understanding that create tensions and frustrations.
The way a text’s creators respond to their slash fandom is an increasingly important part of how they interact with their audience as a whole, yet so many creators have yet to grasp how to respond meaningfully and without insult fully.
The one Supergirl cast member present during the offending interview to have escaped relatively unscathed is Katie McGrath, who plays Lena, the Corp of Supercorp. McGrath looked visibly uncomfortable during the song, and in interviews both before and after the incident, she took strides to speak positively of Supercorp and demonstrate her support of the fandom.
Fans have singled her out for not participating in the shaming of the slash fandom, much in the way fans have found allies in Emily Andras and the Wynonna Earp cast. What these folks seem to have figured out is deceptively simple, yet incredibly important – something more creators desperately need to realize. Yes, we slash fans are an intense, enthusiastic bunch, and, yeah, we want many things from shows and creators – but above all, we simply want respect.