There’s been some really interesting discussion recently over on Holly’s blog about subtextual romance and Dean and Castiel and leaving interpretations ambigious. This is my two cents that I’ve rambled together because, like Holly, I’m home sick and have nothing else to do for once.
Once upon a time - more specifically, the Summer of 2008 - I wrote an original novel. A romance of a sort.
I know, right? A writing a romance? The person who harbors a great disgust for the vast majority of romantic storylines and has been known to stop reading books when suddenly!romance before she even knows enough about the characters to care about them? Is this one of the signs of the apocalypse?!?!?
Well, it wasn’t quite what you’d think. It wasn’t just about the romance, it was an adventure story about interpersonal connection, subversion, twisting the truth and empowerment through dubious means. But the romance was an integral part of the story.
I won’t go too much into detail about the novel since I still kind of like the first couple of drafts I wrote, aside from a few things I would change, and I still might try to get it published sometime. I did try to subvert some of the typical teen romance tropes from ‘Twilight’ and the like. The main character actually gets into the situation she’s in because she has overly idealistic thoughts about another character that she has a crush on. It’s textually canon that the two characters like each other, but I intentionally wrote it over-the-top and it becomes clear that the two have nothing in common and their whole relationship is based only on physical attraction.
The actual romance in the story is completely subtextual.
This only occurred to me very recently when I was thinking back on it, but there it is. Nothing is ever truely textual but it’s very, very heavily implied and the story doesn’t really work if you interpret it differently. I mean, I suppose you *could* interpret their relationship as platonic but that’d kind of be a big stretch.
Because the main character is twisting the truth throughout the majority of the novel, the reader doesn’t actually find out the truth about the romantic implications until the last few pages, when she fills in a few blanks about the events of the story.
However, even what’s meant to hit the reader like a ton of bricks between the eyes is still subtext. Nothing is said explicitly, it just makes sense to interpret it that way. I wrote it to be interpreted as romantic. Rather than the ridiculous crush the main character had in the earlier part of the story, these two characters actually get along, genuinely have learned to care about the other and actually have a basis for a relationship.
It occurrs to me that a lot of subtextual buildup is actually what I kind of love in a romantic storyline (and the fact that it’s hardly ever seen in most romances is probably why I hate most romances on sight). One example of a romantic story that I never get tired of is Howl and Sophie in Diana Wynn-Jone’s novel ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’. It’s one of my favorite books ever and it has a whole lot of plot besides the underlying romance but it does a damn fine job with the romantic aspect. And, like, a HUGE portion of the romance is just subtext but it’s there (and arguably becomes straight-up text in the last chapter or so, but still not in a totally typical way) and the story ultimately only makes sense if you accept the subtext as canon.
(There’s also the film adaptation of ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ which made the romance way more blatant and turned it into text about halfway through the movie. I like the way it was handled in the book FAR better).
The thing is, subtext is something that carries a lot of weight in a lot of fictional narratives. It can be an integral part of the story, seeping into the narrative instead of being an obnoxious tsunami.
And then there’s Dean and Castiel. A subtextual pairing on the forefront of fandom, standing on that line between subtext and canon. A pairing surrounded by much emotional intensity from fans, who wait to see if the two make the jump to a canon romantic pairing.
This is where things get complicated.
Unlike the subtext of Howl and Sophie in ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’, the subtext of Dean and Castiel in ‘Supernatural’ is often seen as fans reading things INTO the story, rather than reading things OUT OF the story. Actually, this is a common issue with same-sex pairings that are not textual pairings.
And, of course, Howl/Sophie and the pairing I wrote are both heterosexual romances. As a society, we’ve become conditioned to pick up on heterosexual subtext because it’s still considered legitimate text even if it isn’t blatant or explicit.
Following on this thread, even strong subtext for a same-sex pairing like Dean/Castiel just doesn’t carry the same weight for the average person as subtext for a heterosexual pairing like Howl/Sophie. It isn’t taken as seriously (One might argue that Howl/Sophie is canon while Dean/Castiel isn’t technically, but keep in mind that ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ is a completed story while ‘Supernatural’ is still ongoing).
You really can’t deny that, if you switched the gender of Dean or Castiel, turned them into an opposite-sex pairing but kept their storyline exactly the same, practically everyone would be wondering why they weren’t already together. It would be a matter of “when” rather than “if” and nobody would scoff at the notion of the pairing going canon.
In the same line of thought, let’s talk for a moment about a particular heterosexual pairing on ‘Supernatural’ that is sure to send the fandom into a divided frenzy. I’m referring, of course, to Meg/Castiel. It’s not a secret that I have zero love for the pairing but I try to keep those particular feels off my blog, as ship-bashing is not my thing. It does make an interesting comparison though, in this instance.
Meg/Castiel is a pairing that was purely subtextual through most of its existance. Even when it was layered on pretty heavily in season 7, it was still arguably subtext. However, because it was a heterosexual pairing (even given that Castiel was technically a genderless angel and Meg technically a genderless demon, that’s not something the average viewer is going to bring into consideration. It still comes across as heterosexual.) the subtext seemed to be considered *more* text than subtext involving Dean and Castiel.
This also begs the question of what would happen if you gender-switch in this pairing too. If you swap either Meg or Castiel’s gender, made them a same-sex pairing, instead of an opposite-sex pairing, how does the romantic aspect of their relationship hold up? How would fandom view the pairing? Would it have ever gotten to the point of canon?
Because in season 8, the pairing got pushed a little beyond subtext. Well, to be fair, you can try to find ways around that but it starts to feel like grasping at denial straws. No, Meg and Cas never actually DID anything but the sentiment and interest was clearly text. Textual sentiment is just as explicit canon as characters acting on said sentiment. Before, the pairing was heavily implied. Now there is no room for interpretation unless you go way out of your way with those denial straws.
And that right there is the issue I have. If the nature of relationships between characters are left open to interpretation, then that should apply to heterosexual relationships not just homosexual relationships. If heterosexual relationships go canon by default, but homosexual relationships must be left open to interpretation, then…well you see the problem here.
It’s not that one pairing invalidates another, because it doesn’t. It’s that one pairing is considered legitimate while the other is considered merely fan interpretation.
Story narrative logic aside, this is a big reason why Dean/Cas should go canon. And I’m convinced that the pairing going textually canon is a very real possibility that nobody has slammed the door on. I’m not saying it’s certain but I think it’s likely. Of course, it’s too early to call anything at this point because ‘Supernatural’ is still a work in progress with at least a season and a half to go. And, if it is going to happen, nobody can say anything at this point because nobody is going to spoil THAT!
I can’t deny that when it comes to subtextual romance f/m relationships ARE privileged. 100% agree that if one of Dean and Cas were female and they (by some miracle) had the same story (because like DOAB says above f/m romances tend to be written more as suddenly!romances and don’t get the gorgeous subtextual build up Dean/Cas has usually, in my experience) then everyone would be wondering ‘when’ and not ‘if’ they were going to get together.
This is why I keep ON AND ON saying that Dean/Cas IS CANON. Because it is SUBTEXTUALLY canon and that IS CANON.